Rapid Reaction: The McCarthy Era rolls on in Michigan's shutout of overmatched UConn
JJ McCarthy has some catching up to do.
No, not of the field, obviously, where No. 4 Michigan’s newly anointed starting quarterback posted some more ultra-efficient numbers Saturday afternoon in a 59-0 victory over visiting UConn.
No, we’re talking about the Heisman race.
Jim Harbaugh’s quarterback competition and Michigan’s cupcake schedule have slowed their former 5-star quarterback’s burst out the starting gate like none of the bottom-feeding non-conference opponents this year could have possibly hoped to do.
McCarthy completed 15-of-18 passes for 214 yards while playing most of the snaps through 3 quarters, but Blake Corum rushed for the Wolverines’ first 5 offensive touchdowns. In his second start, McCarthy made many easy dump-off and swing passes, but the sophomore flashed his elite arm talent several times, twice in particular before halftime. He threw a intermediate-level seed to Ronnie Bell for a 15-yard gain in the first quarter, and made an on-the-run, across-his-body throw to tight end Luke Schoonmaker for 31 yards to set up Corum’s 4th score.
After watching from the sideline in the final quarter, McCarthy remains an under-the-radar Heisman candidate for now. But based on his pedigree and Michigan’s national standing, he’s in the race.
And as anyone knows who saw his first carry this season — a 20-yard burst for a touchdown in the season-opener against Colorado State — McCarthy gains ground in a hurry.
After his lights-out starting debut last weekend, McCarthy’s odds to win the Heisman improved significantly. Instead of increasing one’s money 100-fold, a gambler would have to settle for 30 times his wager. And the potential return might have shrunk again by the time you read this.
There is a hitch, though. It’s a minor problem, one that should clear up in good time.
Right now, you won’t find McCarthy’s 88.2 completion percentage atop the FBS list of statistical leaders, because he doesn’t quality. Thanks to early exits and Cade McNamara’s 1 start, McCarthy has attempted just over 11 passes per outing. That average must improve to 15 per contest to get McCarthy on the board. Only then will his crazy-high QB rating — 291.61 going into Saturday’s game — count as the best in the nation.
Given that Michigan averages well over 200 rushing yards per game and better than 6 per carry, its 6-3, 196-pound QB phenom might need several more games to cross that 15-attempts threshold. Maybe Big Ten competition will force the Wolverines to the air more, but then again, maybe not.
Like McCarthy, running backs Corum, Donovan Edwards (who missed Saturday with right leg injury) and true freshman CJ Stokes are just getting warmed up. None of them has reached 100 yards or 15 carries in a game this season. When needed, they’ll be fresh and have way more to give. Corum entered the season as a dark horse Heisman candidate himself, Edwards was the No. 42 recruit in the country a year ago and Stokes has impressed position coach Mike Hart from the start. Corum carried 12 times for 71 yards Saturday, establishing himself as the team’s clear No. 1 back heading into Big Ten play.
All that said, McCarthy is now the face of the program. He arrived on campus a year ago already pre-hyped, 1 of 6 5-star quarterbacks in that 2021 class according to the 247Sports composite rankings. Unlike the top 2 on that list, Quinn Ewers and Caleb Williams, McCarthy remains with his original school. Since signing his letter on intent, the IMG Academy product hasn’t wavered in his expressed desire to be a Michigan man.
Not your grandfather’s McCarthyism
Let the good vibes roll.
Nothing keeps a Heisman campaign going like an undefeated record and national attention. When 110,000 people show up week after week in Ann Arbor to watch glorified scrimmages, you know something is going on. How many more of the Maize and Blue faithful will cram into The Big House for next weekend’s Big Ten opener against Maryland?
Michigan certainly looks the part of a team that can reach its Nov. 26 date at Ohio State unscathed, as do the Buckeyes. Crazy things happen in college football, but — even if one or both teams stumble somewhere along the way — that matchup seems likely to be a showdown for the B1G East crown. If McCarthy gets the better of Heisman favorite CJ Stroud in that one, not only the Heisman but a return to the Playoff will be on the table.
McCarthyism is running rampant in Michigan.
J.J. McCarthy 2040 🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/ToT2dmQrU0
— Zach Libby (@RivalsLibby) September 11, 2022
And this is a good brand of McCarthyism, nothing like what Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy brought about in the 1950s. That McCarthy was eventually censured by his fellow senators after conjuring up a Red Scare that had nothing to do with Ohio State, Nebraska or next weekend’s opponent, Maryland.
No, this McCarthyism only ousted one man from his job, and the only jail time McNamara could see would be figurative — if he does something crazy and self-imprisons himself by transferring to some place like Iowa, which still runs an offense from the original McCarthy era. He entered late in the first half Saturday to a rousing ovation, as UM fans made clear they want to keep the team’s 2-deep at the QB position intact. McNamara took a couple big hits in his brief stint, and didn’t play in the second half. Alex Orji, Davis Warren and Alan Bowman shared mop-up duty.
Regardless of the competition, these are some impressive stats:
- Michigan’s average margin of victory is 49.7 points.
- The defense hasn’t allowed a first-half point yet this season, and only 3 outside of fourth-quarter garbage time. The Wolverines held the Huskies to 64 yards and 4 first downs in the first half.
- The Wolverines have 8 sacks on the season, with 10 players getting at least a share of a hit on an opposing QB. They didn’t get to Zion Turner through 3-plus quarters, but did harass him into a 4-for-16 outing for 17 yards before his backup finished the game.
- UM recovered a fumble, blocked a punt and returned another punt for a TD (AJ Henning 61 yards) Saturday while storming out to a 31-0 lead.
- The offense is averaging nearly 500 yards per game, fairly evenly split between rushing and passing.
- Jake Moody — and his backups — haven’t missed a kick this season from inside 62 yards. Moody, the defending Lou Groza Award winner as the country’s top kicker in 2021, is now 4-5 on field goals and 19-19 on PATs. His perfect start to the season ended when Michigan sent him out to try from 62 yards at the end of the first half. His attempt was on-line but at least 5 yards short.
The coaching staff’s biggest challenge entering league play might be coming up with things for the various position groups to work on. But UM didn’t register a first-half sack while surrendering 2. So that’s something.
Final thoughts, numbers on UConn
Michigan is now 3-0 against Connecticut, and it says a lot about the relative directions of the programs that UM had to rally from 21-7 down to beat the Huskies 9 years ago. The Wolverines actually went on the road to play the Huskies during that 7-6 season under Brady Hoke. Former NFL coach Jim Mora (the son, not “Playoffs?” Jim Mora) is in his first season trying to resurrect a program that last made it to a bowl game in 2015 and last had a winning season in 2010.
Michigan, on the other hand, has gotten a tad better since that time. The only question on Saturday was whether Harbaugh’s 8th edition could score more points than the men’s basketball team’s best effort (68 points) while going 1-2 all-time against UConn. UM did come within a point of the hoop team’s worst output vs. the Huskies.
At some point, you have to blame programs like UConn for taking match-ups like this. One day these Huskies will tell their kids and grandkids they played in The Big House. So there’s that.
Up next: Maryland
The Wolverines will be home for a 4th straight Saturday when they open Big Ten play against Maryland (noon ET, Fox). The Terps are 2-0 heading into tonight’s tilt with SMU, which is expected to be a close, high-scoring affair. Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa and his 3 stud receivers will certainly test Michigan more than the collectively 43.8-point underdogs it faced in non-con play.
With McCarthy and Tagovailoa headlining, the game should be a ratings bonanza for Fox and draw another huge crowd despite the third 11 a.m. local time kickoff of the season. The extended forecast calls for cooler temperatures, topping out around 70, but it’ll be another darn-near perfect Saturday in Ann Arbor if JJ and Wolverines keep doing what they’re doing.