It was a relatively easy switch, and it was one that just had to be made.

During the 2nd quarter, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh told QB Joe Milton that it was time for Cade McNamara to enter the game, down 17-0, and that was that. Milton had gone 5-for-12 for 89 yards and wasn’t giving the offense the energy that it needed Saturday night against Rutgers — so Harbaugh did what he rarely does and switched to another QB.

That QB was McNamara, a redshirt freshman who boosted the Wolverines to a 48-42 3OT win Saturday night in Piscataway, NJ, notching UM’s 2nd win of the shortened 2020 season (2-3). Completing 27-of-36 passes for 260 yards, 4 passing TDs and a critical rushing TD on a 2-point conversion in double-OT, McNamara was just what Michigan needed in order to escape another embarrassing defeat for the 4th consecutive week.

From 2 yards out, McNamara pushed his way into the end zone for the tying score against the Scarlet Knights, who once held a 17-0 advantage in the first half. After finding pay dirt, McNamara came up flexing — clearly showing emotion, fire and the desire to win.

Harbaugh loves that in a quarterback. He’s always preached that mentality.

“He just played within his own personality. I could tell he was having fun. It was great to see our players having fun. I saw so many good things out of him — the way he played, the way he executed,” Harbaugh said of McNamara during the postgame Zoom conference call. “How he was prepared for the game. Gritty… I mean it was a gritty performance. But also really great quarterback play.”

Yeah, McNamara was having fun — and he also strung together one of the best debuts by a QB during the Harbaugh era. Poised, confident — even heroic, at times — the 6-1, 205-pound Nevada high school legend put the Wolverines on his back during a game that helped Michigan at least salvage what has been called an-already lost season.

None of that mattered to him, though. He just wanted to prove his ability and give his team a chance at going 1-0 on Saturday. He was eager to make a statement but he was also calm and cool, qualities necessary for a QB in big moments and qualities that the Wolverines desperately needed in the huddle.

McNamara didn’t feel much pressure as he shoveled the Wolverines out of a 3-score hole. Considering how this season has gone for Michigan, his demeanor and execution were the closest to perfection UM has seen all season.

“A lot of it was that I just needed to stay relaxed,” McNamara said. “You know, I’m not going to get 17 points back immediately — and it’s not my job to (do that). As a team, you know, as an offense, we have to take it play-by-play and drive-by-drive. That’s what I was preaching to the team and to the offense — and we were going, you know? (I just had to be) relaxed and maintain that confidence that, no matter how much we get down, we’re still in this thing …”

Trust is always the foundation of a solid relationship, and the belief of teammates was key in the huddle for McNamara, who played like he’s had several starts under his belt.

“I think that’s what allowed us to pull this thing off,” McNamara said of the trust factor.

Defensive tackle Christopher Hinton echoed the same sentiment.

So did linebacker Josh Ross, a seasoned veteran who’s seen his fair share of QBs over the years in Ann Arbor.

“We had the utmost confidence (in him),” said Ross, who had a game-high 11 tackles during the 4-plus-hour affair in New Jersey. Unfortunately, the audio on Zoom went haywire while asking Ross about what he saw out of McNamara this past week in practice. But he said something along the lines of McNamara not backing down and making the most of his split-reps with Milton.

Milton just hasn’t gotten the job done for Michigan. He’s had plenty of chances, starting all 5 games, but hasn’t seemed to get on even ground. It’s baffling to think about why it took Harbaughs so long to go to McNamara, who immediately entered the game firing away and serving as an emotional catalyst.

Harbaugh’s loyalty to Milton is something to admire. There is nothing wrong with a coach riding with his A-1, even during hard times. But his unwillingness to go to McNamara earlier may have hurt the Wolverines in the long run. With that said, it’s clear that it’s now McNamara Season in Ann Arbor.

All smiles during the postgame, the young QB said all the right things and was clearly living in the moment. His job wasn’t to upstage Milton, it was just to show the coaching staff that he could ball-out when called upon. He is Michigan’s new QB1. Barring anything crazy, he’ll likely retain that role heading into next season.

Michigan needed a leader Saturday night — a guy who wouldn’t fold under pressure and help re-energize an offense that has lacked luster since showing-out against Minnesota during Week 1 — and it found one in McNamara.

“This week, I think we got our swagger back,” said McNamara, dripping eye-black and wearing an ear-to-ear grin.