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J.J. McCarthy shines in starting debut as Michigan outclasses Hawaii

McCarthy and the Wolverines were fantastic.

Hawaii v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Daniel Plocher Dan Plocher contributes to Maize n’ Brew in several areas including podcasts, game previews/recaps, and various YouTube videos.

The Michigan Wolverines were the far superior football team on Saturday as the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors came to Ann Arbor and were handed a 56-10 loss.

Tonight’s starter J.J. McCarthy was spectacular and played nearly a perfect game. Completing 11-of-12 passes, the sophomore threw for 229 yards and three touchdowns through the air. On the season now, he has had only one drive that did not result in six points.

We saw inklings of this a week ago when McCarthy joined the blowout over Colorado State, going 4-for-4 with a rushing touchdown, but today was different. The offense was at a completely different level with him behind center. Last week was because of the run, but this week was different.

It was McCarthy’s arm on Saturday night against Hawaii that was the difference. His deep ball accuracy was absurd. In the first quarter, he found Honolulu native Roman Wilson deep over the middle:

Just three plays later, McCarthy was back on the field and hit another 30+ yard throw, this time to Ronnie Bell to put the Wolverines in scoring position. Four straight runs by Blake Corum ended in another Michigan touchdown and put the lead up to 14-0.

Another quick drive for Hawaii and Michigan had the ball back again. It was Wilson again on a reverse play sold perfectly by McCarthy to put the Wolverines back on the board:

After a dropped pass costing Michigan a drive, Jim Harbaugh and McCarthy went back to Bell twice on the following possession. Both were for catches of double-digit yardage and the latter was for his first touchdown since returning from injury. Look at the zip on this ball on the RPO from McCarthy:

McCarthy’s sophomore classmate Donovan Edwards got in on the fun on the next Michigan drive. He had a 25-yard run, followed by this absurd catch to put the Wolverines inside the five:

One play later, the Wolverines suddenly had a 35-0 advantage late in the first half.

However, it didn’t end there. After a McNamara drive that went three-and-out, McCarthy came in for a two-minute drill that really put a bow on this thing. He stepped up in the pocket while the Wolverines were in the red zone and delivered a dime to Cornelius Johnson for a touchdown:

McCarthy was impeccable. His only incompletion was a drop by Bell on the one drive he has led this season that didn’t end with a touchdown. The Wolverines picked up 410 first-half offensive yards, the most in Jim Harbaugh’s career.

I know, this was Hawaii, one of the worst defenses and teams in college football, but McCarthy showed exactly what kind of explosiveness and rhythm this team can have with him under center. It wasn’t just that the Wolverines were better because of the RPO that Harbaugh could call with him in the game. On Saturday, he proved he could make all of the throws on top of that, and make the correct decisions.

A switch in quarterback will not come without risk and disappointment. McNamara was the perfect game manager and leader in 2021. He was exactly the kind of quarterback this team needed on and off the field to believe they could be everything they were not in the 2020 season. McNamara pushed this team to be better and to fight through the adversity of losing to Michigan State. He helped force the team to remember how great they are and could be. That’s not an easy task, and it’s going to be difficult for Harbaugh to just let go of that.

McNamara was also not himself tonight. All four of his possessions didn't amount to any points, and he only picked up one first down. He also started to force things, and you could tell this was starting to affect him mentally. His interception was not even close, and that is how his day, and potentially his career at Michigan, would end.

Some of the poor play was not his fault. McNamara was sacked twice, and this Hawaii team had no sacks in their first two games. But you also can’t use the guys around him as an excuse. This was the same group we saw McCarthy elevate last week, and the No. 1’s were just as elevated tonight with the sophomore leading the way. Even Davis Warren moved the ball down the field and scored against this Hawaii defense with the backups in the game.

When the clock struck midnight (and a little bit after that), the Wolverines finished the day up 56-10. The offense exploded in the first half to 42 points, but disappointed in the second with only two touchdowns. Michigan tallied 582 yards to Hawaii’s 253, most of which came in that second half. The Wolverines averaged 10.7 yards per play, the most by the team since 2010.

The competition doesn’t get much better next week for Michigan as it hosts the Connecticut Huskies. They fell to Syracuse 48-14 and have been consistently ranked as one of the worst teams in college football through the first three weeks (they played in Week 0). Kickoff is at noon at the Big House.