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J.J. McCarthy and an explosive passing offense could take Michigan far

McCarthy’s been nearly perfect through two weeks and Michigan’s passing offense looks dynamic.

UNLV v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Michigan’s passing offense has been humming through its first two games of the season.

Quarterback J.J. McCarthy has gone 48-of-55 for 558 yards and five touchdowns in those two games. McCarthy’s completion rate of 87.3 is astounding and he’s getting help from his friends along the way. Michigan’s offensive line has protected McCarthy admirably, and Michigan has a diverse set of receiving weapons that can be utilized. Then there’s McCarthy, who’s made noticeable progress since last season, his first as a starter.

In 2022, McCarthy went 208-of-332 (64.6 percent) for 2,719 yards, 22 touchdowns, five interceptions with 306 yards rushing and five rushing touchdowns. McCarthy is poised to surpass these figures this fall, something that won’t come as a surprise to his peers and the Michigan coaching staff.

Safeties coach and special teams coordinator Jay Harbaugh, who was Michigan’s interim head coach for the first half of their 35-7 win over UNLV on Saturday, said he was on the wrong end of some great plays by McCarthy during spring ball and training camp.

“He throws a high number of balls throughout a practice where it’s like, ‘Man, we were in really good position, there’s nothing else you could have done there.’ We saw this coming a little bit just in the way that those receivers and him were getting in sync throughout the preseason,” Harbaugh said. “It’s been great to see so far.”

How Michigan’s offense is trending and the confidence that McCarthy plays with is leading to the quarterback receiving more trust to throw the ball down the field, and to make checks at the line as well. Michigan’s been powered by the run first in recent years, this season is showing that they can be lethal in the passing game and beat defenses that way if the opposition stacks the box to play the run. Ohio State learned the hard way last season that McCarthy can beat a team that stacks the box and doesn’t play with safeties back.

Running backs coach Mike Hart, who was the interim head coach for the second half on Saturday, said it’s their goal to be 50-50 on offense “every day” when it comes to the run:pass ratio. However, Hart said Michigan’s “going to do what works”. Well, the passing game is workin’.

“It makes it easier when J.J. can throw the ball that hard and that far down the field and we can get explosive plays,” Hart said. “Obviously, we want to have explosive plays.

Hart said the development of McCarthy shows with how he and the receivers are “on the same bandwidth”. Then there’s this major intangible for a quarterback, it’s called confidence. McCarthy has a lot of that, too.

“J.J. is a confident kid right now and he knows where to go with the ball,” Hart said.

Wideout Roman Wilson, who’s caught all five of McCarthy’s passing touchdowns this season, hasn’t really seen a flaw to McCarthy’s game thus far.

“It’s just been perfect,” Wilson said. “There’s nothing more to talk about. It’s just been perfect.”

McCarthy’s starting to receive a lot of praise nationally now, and that’ll only continue if he produces the way he has once the competition gets stiffer. In the midst of the positive buzz, McCarthy vows to stay in the present moment and continue getting better.

“There’s more things to improve on every single week and little details that I don’t even know about yet,” McCarthy explained. “I just can’t wait to dive into them.”

McCarthy can get better, but now is a good time to acknowledge how far he’s come since his freshman season at Michigan in 2021. Michigan will ultimately have a great rushing attack this season powered by Blake Corum with Donovan Edwards getting his chances as well. The Wolverines offensive line will be one of the best and deepest in the nation as well. McCarthy’s ascension as a quarterback has the potential to take this Michigan offense to new heights, and his play on the field could consistently become the best in the nation at his position. While McCarthy is taking a one step at a time approach, it’s hard not to see his path being anything but bright and fruitful in the days to come.

Michigan’s the No. 2 team in the nation right now. This could be a special year, this could be a special team, and J.J. McCarthy could be a special quarterback.