Now is JJ McCarthy's time to shine for Michigan -- and not look back
JJ McCarthy’s path to the Michigan starting job is as wide-open as his 20-yard touchdown run in last week’s season opener against Colorado State.
And in case you didn’t witness the real picture that paints that mental picture, a brief recap:
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) September 3, 2022
Much like that scoring play, McCarthy only has 1 man to beat. In this case, it’s incumbent Cade McNamara. And McNamara didn’t exactly put up stiff resistance with his Week 1 performance.
Facing a pedestrian Rams defense, McNamara was 9-of-18 for 136 yards. And 61 of those yards came on his touchdown pass to Roman Wilson, who gained every yard himself on a bubble screen.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) September 3, 2022
When that play is removed from the equation, McNamara was just 8 of 17 for 75 yards. That would equate to 4.41 yards per attempt — worse than every B1G quarterback in Week 1 save for Iowa’s Spencer Petras.
McNamara deserved to be Michigan’s Week 1 starter. He was the caretaker who guided the Wolverines to their first Big Ten title in 17 years. For that, his place in Michigan lore is secure.
But in order to reach the next mountaintop in this range, Michigan needs its quarterback to evolve from caretaker to playmaker. Against Georgia’s stellar defense in the Orange Bowl, there was no getting away with game management.
McNamara had all offseason to prove he could graduate to the next level of quarterbacking. Colorado State was an ideal opponent for him to do so against. The Rams were in their first game under a new coaching staff, and ranked 82nd nationally in scoring defense last season.
Provided that Michigan gained 440 yards and scored 51 points (though 7 came via a defensive touchdown), it would seem Colorado State has not improved its defensive lot in a dramatic fashion.
McNamara simply didn’t answer the bell. And now it’s McCarthy’s job to lose.
What JJ McCarthy brings to Michigan’s offense
Michigan is already married to the run game. The Wolverines ran the ball 59.2% of the time last season. In the Big Ten, only Minnesota and Wisconsin were more run-reliant.
The Colorado State game was nearly identical to last year’s averages of 28 pass attempts and 41 run attempts per game — Michigan passed the ball 28 times with 40 runs.
As McCarthy showed on his option keep for a touchdown, opposing defenses have to account for an extra running threat when he is in the game. With sacks removed, he averaged 6.4 yards per carry last year. And when they’re already dealing with Michigan’s offensive line and running backs, that becomes a nightmare scenario.
Accuracy separated the quarterbacks last year.
McNamara completed 64.2% of his attempts, with 1.8% of his throws resulting in interceptions. In more limited duty, McCarthy completed 57.6% of his throws with 3.4% of them getting picked off. Harbaugh’s usage of McNamara as the starter with McCarthy sprinkled in to give defenses a different look made a lot of sense.
On Saturday, McCarthy can prove there’s no need for such a time share this season. And there’s no reason he shouldn’t.
The sad state of Hawaii football
It is safe to say that Hawaii comes to Michigan Stadium at one of the lowest ebbs in the colorful history of its program.
For starters, no other team in the country can say its home stadium was condemned.
The Rainbow Warriors can. With Aloha Stadium deemed unsafe for fans — in this case, it means goodbye — the Warriors converted their practice field/on-campus soccer stadium to a 9,300-capacity structure. It’s the smallest in the FBS until a new Aloha Stadium — hello — is constructed for the 2024 season.
So after playing 2 home games in college football’s smallest stadium, Hawaii must somehow ready itself to play in the largest.
If that was all there is to it, the Rainbow Warriors would already have their hands full. Unfortunately, it’s not.
Hawaii experienced a tumultuous offseason, with coach Todd Graham run off the islands after allegations of player mistreatment were reported in January. Record-setting Rainbow Warriors quarterback Timmy Chang was hired to resurrect the flagging program’s fortunes.
Chang will need to hire Lazarus as defensive coordinator, it seems.
Though it’s early in the season, it’s not too early if the nation’s 50th state is home to its 131st-best college football team. Hawaii has already played twice, and neither was nice. Vanderbilt pummeled the Rainbow Warriors 63-10, and then Western Kentucky gave them the works by a 49-17 score. In Honolulu.
Now Hawaii plays its first road game against the nation’s 4th-ranked team.
Bad news for the Rainbows. Good news for McCarthy.
JJ McCarthy’s time is now
As Harbaugh likely realized when he concocted Michigan’s plan to alternate starters in the first 2 weeks, Hawaii is an opponent conducive to his sophomore succeeding in his first career start. If McCarthy is a better passer than a year ago, it’ll show against this team.
Given the mediocrity of McNamara’s performance against Colorado State, McCarthy should have confidence the job is there for the taking. McNamara is like a tennis player who double-faulted his serve. McCarthy just needs to keep his between the lines.
Maybe the matter isn’t settled for good until a third underwhelming opponent, Connecticut, visits Michigan the following week. But everything is at McCarthy’s disposal to secure himself as Michigan’s starting quarterback.
He just has to take the ball and run with it. And in a very literal sense, he already has a head start.