Free Press sports writer Rainer Sabin answers three questions after Michigan football defeated Colorado State, 51-7, in Ann Arbor on Saturday:
How did Cade McNamara look?
Before he even took the field Saturday, Cade McNamara found himself in an awkward position. The same quarterback who led the Wolverines to their first Big Ten title in 17 years entered the opener with a tenuous grip on the starting job. Jim Harbaugh already declared that JJ McCarthy would start the Week 2 matchup against Hawaii. Although Harbaugh said his decision shouldn’t be seen as a “demotion” for McNamara, it wasn’t exactly a vote of confidence in a player who had just been elected as a captain by his teammates. McNamara’s struggles Saturday should be viewed in the context of the bizarre situation Harbaugh created for him. He played like someone under great pressure, after all.
Easy throws sailed wide and low, missing their intended targets. And his frustration mounted. After tight end Erick All stumbled on a route and McNamara’s pass fell incomplete on a third down inside Colorado State’s end zone, the quarterback shouted in anger. The failed play encapsulated the performance of a quarterback out of rhythm. McNamara missed five of his first six passes and his completion rate dipped below 47% before the end of the first half. A wan stat line was enhanced by a 62-yard touchdown strike to Roman Wilson. But Wilson caught McNamara’s throw 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage before tuning upfield.
By the time McNamara was replaced by McCarthy in the third quarter, the Wolverines led by 30 points. A win was guaranteed for McNamara. But he couldn’t bank on much else after completing just 9 of 18 pass attempts for 136 yards.
Could JJ McCarthy be the answer to replacing Hassan Haskins?
McCarthy added an explosive element to the ground game. On his first carry, he took the snap at the edge of the red zone before racing around the edge and beating a defender to the goal line. The 20-yard touchdown run provided the latest evidence that McCarthy can be a playmaker.
MORE FROM SABIN:Is a College Football Playoff championship really achievable for Michigan?
Harbaugh indicated that McCarthy’s athleticism gives him an edge over McNamara and the dual threat he poses may be needed as the Wolverines look to replace Hassan Haskins.
Haskins was the catalyst of a rushing offense that led the Big Ten a year ago. His departure this offseason left a major void, and it’s uncertain if it will be filled. While Donovan Edwards and Blake Corum averaged 5.6 yards per carry Saturday, neither consistently demonstrated the power Haskins routinely showed. Perhaps they never will. If that is the case, Michigan’s running game may have to produce yards in different ways. Enter McCarthy, who shows an ability to advance to the second and third levels in the blink of an eye.
The 50 yards he gained on three carries offered the latest proof of that talent.
How did Michigan DC Jesse Minter fare in his debut?
At Big Ten media days in July, Harbaugh wondered if his defense might be better than the one that experienced a revival a season ago.
Sure, Aidan Hutchinson, David Ojabo and Dax Hill were no longer in the fold. But the collection of returning starters and top-line reserves now had a firm understanding of the system Mike Macdonald installed during his lone season in Ann Arbor. The scheme, with its malleable fronts and multiple coverages, proved a rousing success. Michigan finished in the top 10 in scoring last fall, and Macdonald was soon called back to the NFL. That led to the arrival of Jesse Minter, Macdonald’s former colleague with the Baltimore Ravens. Minter was given the charge of running the same scheme installed by Macdonald.
So far, so good.
The Wolverines managed to generate consistent pressure, denting CSU quarterback Clay Millen’s pocket and bogging down the Rams’ offense. Michigan had seven sacks and forced two takeaways, including a fumble that led to a 45-yard touchdown return by DJ Turner. The Rams, who were breaking in a new offense under first-year coach Jay Norvell, never stood much of a chance. They averaged 3.7 yards per play and did not advance further than Michigan’s 42-yard line until the fourth quarter.
The no-name defense delivered for Minter.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: How did Michigan QB Cade McNamara fare with the starting job at stake?