Michigan’s game against Illinois was a wild one. High and swirling winds, a real feel around nine degrees, it was a game that tested Michigan’s physical and mental toughness.
The conditions against a top-five Illinois defense weren’t favorable, and became even more unfavorable after running back Blake Corum left the game after taking a helmet to the knee. The Fighting Illini started stacking the box, sending all-out blitzes, playing Cover One. Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy was tested, and he ultimately passed the test.
McCarthy, someone head coach Jim Harbaugh has called Houdini-like, delivered when it mattered most to help get Michigan a win in the final minutes. While Michigan didn’t score a touchdown in the fourth quarter, McCarthy played a key role with his arm and his legs getting Michigan into field goal position three times, turning a 17-10 deficit into a 19-17 win.
McCarthy would be the first to admit it wasn’t always pretty but sometimes gritty trumps pretty, and Saturday was a case of that. McCarthy fumbled the ball once and turned it into a positive play, he helped convert key fourth-down attempts. McCarthy earned praise from cornerback Mike Sainristil after the game.
“After Saturday I called him the ‘Miracle Boy’ because he goes out there and makes it happen,” Sainristil said. “That’s just who he is. Extend the plays if he has to, getting the ball to receivers, picking up fumbles, rolling out and still completing the pass. Getting sacked, throwing it up to a running back and completing it — that’s just who he is and what he does.”
Mike Sainristil said he called J.J. McCarthy 'Miracle Boy' after beating Illinois.— Trevor Woods (@WoodsFootball) November 21, 2022
Here's a reason why pic.twitter.com/7XTPBnTMby
On the day, McCarthy was 18-of-34 for 208 yards with 18 yards rushing. McCarthy and Michigan’s offense were able to do just enough to keep their undefeated season alive, now 11-0 heading into Columbus on Saturday to face 11-0 Ohio State.
“Talked about turning water to wine, I think I made that comment back in the summer that he had that ability. Shouldn’t drop the snap, but drops the snap, goes down on one knee, has a presence before he touched the ball to lift his knee off the ground,” Harbaugh said. “Pick it up, get out of the pocket, pick up a critical first down. He’s got it.”
During the broadcast ESPN sideline reporter Molly McGrath noted that McCarthy was clapping and telling his receivers that they can win the game with the players they have healthy. Harbaugh made mention of how much McCarthy cares not only about winning, but about his teammates.
“So glad that he’s on our team. He’s fiercely protective of the team, he’s a tremendous teammate. He’s got that he’s got that grit and determination to do that.”
Michigan will need true grit and an accurate gunslinger on Saturday.