J.J. McCarthy can lift himself to “savior” status this weekend.
We’ve heard the phrase time and time again. “He’s the savior.” But for many that hasn’t worked out.
Brandon Peters, Shane Morris, Joe Milton. Just to name a few. Some have fared better than others. But living up to the Michigan fan definition of savior is a tall task.
Sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy can continue his trek to being a true savior by leading Michigan to a win against rival Michigan State this weekend.
The Wolverines haven’t bested the Spartans since 2019 when Shea Patterson threw for 384 yards and four touchdowns in a 34-point win. Patterson, once labeled the next savior himself, is the only quarterback to beat Michigan State twice since Chad Henne who had a perfect 4-0 record against the Spartans.
With McCarthy having to play at least one more year of college football, he’ll have a chance to do the same. But first things first, beat those pesky Spartans on Saturday.
So Far So Good
J.J. McCarthy came to Michigan with ultra-high expectations. He was a five-star prospect and the fifth ranked quarterback in the 2021 class per 247Sports. It wasn’t if he was going to start at Michigan, but how soon.
This year, after a two-game audition, the keys were finally put in his hand. And so far? The kid looks pretty good. His numbers don’t jump off the page at you. Of course, why would they when Michigan has run the ball so well. They don’t need McCarthy to air it out.
But he has a competition percentage of 77 and hasn’t made many mistakes. The arm strength is noticeable. His speed can be a weapon. Whether that’s by design or for damage control.
The young man can ball. Will he be able to do it for four quarters when his team needs him to? That’s still an unanswered question. Which we might find out on Saturday.
The Spartan defense has been disappointing this year. They’re the second-worst defense in the Big Ten, giving up 422 yards per game. Last season, they gave up 383 yards to McNamara on their home field. It was easily his best performance for the year.
It’s hard not to imagine McCarthy being able to put up similar numbers. And he might have to if Michigan struggles to run the ball. So far, that hasn’t been an issue whatsoever. Running back Blake Corum is a Heisman Trophy candidate. He’s averaging 6.2 yards per carry and has 13 touchdowns.
But this is a rivalry game we’re talking about. Crazy things can happen. Michigan State will game plan to stop Corum and the rushing attack. Execution is the other half to the plan. If State can find a way to do it, then this game might come down to McCarthy.
The Biggest Demon
One highlight that will be shown ad nauseam on Saturday is McCarthy’s biggest mistake of his young career.
With 7:12 left in the fourth quarter of last year’s game, McCarthy started off a possession on his own 45-yard line. Holding on to a three-point lead, he fumbled and the Spartans recovered. They went right down the field on their next possession and took the lead on what ended up being the game winning touchdown.
The next week was filled with tweets, texts, and posts blaming McCarthy for the loss. Mistakes happen, that one just happened to be at a horrible time.
There wouldn’t be a more satisfying way to avenge that game than by handing it to the Spartans this weekend.
What a ‘W’ Would Mean
Beating the Spartans wouldn’t just be a nice thing to do this year. It’s a requirement. Michigan is a national championship contender. The college football playoffs are becoming more probable than possible with each victory.
This is also a grand opportunity for Michigan to take control of the rivalry back. The Spartans have kicked Michigan’s ass since 2008, winning 10 of the 14 games. Between 1970 and 2008, Michigan State won just 8 times against the Wolverines.
I don’t think we’ll see that kind of run happen again, but Michigan needs to regain some momentum in the Backyard Brawl. And if they can do that on Saturday with a win, then McCarthy will be living up to the savior label.
Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports