Michigan thumped Colorado State in the opener, 51-7. The rest of the non-conference is set to be just as perfunctory, but the quarterback controversy is anything but.
Cade McNamara looked rough much of Saturday and started just 1-of-5. His first incompletion, a short-hop to Cornelius Johnson, was doubly bad considering McNamara, while on the run, had all his momentum going toward his intended target, and he wasn’t close. He missed him just as badly the following play. His lone completion during that early stretch was a screen pass three yards behind the line of scrimmage that Roman Wilson took 61 yards for a touchdown. It’s a nice screen pass, but hardly the evidence needed to prove he’s the man for the job.
In obvious passing downs with McNamara behind center, the Michigan offense looks completely hopeless. Blessed with amazing field position (CSU 13) due to a long interception return by safety Rod Moore, McNamara threw it way behind a crossing Johnson on first down. If he completes it, he’s got second and manageable or better. After a run by Corum for no gain, McNamara on third and 10 misses his tight end, who appeared to stumble, throwing off the timing of the route. Later in the game on third and goal from the eight, McNamara has time but no target and has to throw it away. There’s a very good chance no one was open and he did the right thing by not forcing it. However, McCarthy always has the option of turning into a runner. McNamara does not.
McNamara completed just 50 percent of his passes. I counted just one drop. If Ronnie Bell had caught it, the percentage gets bolstered to a gaudy 55 percent, which last year would have been good enough to supplant Texas El Paso’s Gavin Hardison for completion percentage at 113th. Keep in mind this is against the vaunted Colorado State defense out of the famed Mountain West.
If you were to take all of the first- and second-string B1G quarterbacks and those coaches had their pick of any of them to run their offense, Jim Harbaugh is the only one who would choose McNamara before McCarthy. The reason Harbaugh is the only one who’d take McNamara first is because he’s the only one compelled to justify making him the guy to this point. Yes, he beat Ohio State, won a B1G championship, and got to the playoff. But you got your doors blown off by the most talented team in the country in Georgia. And if you can win a conference championship starting your second-best quarterback, just how inferior is the Big Ten compared with the SEC? If Michigan wants to be nationally relevant, it has to stop insisting on playing with one arm tied behind its back.
In order for Michigan to be successful with McNamara at quarterback, the team has to consistently be in third and manageable. You do that with an efficient passing game but, more importantly, an impressive, consistent rushing attack. Perhaps Harbaugh is looking at a schedule that potentially only poses two threats: Michigan State in the Big House and Ohio State in Columbus. And maybe 10-2 sounds pretty good. Maybe 11-1 is good enough for a Big Ten title. But there’s no doubt in my mind this team is rolling the dice with its second-best.
Correction issued: Originally, this article wrongfully blamed McNamara for a near interception that was a result of his receiver stumbling.