After providing Michigan fans with a long awaited glimpse of excellent and consistent quarterback play in 2022, J.J. McCarthy returned as the unquestioned leader of the offense. Coming off a solid 2,719-yard, 22-touchdown season, expectations were high for Michigan’s junior quarterback, and he certainly delivered.
Hype and high expectations are nothing new for McCarthy, though. Ever since he committed to the Wolverines in May 2019, his five-star status had fans clamoring for him to get to campus as soon as possible. This continued through his freshman season, where he served mostly as the understudy to Cade McNamara. When finally given the starting gig as a sophomore, McCarthy’s talent gave fans what they had expected.
Let’s hit fast forward and move to the start of the 2023 campaign. With a bitter taste in their mouths after an early exit in the College Football Playoff a season ago, the Wolverines returned plenty of talent, particularly on offense. This created even more hype that Michigan could have one of the nation’s best offenses. Add in some talk about wanting to balance things out by throwing the ball more, and you’ve got the recipe for something special.
Things got rolling for McCarthy right away in the season opener against East Carolina. He showcased his arm talent and mobility en route to 280 yards and three touchdowns. He followed it up with another solid outing against UNLV, earning him the status as one of the nation’s most efficient passers.
J.J. McCarthy drew a 47 on his left hand for today's game vs. UNLV.— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) September 9, 2023
It's a tribute to his late high school teammate, Ryan Keeler, who had worn the number for @unlvfootball.
Early in the 3Q, McCarthy threw a 47-yard TD pass, seconds after CBS shared the story.
: CBS pic.twitter.com/3oNxhqC8We
A rough three-interception outing against Bowling Green proved to be one of McCarthy’s worst performances as a Wolverine. Fortunately, it appears it was an outlier, as he would only throw one more interception the rest of the season.
McCarthy’s solid play continued throughout the early stretch of conference play. He delivered one of his best statistical performances against Michigan State, where he would threw for 287 yards and four touchdowns. Meanwhile, he would make a couple highlight reel plays in a victory against Indiana, including a backhand flip to Donovan Edwards.
Fun play by J.J. McCarthy— RanDynasty (@ran_dynasty) October 14, 2023
Avoids a sack & flips a pass to Donovan Edwards 〽️pic.twitter.com/ogFREh3IMm
Toward the end of the regular season, though, McCarthy began to slow down. He was only asked to throw eight passes (of which he completed seven) against Penn State, while he also suffered a lower-body injury. He followed that up with an inefficient 141-yard performance against Maryland.
But McCarthy got right just in time for The Game against Ohio State. He got back to being efficient, completing 16-of-20 passes for 148 yards and a touchdown that was thrown through the smallest of windows to Roman Wilson.
J.J. McCarthy threads a DIME to Roman Wilson for the TD— Woodward Sports Network (@woodwardsports) November 25, 2023
Michigan leads 14-3. pic.twitter.com/zkErS620Ea
Where McCarthy really shined and moved himself into Michigan football lore was the Rose Bowl victory over Alabama. Badly in need of offense late in the game, McCarthy orchestrated a magnificent drive to tie the game. He made a key completion to Blake Corum on fourth down and followed up with a clutch throw to Wilson to set up the tying score.
Although there were some bumps in the road, McCarthy took the step forward many fans were hoping for. His talent and leadership were fully on display throughout the year and are a big reason why Michigan was able to have the success it did. His ability to consistently put the team on his back and find ways to make plays is unmatched in recent memory for Wolverine quarterbacks.
While there may be some debate among fans, McCarthy’s entire body of work puts him in consideration to be one of the best quarterbacks in the history of Michigan football, if not the best. He won’t return to play his senior season and add to the legacy, but he’s still a Michigan legend nonetheless.