Michigan football: Breaking down JJ McCarthy’s historic opener, and what’s next vs. UNLV

McCarthy completes 26 of 30 passes for 280 yards, 3 touchdowns

J.J. McCarthy #9 of the Michigan Wolverines throws a first quarter touchdown while playing the East Carolina Pirates at Michigan Stadium on September 02, 2023 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Gregory Shamus, 2023 Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – J.J. McCarthy had a record-breaking performance for Michigan football in the opener against East Carolina. What will he do as a sequel against UNLV?

McCarthy shines vs. ECU

McCarthy’s coaches and teammates spent most of the offseason talking about how much he had improved from last year, when he led the Wolverines to an undefeated regular season and Big Ten championship as a first-time starter.

Last weekend, it’s clear that wasn’t just talk. McCarthy completed 26 of 30 pass attempts for 280 yards and three touchdowns. No player in the 144-year history of Michigan football has completed such a high percentage of passes in a game with at least 30 attempts.

The thing is, McCarthy’s numbers should have been even better. His first pass to Roman Wilson was dropped, and another was batted away on a great play by an East Carolina defender.

McCarthy only had one obvious miss in 30 attempts, and that’s even more impressive considering the types of throws he made.

Touchdown passes

McCarthy’s entire skill set was on display during his three touchdown passes to Wilson.

The first comes with an obvious asterisk: It sure looked like McCarthy passed the line of scrimmage before releasing the ball.

But just focus on the play itself. McCarthy sidestepped a pass rusher, stepped up in the pocket, and threw a dart to Wilson on the run. If he can extend plays like this, it’ll be hard for any secondary to guard Wilson for that long.

Speaking of extending plays, McCarthy hit Wilson on the run again for his second touchdown of the day. The offensive line gave him plenty of time, but McCarthy was eventually flushed out to his right.

He kept his eyes downfield, threw across his body toward the middle of the field, and hit Wilson right in the chest, where no defender could come close.

In terms of his understanding of the game, McCarthy’s final touchdown was his most impressive.

He had a clean pocket and gave a little fake to Cornelius Johnson in the flat, which froze Johnson’s sagging defender just long enough to create a window between him and the guy trailing Wilson.

The accuracy on that throw was pristine. McCarthy led Wilson just enough to keep the ball up out of harm’s way, but also kept it easily in bounds. A thing of beauty.

All three of those touchdown passes were encouraging in different ways. Which one impressed you the most?

What’s next?

Now that McCarthy has shown a flash of this new potential, I can’t wait to see what he does against a UNLV team that allowed 7.5 yards per pass attempt (87th in the nation) and a 62.1% completion rate (94th) last season.

Michigan promised to be more balanced on offense this year -- so far, so good. Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards are going to get their carries, but they’re also more involved in the passing game (seven combined catches Week 1), and that only adds another dangerous element to the offense.

It’ll take more than one game for teams to stop selling out to stop Michigan’s rushing attack, but as McCarthy proved last season at Ohio State, he’s capable of winning big games with his arm. Eventually, teams will have to adjust, and then Corum and Edwards can feast.

As an added bonus, McCarthy is getting some real buzz as a possible first-round draft pick next season. That would do wonders for Michigan’s credibility recruiting quarterbacks, even beyond Jadyn Davis.

I’ll have an exclusive gameday Hail newsletter for the diehard Michigan fans on Saturday morning during tailgating. If you want to join the Hail community, sign up your email below!

About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.