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Friday Discussion: What does J.J. McCarthy have to do to win the starting job?

Can the sophomore lock up the job with just one start?

Colorado State v Michigan Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Michigan Wolverines sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy gets his first start tomorrow night against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. It is a moment of anticipation for many, as the youngster has the chance to make his case to be QB1 this season. While we got to see him a bit during the home opener, now’s the chance to see what he can do with extended time.

Perhaps the question on everyone’s mind is what we will be primarily discussing here. Obviously McCarthy is an exceedingly talented young quarterback who has an incredibly high ceiling, but what would it take for him to get the starting job outright? There are three things that come to mind that I think we should be looking at Saturday night.

Ball Security/No Turnovers

Straightforward enough and an expectation McNamara has as well. McNamara has been incredibly solid at limiting mistakes for the Wolverines. Through all 14 games last year, McNamara only had six interceptions. He demonstrates an excellent standard at keeping the ball safe and has a high IQ. That could be in part to being a veteran of the team and has had time to focus on that part of his game.

McCarthy should hone in on this ability, too, if he wants to start more games after this one. He has flashy passes and a quickness to him, but would he be able to have the foresight to manage an entire game by having minimal or no mistakes? That’s the No. 1 thing I hope to see from him.

Efficiency in the Red Zone

There’s been some struggle with this in Michigan’s offense and it was present last year at times. It’s not that big of a concern at the moment, but having more reliability in the red zone will only make the Wolverines more of a threat when they play tougher opponents. It’s frustrating to have an offense rolling and not put six on the board because it sputters in the red zone. This was a place of contention last year and would be another place for McCarthy to emphasize his differences on Saturday.

While it might be simple to write off the Rainbow Warriors, they will still have 11 defenders on the field that McCarthy will have to navigate through with a crowded and short field. Of course, he has led drives of his own, but to see him come out the gate and lead will be a different experience.

To have to dictate what happens from the start rather than coming in for a few plays here and there provides McCarthy with ample opportunity to shine, especially in the red zone. Being efficient in the red zone consistently might arguably be the most important aspect he will have to demonstrate if he wants to be QB1 moving forward.

Opening the Offense

This appears to be the thing that distinguishes McCarthy the most from McNamara. McCarthy plays like a dual threat, as he would be more inclined to extend plays by rushing the ball himself or executing the fake handoff. Notably, McNamara rushed for a total of 26 yards last year on 37 attempts. This is where McCarthy could make a case for himself if he plays his cards right. Playing into his skills and ability to extend plays, McCarthy allows the offense’s potential to reach a higher ceiling.

This is not to say McNamara doesn’t have the bandwidth to do similarly, as he is still a contender to get the starting job. The reality is if McCarthy wants to win the job outright, he will have to emphasize what sets him apart from McNamara. This point here is arguably his greatest strength. He has explosive plays, but he also isn’t afraid to take off down the field if the opportunity presents itself. That versatility and raw talent could elevate the offense to a different level, and it’s up to McCarthy to show that off in game time.

Besides being a rushing quarterback, McCarthy has shown he’s got an arm as well. That’s what I’d like to see more of from QB1. The Wolverines have a deep receiver corps and I think opening the offense to allow for a passing threat as heavy hitting as their ground game will elevate Michigan to a place above last year. If McCarthy has the confidence to let the ball fly in tandem with his rushing abilities, it might very well be him leading Michigan this year.

Now let’s hear from you. What do you think he has to do to earn the starting job? Share with us your thoughts and opinions in the comments below!