To beat Georgia, Michigan QB Cade McNamara needs to have the game of his life
Welcome to the College Football Playoff, Cade McNamara. Now all you have to do is play the best game of your life to keep it going.
This is the type of hyperbole that always accompanies quarterbacks as they head into the biggest game of their careers. But often it isn’t literally true. In the 2018 Sugar Bowl, Jalen Hurts led No. 4 Alabama to a 24-6 upset over No. 1 Clemson by going 16-of-24 for 120 yards. And usually that’s all Michigan needs out of McNamara to beat its opponents.
But Georgia is no ordinary opponent. The Bulldogs are largely impervious to the run, allowing 2.6 yards per carry and 3 rushing touchdowns all season. Only 2 teams averaged better than 4 yards a carry against Georgia this season.
Alabama averaged 4.4 ypc in the SEC championship game after loosening up Georgia’s defense through the air. Florida averaged 4.1 ypc in a 34-7 loss to the Dawgs in October, but quarterbacks accounted for 48 of the Gators’ 161 rushing yards. McNamara, who has 27 yards on 30 carries, is not going to exploit Georgia’s defense with his legs.
Michigan will be hard-pressed to beat Georgia with its usual game plan. Arkansas, which is just 2 spots behind the Wolverines in rushing yardage at No. 12 nationally, gained only 75 yards on the ground against Georgia.
McNamara will have to beat the Bulldogs with his arm. But can he?
There are 2 games that should give Wolverines fans some degree of optimism. But they also underscore the unlikelihood of this feat.
Cade McNamara’s progression
In the first 4 weeks of the season, McNamara never threw more than 16 passes. Only the service academies were throwing the ball less frequently than Michigan.
Jim Harbaugh took the training wheels off his quarterback in the Big Ten opener at Wisconsin. The Badgers — who have the only run defense in America better than Georgia’s — were clearly anticipating Michigan to continue with its September strategy.
McNamara was good enough to exploit the openings the Badgers provided in their pass defense, going 17-for-28 for 197 yards and 2 touchdowns. Modest numbers, but monstrous at the moment given how uncertain it was that Michigan could throw at all.
Beautiful play call by the Michigan offense! Cade McNamara delivers a beautiful pass to Cornelius Johnson on the flea flicker. Michigan needs to continue being successful in the passing game.
— CFB Blitz (@BlitzCfb) October 2, 2021
Granted, that flea-flicker to open the scoring at Wisconsin is a perfect example of taking advantage of a defense that’s looking purely for the run. It wasn’t until the Oct. 30 game at Michigan State that the Wolverines created a game plan around McNamara as the primary weapon.
McNamara vs. Michigan State
Though the Spartans won that game due to Kenneth Walker III’s 5-touchdown performance, McNamara did more than he had ever been asked. McNamara finished the game 28-of-44 for 383 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a 93-yarder to Andrel Anthony.
ANDREL ANTHONY IS FASTER THAN YOU
MICHIGAN 93 YARDS💨 #CFB
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) October 30, 2021
Even though Anthony’s speed is doing most of the work here, it’s still a money throw from McNamara. This is a third-and-5 play on which Michigan will be punting from its own end zone if it doesn’t convert the first down.
McNamara does a great job of trusting his pocket, feeling the pressure and releasing the pass at just the right time. The play is only intended to pick up the first down, but because he hits Anthony in stride, the speedy receiver turned it into a whole lot more.
The sophomore threw another third-down touchdown pass later in the game to give Michigan a seemingly safe 30-14 lead.
Cade McNamara is having a day against Michigan State 🔥pic.twitter.com/8lASoBHXnK
— PointsBet Sportsbook (@PointsBetUSA) October 30, 2021
There is, of course, an enormous caveat in hyping up McNamara’s performance against Michigan State.
The Spartans had the worst pass defense out of all 130 FBS teams. From Akron to Wyoming, every other school was better against the pass.
That obviously includes Georgia, which is No. 3 nationally against the pass. The Bulldogs are allowing 171.5 yards per game through the air, though Alabama quarterback Bryce Young put 340 on them in the SEC championship game and turned that performance into a Heisman trophy.
Can Cade beat Georgia?
McNamara has 1 other performance in which he was the straw stirring Michigan’s drink. He threw for 259 yards and 2 touchdowns in a 59-18 win at Maryland.
Michigan is dominating Maryland right now as Donovan Edwards goes 77 yards to the HOUSE! 🔥
— Bally Sports (@BallySports) November 20, 2021
But once again, his performance was a case of being entrusted with attacking one of the nation’s worst pass defenses. The Terrapins are 104th against the pass this year.
Statistically speaking, McNamara is slightly above the median for a starting quarterback. Pro Football Focus ranks him as the No. 55 quarterback in the country. Young, the lone quarterback to beat the Bulldogs this year, ranks No. 1 at the position.
So for McNamara to do anything remotely close, it is going to take the game of his life. And in this case, that’s not just a figure of speech.