ANN ARBOR, Mich. – J.J. McCarthy has been excellent since taking over as Michigan football’s starting quarterback, but he’s yet to have one of those games that really stuff the stat sheet.
That could change this weekend at Indiana.
McCarthy’s season-long ratios are among the best in college football: 78.6% completions, 10.1 yards per attempt, a perfect 6-0 touchdown-interception ratio. But on a cumulative scale, his best game was probably the surgical 229-yard, three-score effort against Hawaii in his first career start.
Jim Harbaugh called McCarthy nearly perfect in that game -- a fair assessment. He went 11-of-12, and the only incomplete pass came on a drop. But still, everybody knows it’s only a matter of time before McCarthy posts one of those stat lines that has everyone gawking as it scrolls across the bottom line.
Michigan is determined not to let its perfect season slip away Saturday in Bloomington, as it faces one of the weaker teams in the Big Ten ahead of a more daunting matchup vs. Penn State. Even though the Wolverines will always be a run-first offense, expect the passing game to be a bit more prevalent.
Through five games, Indiana ranks 118th out of 131 college football teams in terms of passing yards allowed per game, at 277.8. The Hoosiers allow 8.1 yards per pass attempt -- good for 110th nationally.
Here’s the kicker: Indiana also plays at the second-fastest pace in the country, running an average of nearly 88 plays per game. That ranks second, only behind Texas Tech. Over the past three games, the Hoosiers have averaged 90.7 plays per game -- the most in the nation by a full three plays.
Michigan’s first five opponents rank 65th, 21st, 124th, 89th, and 126th in terms of plays per game. The Wolverines themselves run 66.4 plays per game -- 94th in the nation.
The point is this will be by far the fastest pace Michigan has played at all season, and while Blake Corum and the Joe Moore award winning offensive line won’t let that take them out of their game, more possessions means more plays, which opens up more opportunities for McCarthy to post some career-best numbers.
Harbaugh has shown a willingness in the past to lean on his quarterbacks against defenses that warrant doing so. For example, Cade McNamara threw 44 passes and finished with 383 yards against Michigan State’s secondary last year. In 2020, he didn’t even come into the game against Rutgers until there were four minutes left in the first half, but he still ended up throwing 36 passes for 260 yards and four touchdowns.
Three of the five quarterbacks to play against Indiana this season have posted their best single-game stats against the Hoosiers. Illinois’ Tommy DeVito threw for 232 yards and two touchdowns. Western Kentucky’s Austin Reed threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns. Cincinnati’s Ben Bryant threw for 354 yards and four touchdowns.
In the other two games, Idaho’s Gevani McCoy and Nebraska’s Casey Thompson combined for 474 yards and five touchdowns against Indiana.
The Hoosiers do have an interception in four of five games, so McCarthy’s pick-less start to the season could be in jeopardy. But overall, this has been a secondary worth challenging.
Now, the same could have been said about the Maryland game two weeks ago, and while McCarthy had a strong showing, he was held to 220 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns. But remember: A trio of inaccurate deep balls to open receivers skewed those stats -- McCarthy easily could have thrown for over 300 yards and four scores had a couple of those passes been on target.
Nothing on the football field is beyond McCarthy’s ability -- he proved that last week against the top passing defense in the nation. If he can reel in those downfield passes just a little bit, his numbers could take off. Maybe this will be the week.