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Michigan’s road game vs. Iowa requires quick improvement from J.J. McCarthy

How quickly can McCarthy practice great ball security? How close is he to consistently landing those deep balls?

Connecticut v Michigan Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

Through Michigan’s first four games J.J. McCarthy has done some tremendous things with his feet and his arm. McCarthy has had a few highlight reel runs, and passing statistics that are incredible. McCarthy has completed 80% of his passes for 693 yards, five touchdowns, and zero interceptions.

There are great plays on tape that show the 19-year old QB may have a very promising career. However, there are also some plays McCarthy wishes he could have back.

Although the miscues didn’t lead to turnovers, McCarthy fumbled the ball twice against Maryland. This cannot become a habit, and it can’t happen against Michigan’s opponent on Saturday, the Iowa Hawkeyes. Iowa boasts the No. 6 total defense and No. 1 scoring defense. Iowa has scored four defensive touchdowns and plays stingy and smart defense.

Turning the ball over on the road against a top defense is a recipe for disaster. The good news for Michigan is they have a quarterback in McCarthy who is eager to ascend quickly.

“As a coach, I’m looking at, hey, where’s the improvement? Let’s attack it and let’s really hone in on more fundamentals, more technique. When you win, to be able to win and have that many things to make improvements on, it really fires you up,” Harbaugh said on the Inside Michigan Football radio show. “J.J. is like a sponge, and he’s gonna collect it all and add it to his game.”

Harbaugh noted this week how opportunistic Iowa’s defense is and how the Hawkeyes play so in sync as a unit it’s hard for a quarterback to drop it into safe windows. Harbaugh said that any type of inaccuracy, be it an overthrow, underthrow, or tipped ball will likely be a turnover.

Ball security is a point of emphasis each and every week, but in games like this one, the point is driven home even more.

“Iowa thrives off of turnovers. We know that we have to take care of the ball. We want to take care of it every week, but this week, I mean, that’s how they win games, right? They’ve scored four touchdowns on defense,” co-offensive coordinator Matt Weiss said on Wednesday. “We know that it’s one of our biggest goals in this game is to end every drive with a kick and take care of the football. All those things factor into how aggressive you are in every situation.”

Just because Michigan wants to win the turnover battle doesn’t necessarily mean that they won’t be taking shots down the field, nor does it mean that they’ll put restrictions on what McCarthy does as a dual-threat quarterback.

“We love J.J., everything about him and him being himself is the best thing for Michigan football,” Weiss said. “At the same time, you get what you emphasize and definitely, we’re talking to him about improving in every area and taking care of the football. Like we’ve said, this is a huge emphasis in this game.”

McCarthy’s start against Iowa will be the fourth of his career, last week was the first start where he played in all four quarters due to the game against Maryland being Michigan’s closest of the season. McCarthy did have the two fumbles, but he also had a 49-yard strike to Ronnie Bell to put Michigan in field goal range, he also had a beautifully timed touchdown throw to Roman Wilson in the fourth quarter to create even more separation. There are things to work on, and he’ll have to make strides before Saturday, but the rewards outweigh the risks. Harbaugh said McCarthy was living dangerously on a couple plays against Maryland, but also made big throws and kept the chains moving. True, true, and true.

Harbaugh and Weiss seem very confident that McCarthy can make big plays and be more careful with the ball. If McCarthy is able to do that, if he’s able to land a few more deep strikes that are whiskers away from being caught, the Michigan offense could get dangerous.

“There’s so many things that we can fix and work on. We come away from it, even when he did make mistakes, we’re encouraged,” Weiss said. “Because you can see it’s all fixable stuff. It just comes down to coaching more than anything else. If he’s making mistakes, we’re not doing the right thing. And that’s on us as coaches. So we’re really encouraged by his first full game. Yeah, we were happy with it.”

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz believes it can be argued Michigan may be better with McCarthy than they were with Cade McNamara at the helm of Michigan’s offense. McNamara did help win Michigan some big games a season ago, now it’s McCarthy’s turn to go into a hostile environment and make his presence known.

“It’s like an NFL playoff game; each and every play, something can happen,” Ferentz said.

Michigan made some explosive plays in their 42-3 win over Iowa in the Big Ten Championship. While the score may end up looking much different this time around, the way McCarthy and Michigan’s offense goes about attacking Iowa will not.

“We’re going to take with it with the with they give us. If they give us an opportunity throw the ball down the field, we’re going to throw the ball down the field,” Weiss said. If they give us an opportunity to run the ball down the middle, we’ll run the ball in the middle. If they give us an opportunity to go outside, we’ll go outside.”

Go win.

Michigan plays Iowa on Saturday at 12 p.m. and per DraftKings Sportsbook the Wolverines are currently an 11-point favorite.

All odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook.

Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See for details.