May 25, 2024

J.J. McCarthy relying on familiarity as Michigan prepares for Iowa

Michigan Wolverines Football

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy participates in throwing drills before Big Ten Championship Game against Purdue Saturday December 3, 2022 at Lucas Oil Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The Wolverines’ junior quarterback is as confident as ever approaching the Big Ten Championship Game, and rightfully so.

After all, J.J. McCarthy just beat Ohio State for the second time, and led Michigan to another undefeated regular season. Not to mention he was named the Big Ten’s Quarterback of the Year earlier this week. It’s the first time a Wolverine signal-caller has ever received the recognition, and McCarthy wants to build on the momentum.

However, he understands what comes with the territory of being labeled the best. Now the target on McCarthy’s back is bigger than ever before as one of the nation’s best defenses looms on Saturday night. Iowa (10-2) has the longest-tenured coach in the FBS in Kirk Ferentz, and everyone knows what to expect. The Hawkeyes have won all of their games by being tenacious on defense, and most of those contests were low-scoring affairs.

Michigan leads the Big Ten in points per game with McCarthy behind center. The Hawkeyes will have one of the best defenses McCarthy will see this season, but he’s up for the challenge. Something has to give in this matchup though, so the gunslinger is ready for whatever comes his way.

“Coach Ferentz does a great job of making sure that they’re well-coached, and in the right spots at all times,” McCarthy said. “That’s something about Iowa’s defense that makes them so good all the time is they’re disciplined, their techniques and coverages, they don’t do a lot, but they do it really well.”

McCarthy has played against Iowa twice in his career. He got a handful of snaps in the Big Ten Championship Game in 2021, in which he threw an interception. McCarthy started last year’s game at Kinnick Stadium. The gunslinger threw for 155 yards and a touchdown in the 27-14 victory.

McCarthy is expecting the Hawkeyes to show him some new looks this time around. Regardless, he’s more of a complete quarterback now, with very few limitations. McCarthy leads the conference in completion percentage, and passing efficiency. The Illinois native is also a jaw-dropping, 24-1 as Michigan’s starter.

Coach Jim Harbaugh is in awe of McCarthy’s maturation process, and believes the best is yet to come for him. Harbaugh, who’s a former Wolverine quarterback himself, loves the moxie McCarthy plays with, and how the rest of the offense builds off his energy.

“There’s no doubt that J.J. McCarthy is the incredible player that he is, fearless is a way to describe him, and he’s never careless,” Harbaugh said. “What a leader, the record speaks for itself.”

McCarthy gives all the credit to his teammates because he knows he wouldn’t be in this position without them. Harbaugh has put weapons all around McCarthy, and a brick wall of blockers to protect him up front. Everyone is selfless, and that’s why they trust each other in McCarthy’s eyes.

Nobody cared about the outside distractions, like the sign stealing scandal, or Harbaugh’s three-game suspension. The Wolverines remained focus and balled out, which McCarthy believes is the heart of champions.

“The interesting thing about this group is that we don’t really keep it one game at a time, we keep it one day at a time, and try to focus on all of the daily victories that are presented to us” he said. “It just keep us on that one-track mind, that Coach Harbaugh always talks about, and try to win the day.”

McCarthy is excited to have Coach Harbaugh back on the sideline, as well as his teammates. The anticipation is through the roof too. There will be a ton of Hawkeye fans in the building, so it’s going to be important for Michigan’s offense to set the tone early, and take the crowd out of it. Harbaugh is one of the best gameday motivators, and his players are going to want to perform well for him.

“Just his presence, you never know what’s going to come out of that man’s mouth,” the 20-year old said. “But anything that does, it’s always at the right time, and the right words are said.”

There’s so much at stake for the Wolverines, including a third-straight Big Ten crown, and Playoff berth. Iowa has nothing to lose, and everything to gain, which means the pressure is on Michigan. On paper the Hawkeyes look like the inferior opponent, but McCarthy refuses to overlook them. The six-foot-three, 202-pounder is expecting Iowa’s best in Indianapolis, but he also has a few tricks up his sleeve to unleash. So Saturday night can’t get here fast enough for McCarthy.

“Just extremely honored to be in this position again, a great effort throughout the entire season, and the job isn’t finished yet, so we still got a lot more to go, and I’m excited for this week.”