INDIANAPOLIS — Although the Wolverines are fresh off from winning a third-straight Big Ten Title, their quarterback is eager to improve after his last performance.
J.J. McCarthy has been one of the most successful signal-callers in College Football over the past two seasons, and was even named the Big Ten’s Quarterback of the Year last week. However, his hot start to the season sort of fizzled down the stretch.
After all, McCarthy threw for 18 touchdowns and three interceptions through Michigan’s first eight games. Over the last five contests his passing production has dropped significantly, considering he only has one touchdown toss during that span. McCarthy completed 22 of his 30 passes for 147 yards against Iowa. Those weren’t jaw-dropping numbers, but McCarthy feels the value he brings to the offense is more than just stats.
His experience, leadership, and knowledge of the playbook is what has helped the Wolverines in clutch situations. Which is why Coach Jim Harbaugh appreciates everything McCarthy brings to the team. The Illinois native never flinches, takes pride in being ready for the big moment, and knows his confidence rubs off on his teammates. That clearly showed in the shutout victory over the Hawkeyes.
“In my eyes I look at it as act like you’ve been there before, and Coach Harbaugh always hits on that, just like scoring your first touchdown like you’ve scored your hundredth,” McCarthy said. “I feel like we scored our hundredth today, just being able to go out there and win for a third time, and it’s just like we’ve been here before, and we’re ready to move on and get better.”
He’s not proud of the offense having to settle for four field goals in Saturday night’s clash. McCarthy wants to help the offense score more touchdowns, which will be vital in the Playoffs against elite competition. He hasn’t been asked to do much lately because Harbaugh has put a great supporting cast around McCarthy.
Running back Blake Corum is a safe bet inside the redzone, and leads the FBS with 24 rushing touchdowns. Tight ends Colston Loveland and A.J. Barner have combined for 62 catches and five touchdowns. Wideout Roman Wilson earned second-team, All-Big Ten honors, and Michigan (13-0) has the nation’s best offensive line.
So there’s no denying McCarthy has weapons in his arsenal, but defenses are going to load up the box to stop Corum, and make him win with his arm. That’s why McCarthy plans on putting himself through intense practices to improve certain areas of his game. The last thing he wants to be is a liability to the rest of the offense when the game is on the line. McCarthy has to be able to put the team on his back, and carry them to the finish line.
“What I’m feeling personally is I need to get better, and we need to get better as an offense and focus on the little things,” he said. “It’s going to be a great month of preparation.”
The six-foot-three, 202-pounder still leads the conference in completion percentage and passing efficiency. Now he’s out to prove that his passing numbers through the first half of the season were no fluke. In order to do that, McCarthy understands it’s going to require him to be patient behind center, and to go through his progressions when locating targets out in space.
“Me personally, I just need to do better at staying in the pocket, not moving too early, and trusting my receivers downfield all the time,” the 20-year old said. “Just back to the drawing board, we’ll get better from it and continue to tighten things down to make us the most dominant offense we can be.”
Despite the fact that McCarthy hasn’t thrown a touchdown in four of Michigan’s past five games, Harbaugh remains confident in his abilities to lead the offense. He’s a former quarterback himself, and knows the position goes deeper than just stats. It’s about earning everyone’s trust, responding to adversity and coming up huge in the clutch. McCarthy has done all of that in Harbaugh’s eyes, and he expects him to build off his outing against the Hawkeyes.
“There wasn’t one play where he (McCarthy) made a mistake, it was a near perfect performance.”