ANN ARBOR, Mich. — In the final game of the 2022 season, Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy giveth, and J.J. McCarthy taketh away.
McCarthy made some of his best throws in the College Football Playoff semifinal in the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl, but he made two extremely costly mistakes with two pick-sixes. Wipe those off the board, or even make them simple interceptions, that TCU game likely has a different outcome.
For Michigan, the intent now is to rise above simply making it to the playoff, as the Wolverines now have higher aspirations. If the maize and blue are to excel, it will likely be a result of McCarthy elevating his game to the next level — something that should be anticipated due to last year being just his first as the team’s starter. And given how much that TCU game was something of a microcosm of McCarthy’s experience last year, head coach Jim Harbaugh expects him to learn from that and carry forward those lessons.
“I look at J.J.’s first whole first season as a starter and all the things he faced. Good, bad, cheered, booed. Hit run, throw — everything he did, it’s about as good as you could be,” Harbaugh said. “First-year starter, no question about it. I don’t think anybody’s ever seen anything — I haven’t seen anything like that, first-year starting quarterback. 13-0 on Christmas and we’ve never been undefeated at Christmas. And then I call that a season for him.
“The TCU game in itself I think was practically like a whole season of experience. Because of all the things that happened. Behind, come back, really behind, come back, really good. Every up-down hit. He was just in so many football situations in that game, it was almost like a whole season. So it was really good.”
What’s more is Harbaugh is thrilled with McCarthy’s leadership, which doesn’t simply mean being the team’s point man. He sees a selfless player who leads by example, and isn’t concerned as much with individual accolades as much as he is helping the team win.
If that means throwing the ball, fine. Running the ball? That’s fine, too. If he’s asked to hand the ball off every play, he’ll be the first out there to block — as we’ve seen.
As Harbaugh sees it, McCarthy is a quintessential leader, who learns from his mistakes and hopes that the rest of the team follows his example.
“Tremendous physical ability and athletic ability and in every single way that you would want your quarterback. The rare thing is that he would sacrifice anything for any player on this team,” Harbaugh said. “Personally, he’s just so willing to do whatever is best for the team. I would follow him anywhere. Happily. I suggest that all players on our team do the same thing. He’s just really, really good at it.
“As far as anything you tell him, I mean, any coaching point that you give, he just he absorbs it and will make the correction immediately. It’s tremendous.”
One of the big questions this year is who will back up McCarthy should something happen to him in-season? The Wolverines entered 2022 with a competition between Cade McNamara and McCarthy, but after McNamara’s injury and subsequent loss of the starting role, he opted to seek out greener pastures at Iowa.
Harbaugh detailed what it looks like this spring with multiple contenders lining up for their chance should their number be called.
“Backup quarterback-wise, Davis Warren, Jack Tuttle, Alex Orji — Jayden Denegal is already off to a really hot start in the spring. So is Jack Tuttle. He’s been really good the first two days,” Harbaugh said. “All four of those quarterbacks are really engaged and have had really good offseasons with Coach Herb and the staff in the seven weeks — six, seven weeks that they’ve been in the winter cycle. So really good can’t really call it right now after two days of practice who would be the backup quarterback, but feel really good about the quarterback room.”
Spring ball continues now through April 1, with the culmination being the annual spring game at The Big House.