J.J. McCarthy appeared in 11 games for the Michigan Wolverines in 2021, but none of those were starts.
McCarthy fared well as a true freshman, throwing for 516 yards, five touchdowns to two interceptions while rushing for 124 yards and two scores. McCarthy was a change-of-pace to starter Cade McNamara. A year later McCarthy is the starting quarterback, starting every game since the second week of the season, six games in all.
There have been learning curves for McCarthy as a passer, runner, and commander of the offense, but there’s been clear improvement as well.
“He’s just soaking it all in like a sponge,” Jim Harbaugh said on the Inside Michigan Football Radio Show. “Really doesn’t make the same mistakes twice. You can make the case it’s all a learning experience when you’re starting for the first time, but he’s handling it extremely well.”
One area where McCarthy has excelled overall is with accuracy. McCarthy leads the nation in completion percentage at 77.1%.
“It’s been really accurate, the thing that jumps out the most about the ways he’s been playing,” Harbaugh said.
Harbaugh made an analogy to explain why McCarthy’s time on task is so important. Sometimes a quarterback needs to be thrown into the fire to test their mettle and see if they’re truly ready to be handed the keys to the offense.
“If you’re accurate in practice, you’re usually going to be accurate in the game, but not always. Because it’s like a golfer that plays the same golf course every single day and he’s gonna get really good at practice but what’s it like when they get to play a different course under different conditions? So, you don’t know till you know.”
Harbaugh said McCarthy has been good in the pocket, and accurate out of the pocket when he’s on the move. More will be added to McCarthy’s plate as he gains experience, but he’s done well enough already for Michigan to be 7-0 and ranked No. 4 in the country.
“He finds different ways to move the chains and to get the team into the endzone. And really find out what his game is. It’s evolving but it’s going really well.”
Harbaugh described McCarthy as someone who has a flair. He’s been pleased with the way McCarthy studies and goes through his reads and progressions. With Michigan now on a bye and facing Michigan State the week after, now will be a good time to hone in on the things McCarthy does well in the playbook. McCarthy has been one of the nation's best passers in the red zone this season, and Harbaugh pointed to play-action as an area the team will be focusing on this week.
“Some really good play-action for some of our really good run scheme and complementary type of things in the offense,” Harbaugh said. “I call them plays that are married. Because we put a lot of good stuff on tape and now if you can get the good compliments to go with them, then that becomes even more dangerous.”
McCarthy has thrown for 1,297 yards this season with nine touchdowns and two interceptions while rushing for 147 yards and one touchdown.
Per DraftKings Sportsbook, Michigan currently has the second-best odds of winning the Big Ten Championship at +425. Ohio State is the favorite at -380.
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