ANN ARBOR, Mich. — JJ McCarthy says he’s approaching his first college start the same way he walked through the door at Michigan.
Clear-headed and confident, the sophomore quarterback credits his preparation over the past 18 months as an understudy to Cade McNamara for setting him up for Saturday’s game against Hawaii (8 p.m., Big Ten Network) , week 2 of the Wolverines’ unique plan to find a full-time starter
“I was always preparing to be the guy,” McCarthy said Tuesday night. “Snap 1, Game 1, whatever. Now it’s just about having the assurance that I’m going to be in snap 1, so that kind of erases all the worry and indecision about it.
McCarthy has spent all of 2021 as a back-up to McNamara, who won the job last spring, started all 14 games of the season and propelled Michigan to new heights as a starter. Not only did the Wolverines win 12 games, they beat Ohio State, won the Big Ten championship, and reached the college football playoffs.
McCarthy also played, appearing in 11 games behind center, often in specific situations and late in lopsided games. But it was also clear the Michigan staff were trying to fit the former five-star rookie into the offense.
“Being with guys like we have here, coaches that we have here, they fill you with confidence,” said McCarthy, who completed 34 of 59 pass attempts for 516 yards and five touchdowns last season, while rushing for 124 yards and two scores.
After: Jim Harbaugh – Playing Michigan’s two QBs ‘still a viable option’
“I’ve always been a guy with extreme self-confidence, but being around guys like that – and coaches like that – amplifies that even more.”
Head coach Jim Harbaugh reopened quarterback competition this offseason, but McCarthy was sidelined in the spring with a labrum injury that nearly required surgery. Instead, McCarthy and the doctors agreed on a plan that avoided a lengthy rehab but called for him to take time off from practice.
He was able to return for preseason camp, setting the stage for a “neck to neck” battle, according to Harbaugh, coaches and players, which McCarthy pushed into overtime. As a result, Michigan opted to go with a unique arrangement, one that called for McNamara to start Game 1 and McCarthy to win the ball back in Week 2.
“I just felt like I was constantly getting better every day,” McCarthy said. “I was so locked in on myself and my improvement, and I was recovering from this injury and all that. There was no direct, ‘OK, I’m ahead (Cade)’ – or anything like that.
Last week against Colorado State, McNamara was a disappointing 9 of 18 for 136 yards and a touchdown, missing several throws and nearly throwing an interception in the red zone. Meanwhile, McCarthy saw extended playing time in the second half, going 4-for-4 for 30 yards, but electrified the crowd with a 20-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Afterwards, McNamara appeared frustrated with the decision to split the starts, saying he felt he had done enough to earn the starting job for a second consecutive year.
“This decision is something that is out of my control,” McCarthy said. “I never thought about ‘I should be the guy; It’s my job; I won it. It’s not for me to decide. »
McCarthy has praised McNamara for the work he’s done over the past year – calling him smart, driven and driven – and says he’s worked to replicate some facets of his game that he loves, all in order to grow together. He says the two joked about the “many outside voices trying to make us hate each other”.
But more than anything, McCarthy said, he’s eager to prove what he set out to do when he committed to Michigan in 2019. He remains the highest-rated quarterback rookie of the Harbaugh era, one that has produced a mixed bag of success when it comes to post.
But McCarthy was different, analysts and recruiting watchers all said.
“That I can win football games for this team and that I love every one of my guys, every part of this college,” McCarthy said. “And just to exuberate that endlessly throughout the game.”
McCarthy called the opportunity to start Saturday night under the lights “Friday Night Lights on steroids,” recalling his days at Nazareth Academy in his hometown of La Grange Park, Illinois. He can’t wait to get out of the tunnel and lead Michigan into battle.
As for what happens beyond that, he’s not ready to speculate. He says he agrees with whatever Harbaugh decides.
“Whatever happens, happens, and I’m ready for it,” McCarthy said.
Learn more about Michigan football:
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Michigan ranks top 5 in college football polls after Week 1 blowout
A New Look For The Michigan Defense: Pressure From The Three Levels
Jim Harbaugh backs CFP expansion and hopes players will earn a share of revenue
Injured offensive lineman doubts playing against Hawaii
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