It was a road filled with some bumps and bruises over the last number of weeks, but the Michigan Wolverines appear to have found a quarterback that can run the offense and consistently make plays in Cade McNamara. The redshirt freshman was inserted into Saturday night’s game at Rutgers facing a 17-0 deficit and was able to rally the troops in what became a 48-42 triple-overtime win for the Wolverines.
McNamara finished the night 27-for-36 for 260 yards and five total touchdowns and feels like he has done more than enough to warrant keeping the quarterback job for himself moving forward.
“Personally,” I feel like I’ve done enough for me to be put in that position,” he said after the game. “That’s Coach Harbaugh’s decision. Whatever is best for the team, that’s Coach Harbaugh’s decision. From a personal view, I feel like I’m confident enough in myself that if my number is called again that I would perform the same way. My job as a leader is to help lead these boys to another victory.”
Harbaugh was more than pleased with the performance on Saturday night and said that what he saw was a signal-caller playing to his strengths and having a blast on the field.
“Play within your own personality. I could tell he was having fun,” Harbaugh said. “It was great to see our players having fun. Saw so many good things out of him. The way he played, the way he executed. How he was prepared for the game. Gritty, it was a gritty performance. Also, really great quarterback play.”
Time after time on Saturday, Michigan needed the offense to keep responding when the defense was getting gashed by an unorthodox Rutgers attack. Heading into the final drive of the game, McNamara knew what he had to do to lead the team back.
“Just really my role is to be a distributor,” he said. “Really get the ball into the receiver’s hands as fast as I possibly can. Just make sure we’re running on all cylinders, really. What it took for us on that last drive is patience. We took it play-by-play. Again, the running game was huge. Came up for us huge. We’ve been struggling with that a little bit. For us to get it going, to be able to rely on that was a huge factor in us winning this game.
“Play-by-play, drive-by-drive. In my career, I’ve been down bigger (deficits) at halftime and everything. I feel like I have a comfort level when it comes to coming from behind. It didn’t really phase me that much. Again, I think as a team, Coach Gattis is always preaching that we believe in each other, we trust each other and we trust the coaches. That’s what it took for us to come back and win.
“A lot of it is that I need to stay relaxed. I’m not going to get 17 points back immediately and it’s not my job to. As a team, as an offense, we have to take it play-by-play. Drive-by-drive. That’s what I was preaching to the team, to the offense when we were going. Just staying relaxed and maintaining that confidence that no matter how much we get down we’re still in this thing. I think the level of trust between all of us tonight, I think that led to us being able to pull this off.
The buzz on McNamara throughout the offseason, and even heading into last night’s game, was that the game had slowed down for him and his arrow was pointing upward. However, Michigan needed to see it in game action and when circumstances called for it, they liked what they got out of their second-year passer.
“He’s very well-prepared. I think he’s seeing things very good. His confidence has always been really high,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a testament to his ability. Really happy for him. As I said, it was gritty. Sometimes you’ve gotta see it in the game and he was as good as you could come in and play. Heck of a great comeback. Nice to know about yourself that you’re a quarterback that can lead comebacks and come from behind.”
McNamara was asked after the game if he felt that he was a “spark” for the offense and not only did he agree, but he feels like he projected it on to the rest of his teammates, as well.
“Yeah. I think my level of confidence and my belief in myself, I think I push that to my teammates as much as I can,” McNamara said. “Just that swagger, that trust level, too. Having confidence in ourselves and the level of execution. Just trusting our preparation all week. There were multiple sparks all night, whether it was Giles running back that kick or CJ making that big route on that first touchdown to get us going.”
The kindling for the spark came in the form of an offensive gameplan with McNamara in the game that saw a lot of quick passes to get him in rhythm early and keep him there for the rest of the game. McNamara said that being quick and decisive with the football had an effect on him and that it gave his wide receivers a boost.
“It helps me out a lot. I don’t have to sit back in the pocket for a long time,” McNamara said. “Coach Gattis did a great job of play calling tonight, being able to get the ball out of my hands fast. I think that swagger when it comes to the receivers, when they know they’re going to get the ball fast, those guys are confident as well. They believe in themselves and when they’re out in open field they’re going to make someone miss. I thought that was a huge part of our offensive production tonight.”
It was quite clear on Saturday night McNamara is the better of the two quarterbacks moving forward. Despite Harbaugh saying they will take a closer look at things, it appears they have already made the decision.
“We’ll look at it,” Harbaugh said. “The way he played tonight, he’s going to be in there.”