Perhaps only Jim Harbaugh could turn a 51-7 opening weekend victory into a controversy, but the Michigan Wolverines’ quarterback battle was turned up to the max last weekend. After Cade McNamara...did not quite make the most of his turn at the helm, J.J. McCarthy now gets to take over under the lights, and this might be him taking the job for good.
His competition is the mighty Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, who come to Ann Arbor with a 53-point loss to Vanderbilt (!!) and a 32-point defeat to Western Kentucky. This is easily one of the worst defenses in the entire country, meaning Saturday night’s affair could get awfully ugly very quickly.
However, because of these extreme expectations (Michigan is favored by over 50 points), any sort of hiccup will be amplified. That means that if McCarthy does not come in and absolutely dominate, the quarterback competition may open back up a bit. Either way, this lopsided matchup is must-watch television.
Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (0-2) at No. 4 Michigan Wolverines (1-0)
Date & Time: Saturday, Sep. 10, 8 p.m. ET
Location: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Cool under pressure
McCarthy had some freshman moments last season (though I will contend that this particular narrative has been significantly overblown), but the five-star never really looked that out of place when he got on the field. Therefore, there should be no concern throwing him into a primetime audition with the job of the line; if anything, this will likely make him play even better.
The more relevant type of pressure is in the literal sense, as the Wolverines are still a bit banged up along the offensive line. McCarthy is great at escaping pass rushers, but given Hawaii’s zero sacks and three total tackles for loss, it might not really matter. Additionally, his ability to keep defenses honest with his legs certainly stands out in this quarterback competition, and his threat on the ground was well on display against Colorado State.
It is probably not worth listing out every single Michigan skill player, as this truly is a terrible, terrible defense. Both Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards have blazing speed, and once either hits a hole and gets to the second level they have a legitimate shot at hitting the end zone every single time. Bold prediction: each running back has a touchdown of 30+ yards on the ground.
The Wolverines will not need to pass much to win the game, but there is no way McCarthy does not look to show off his arm as much as possible. Add in the visit of one Jadyn Davis this weekend, and there will be some passes to catch. Like the running backs, Hawaii native Roman Wilson should get a chance to flex his speed against overmatched defenders and maybe find the end zone for the second week in a row.
Party in the backfield
Michigan entered the season with plenty of questions along the defensive line, but just about everyone did as much as they could to put those to rest after just one game. It was truly a group effort to replace Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, as no fewer than six players looked capable of starting at the Edge positions and providing consistent pressure.
It is not quite as cut-and-dried as the quarterback battle, but consider this another chance for players to step up and prove their worthiness of getting more snaps. Eyabi Anoma and Derrick Moore really stood out as newcomers, but there were plenty of others who contributed as well. Hawaii will have to throw the ball a ton, meaning the hurries and sacks are likely to rack up once again.
The secondary was great as expected last weekend, getting an early interception from Rod Moore, a scoop-and-score from DJ Turner, and a couple sacks from blitzes, while also offering very little through the air. Freshman phenom Will Johnson did get charged with a long touchdown on a nice throw, but there is nothing to be concerned about from him or any of his peers.
No one really stands out on the visitors’ side, though this is another offense that theoretically wants to throw the ball. Quarterback Brayden Schager has four picks and no scores on the year, but it is Joey Yellen, a transfer from Pitt, who will get the starting nod. Yellen hasn’t been much better, though, with one interception on 4-of-11 passing in 2022.
Meanwhile, the offensive line is supposed to be decent, but leading rusher Dedrick Parson is going to find it pretty tough against this defensive front. With no standout wide receivers, it is completely fair to question where the threat could come from at all.
A backdrop for the true competition
When a team has three non-conference games against vastly overmatched opposition to open up the season, it is only natural to use them as an extended training camp period to work out the kinks and figure out the right options at any position that started the year with ongoing competition.
Michigan benefits from this schedule due to the natural battles that exist both at quarterback and defensive end. The latter is more about sorting out the pecking order than picking a true starter, as nearly everyone not named Mike Morris will need a good game against Hawaii given the number of other players against whom they are directly fighting for playing time.
The story of this game starts and ends with McCarthy, of course. It was always going to be a big deal when the elite prospect finally got his first-career start, but McNamara’s poor effort last week only heightened the intensity. This competition is McCarthy’s to lose, and if he is the competitor that everyone thinks he can be, look out for some fireworks this weekend.