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J.J. McCarthy, coaching have room for improvement after win against Maryland

It wasn’t the premier performance we have seen in previous weeks.

Maryland 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 did not have the performance many expected them to have against the Maryland Terrapins on Saturday. Early pass rush woes and some questionable play-calling on offense made the game a lot closer than it could have been.

In the win, McCarthy looked like most of the quarterbacks in the Jim Harbaugh era; he made mistakes but did enough to help the team win. However, that is not the guy he is supposed to be. The Wolverines should win games and pull away from teams like Maryland because of star players like McCarthy.

We have all seen what McCarthy can be. When he is on target, and in the groove of the offense, he is by far the best quarterback of the Harbaugh era. But on Saturday, that is not the McCarthy we saw. Instead, he and this team were given a slice of humble pie. We saw a team and a quarterback that still has plenty to figure out if they want to repeat as Big Ten Champions.

The most clear-cut example of this came late in the game. Michigan was up by a score and driving. But a few Blake Corum runs were stuffed at the line of scrimmage, and it was an obvious passing down. The result was nearly game-changing:

McCarthy looks right to his first option, but Roman Wilson is being double-teamed at the top of the screen. So he turns to his second look and fires a dangerous pass that was nearly picked off.

What I would have liked to have seen here is exactly what the great Charles Woodson told him after the game — use those legs. This was a major critique I had for McCarthy last week as well. He needs to learn when to tuck it and run instead of taking chances with his arm.

Another example of this came right before the half, on a play that felt like a lifetime:

This was maybe McCarthy’s worst play of the game. He had Cornelius Johnson right in front of him, but gave up on him too early because he started to feel the pressure. Then, instead of rolling to his left where there is no one, he curls back and tries to extend the play, nearly getting sacked instead. Fortunately, he broke free again and should have just thrown it away. But he slips, puts the ball on the ground and then makes the correct decision way too late, fumbling the football in the process.

These are two examples in the red zone that cannot happen. It’s a combination of lack of experience and hero ball from a former five-star recruit who has been able to get away with these plays in the past. I’m sure it is something the coaching staff will be harping on all week.

McCarthy also missed a lot of deep plays in this game. There were so many opportunities where his receivers did their job to get a step or two on their defenders, but McCarthy overthrew them on all but one attempt.

I’m not going to put too much blame on McCarthy here. Yes, it should be the expectation he completes these throws. It’s partially why he won this job over McNamara. He is going to get this down. And when he does, it’s going to take this offense to a different level.

I had more issue with the play-calling, and continuing to call these deep shots despite the shaky performance by McCarthy AND the fact the Terps were sitting in 2 or 3 high coverage for most of the game. They abandoned much of the things they did early in the season to get their young quarterback in a groove and it nearly cost them the game. There were several times I questioned where the check-down was, or why there was no guy streaking underneath for an easy pickup. This third down is the perfect example:

Notice the problem here? The Wolverines need eight yards and there is not a single receiver running a route within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage. Instead, the Wolverines dialed up a four verticals play and no one was open. The result? McCarthy was sacked.

Again, McCarthy should have scrambled either left or up the gut and run for it. His pocket presence and knowing when to tuck and run will develop, and the Wolverines will need it in situations like these.

When they were setting things up, the Michigan offense was moving the ball down the field efficiently. Plays that include motion and controlled rollouts with multiple layers of crossing routes are the perfect way to make McCarthy look great. That’s exactly what they did on McCarthy’s best throw of the day:

A similar play in terms of route patterns is how McCarthy hit Wilson for his lone touchdown pass on the day. These kinds of plays are just easy reads for McCarthy:

I’m looking for more of this from the Wolverines moving forward. Yes, McCarthy has the arm to air it out and make things look really easy over the top. But if he isn’t hitting those guys down the field and the team is struggling, more play calls like the last two are going to go a long way in building McCarthy’s confidence.

This week was a combination of errors from McCarthy just looking young, and the offensive play-calling not setting up the easy ones for him. Once they get these things down, the Wolverines have a shot to blow out some Big Ten opponents. But they will have to learn fast. This conference is relentless and they might not survive another game like they did on Saturday against the Terps.