Despite it being a one possession game in the second half, it felt like the Michigan Wolverines had solid control of the game on Saturday in Happy Valley. Then the Penn State Nittany Lions converted three straight fourth downs, scored a touchdown, tied the game on a two-point conversion, recovered a fumble and kicked a field goal to take a 17-14 lead all in the span of about two minutes.
With just under six minutes remaining in the game, Michigan’s season was on the line and the Wolverines stared adversity right in the face. Quarterback Cade McNamara stepped up and led the game-winning drive.
McNamara hasn’t been perfect this season, but he has led Michigan into a spot nobody was expecting it to be in before the season began. The Wolverines are 9-1, ranked No. 6 in the country, and if Michigan and Ohio State win this weekend, the Big Ten East will be decided in Ann Arbor on Nov. 27. Michigan is playing meaningful football games in November, and McNamara’s play is a big reason why.
“He’s done nothing but be outstanding as the starting quarterback” Jim Harbaugh said Monday about his quarterback. “This past game was another step in his growth as a football player. Fourth quarter comeback, that was special, and the physical play, talking about being knocked down, us knocking them down, them knocking us down. That was our quarterback getting right back up.”
McNamara called the win on Saturday “gritty,” and wins like that and the way the team handles adversity has been one of his favorite things about the season.
“The way this team has come together,” McNamara said about what he thinks the highlight of the season has been. “I think a lot of pressure was put on us about how we were going to deal with adversity at times and how this team would respond and I think we’ve done nothing but responded well in those situations. Just going through gritty wins like we had last week, like Nebraska, even the experience of Michigan State. What I love about this team is how close we are together, and that’s something I appreciate and I know the boys do, too.”
This season is McNamara’s first time being the full-time starting quarterback for Michigan, and he can see the areas he’s grown in throughout the season.
“I think my ability to find my check downs when I am under duress is something that I’ve had to develop a feel for, the pocket, in a game scenario,” McNamara said. “We try to simulate game situations as much as possible, but being the quarterback you never get hit. So I guess finding the last moment I can stay in the pocket and being able to still find guys is something that I think I’ve developed a lot over the course of the season.”
McNamara and the Wolverines are two wins (and a Michigan State loss) away from doing something Michigan has never done before: play for a Big Ten title in Indianapolis.