JJ McCarthy deserves to start, but Cade McNamara deserves your respect

Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Michigan quarterback controversy is over, but there’s another issue that needs to be addressed.

On Saturday, on the first start to his college career, JJ McCarthy removed any doubt that he deserved the QB1 title, completing 11 of 12 passing attempts for 229 yards and three touchdowns. His only incompleteness of the night was a dropped pass, and Wolverine scored seven touchdowns in his eight drives.

The duel between McCarthy and Kid McNamara dominated the conversations surrounding michigan football program for months. Now, this situation has been resolved. surely.

But there’s something Michigan fans need to hear: McNamara may have lost his first job, but he still deserves your respect.

McNamara booed during a tough match

Hiding in McCarthy’s coronation as the new Michigan crime leader was a much more disappointing development.

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It started when McNamara first entered the game, with Michigan leading 35-0 after scoring touchdowns in five of its first six drives. The reception for the start of last year wasn’t what it was when McCarthy usually got into the games, but that’s to be expected. Now, McNamara is definitely used to it.

First, let’s talk about what actually happened in the field.

McNamara contacted Ronnie Bell for a nine-yard gain on the first play, then handed it to Blake Corum for 20 yards.

On the 1st and 10th, McNamara had to throw the ball to Corum in the flat due to the oncoming Hawaiian defender. Michigan gained two yards — no big deal.

This is where the drive—and, in fact, the entire second half—began to head south. McNamara hit CJ Stokes straight into the hands for what was likely to be another first along the sideline, but Stokes dropped the pass, setting up a third down and eight.

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12 Cady McNamara of the Michigan Wolverines looks to throw the ball during the first half of a college football game against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at Michigan Stadium on September 10, 2022 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (2022 Getty Images)

Then, Zach Zenter puffed on a block and Blissman allowed Tala to come ripping in the background, firing McNamara to finish driving. Not only was it the first time Hawaii had played in the game—it was the first time Hawaii had played this season, and the Rainbow Warriors have played three games already.

McNamara jogged off the field to the scattered boos.

To start the second half, McNamara completed his only passes for the first push before Tavier Dunlap was stuffed into third and two to set up another kick. When McNamara returned to the field, he did so with the student division chants of “We want Orji,” a reference to new quarterback Alex Orji.

Yes, Orji has a funny name, and he scored a touchdown last weekend. But why does every player on the list seem to have the support of the fan base, except for the one who actually came out and helped win the Big Ten?

McNamara was fired in the first play of Next Drive. He had no chance of escaping after Connor Jones played bullfighter for John Tutubo’s bull. Although McNamara completed a 10-yard pass over center to Colston Loveland in third, that impulse also ended in a kick.

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More boos. More calls to Orji. Mind you, Michigan was winning 40 points. It didn’t take a body language expert to figure out what effect this had on McNamara.

His last play was the only real mistake he made: a less sideline pass to Andrel Anthony that was chosen by Virdel Edwards II.

Overall, for the second week in a row, McNamara did not play well. But other than the interception, it was 4 of 5 for 26 yards, the only shortcoming being a dropped pass. His offensive line, Stokes, and the situation as a whole did him no favors.

The McNamara Effect on Michigan

Based on the fan base’s initial reaction to the accusations, one trend is clear: Many, many people underestimate McNamara’s importance to Michigan’s success in 2021.

To be clear: Anyone who thinks McNamara wasn’t a decisive factor in beating Ohio State, winning the Big Ten, and qualifying for the playoff is wrong. Ask his colleagues who voted him leader. Ask his coach, who played quarterback in the NFL. Ask the voters who named it their third All-Big Ten.

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His stats might not jump off the page, but McNamara was exactly what Wolverine needed a year ago. He managed the offense to perfection, putting his teammates in positions of success and, most importantly, avoiding costly mistakes that could have derailed the season.

If what McNamara did was so easy, why did it take Michigan 18 years to find a quarterback who could do it well enough to win the conference?

When McNamara took over as the starting quarterback in 2020, the football program was in poor shape. Specifically, the team had a 1-3 record and Rutgers (yes, Rutgers!) fell 17-0.

If Jim Harbaugh hadn’t stopped Joe Milton off the bench, the Wolverines would have lost that game and dropped to 1-4. Instead, he brought in McNamara, and everything changed.

On the first drive, McNamara called on his first two pass attempts for a combined 60-yard run to put the Wolverines on the board. A few hours later, he celebrated a comeback victory with a 260-yard throw, four touchdowns, and no interception.

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“What happens if we win?” McNamara was famous for screaming in the locker room after a match. Fans loved him at the time – probably because he was the reserve midfielder.

Many of the people who booed McNamara on Saturday may have forgotten some details about the 2021 regular season, when McNamara won every game but one: Michigan State. The Wolverines lost that game because McNamara—who threw for 383 yards and two touchdowns—had to come out injured. In the ensuing play, McCarthy and Corum missed a delivery, and Michigan State marched down the field to score the winning goal.

These kinds of crippling errors have haunted Michigan’s football program for the past two decades. It’s no coincidence that when McNamara was in the field, those bugs disappeared.

Chad Heaney lost to Appalachian State. Jake Ruddock blew up his first game with three interceptions. Wilton assigned Michigan Spit to the 2016 Ohio State game with the Ugly Six pick. Cady McNamara’s only loss unrelated to injury as the Michigan quarterback came against the eventual National Champions in a playoff.

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Yes, it’s clear that Haskins has been an important part of last year’s success. So were David Ogabo, Aidan Hutchinson, Daxton Hill, and a whole host of other guys. But no one wins big in college football without a strong quarterback, and the 2021 Michigan Wolverines were no exception.

A message to Michigan fans

Just 12 months ago, Michigan’s football program was out of order, out of a losing season, and another year of separation from Harbaugh in the Scott Frost-esque disaster. It’s been 19 years since the last team title in the conference, and 25 years since the last 12 wins.

Coach Jim Harbaugh and JJ McCarthy #9 of the Michigan Wolverines share a moment before a college football game against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at Michigan Stadium on September 10, 2022 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (2022 Getty Images)

Now, Wolverines are the defenders of the Big Ten champions. They are one of only 13 teams to make a college football game, and once again find themselves ranked among the top four teams in the country.

Anyone who remembers the Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hawk years would agree that Michigan is pretty good right now. And Cade McNamara, whether you want to admit it or not, is a big reason for it.

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So, for all you Michigan fans, I challenge you to:

  • Celebrate McCarthy without denigrating McNamara.

  • Look at the 2021 team without underestimating McNamara’s contribution.

  • Instead of focusing on McNamara’s physical limitations, admire what he accomplished in spite of them.

Moving to McCarthy is the best football in Michigan right now. But that transformation can happen without turning on a player who deserves, quite frankly, lifelong admiration for what he did in 2021.

McNamara doesn’t have a raw talent that would automatically make him loved by fans. But this did not stop him from becoming a captain, champion and football legend in Michigan.

It wouldn’t hurt your fan base to start treating him like that.

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