May 30, 2024

Michigan star QB McCarthy looks to steer clear of distractions ahead of The Game against Ohio State

Michigan star quarterback J.J. McCarthy meditates on the field before games. This week, amid a sign-stealing saga and a matchup with rival Ohio State, keeping his mind free from distractions is paramount (Nov. 21) (AP video: Mike Householder and Larry Lage)

 

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What is J.J. McCarthy’s problem? Interpreting Michigan’s quarterback’s recent struggles

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The numbers are stark and suggest that J.J. McCarthy struggles with Sherrone Moore as Michigan’s head coach.

In three starts this season with Moore as acting head coach, the Michigan quarterback has completed just 61 percent of his throws for 344 yards and two touchdowns. While those numbers seem rather harmless on their face, the completion percentage is well below his season average (73.8) and includes all four of his interceptions, the latest coming Saturday in a 31-24 win at Maryland when he tried forcing a pass over the middle inside the red zone.

“Those things happen when you’re playing really good teams,” Moore said after the win. “A guy busted out into coverage and everybody saw it.”

Meanwhile, McCarthy has a completion percentage near 77 percent in the other eight games this season, with someone else as head coach, throwing for 1,991 yards, 16 touchdowns and zero interceptions. And he’s proven to be more effective on the ground.

McCarthy’s legs have become a welcomed addition to the Michigan offense this season, used just enough to keep opponents on their toes and pick up extra yardage as needed. But in the three games with Moore as coach, McCarthy has 26 rushing yards and zero rushing touchdowns. The other eight games? 138 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns.

Could the disparity in the numbers be directly tied to a difference in philosophy with Moore as head coach, or something else? For starters, it’s important to remember that Moore is Michigan’s offensive coordinator and the man in charge of the play calling. That hasn’t changed in the 10 of the 11 games he’s been eligible for this season. He also coaches the offensive line and prides himself in playing a physical, smash-mouth style of football.

“We’ve just got to do a really good job of the plan and executing the plan, in all phases,” Moore said Monday. “Protection, route-running, completions. All that. We’ll get there.”

 

In two of the first three games with Moore as acting head coach, wins over Bowling Green and Penn State, McCarthy accounted for the fewest number of passes he’s thrown all season. But there were also reasons for it. He threw a career-worst three interceptions in the win over BG (8-13, 143 yards) and admitted after the game that he was forcing too many throws. Pass-protection issues were an issue early in the win at Penn State (7-8, 60 yards), forcing Michigan to rely on its ground game to get by. And there was also a play where McCarthy came up limping after a run.

That limp and ankle injury was noticeable in Saturday’s win at Maryland, where McCarthy (12-23, 141 yards) and the passing attack’s pedestrian performance got bailed out by a pair of interceptions, a strip-sack scoop-and-score touchdown and a safety from the defense and a blocked punt-turned-safety from special teams.

“Last week was a little bit rough,” McCarthy admitted on Monday. “But I’m doing fantastic now. Treatment’s been great and yeah, we’ll be ready to go.”

As far as his struggles go, McCarthy pointed to a lack of rhythm offensively — a fair critique of the play-calling from Moore, who ever before this season never been a head coach. A pair of three-game suspensions for Jim Harbaugh, the latest coming from the Big Ten as punishment for violating the league’s sportsmanship policy, have sidelined the coach for the remainder of the regular season.

That means Moore will continue as acting head coach Saturday against Ohio State (Noon, FOX), putting him, his play-calling and his game management on the big stage

“These past couple games where coach Harbaugh hasn’t been here have been extremely unique,” McCarthy said. “Just getting on the same page as coach Moore, making sure there’s no confusion throughout the week with the game plan and what he expects of me, and going out there and doing the best I can every single play no matter what’s called.”

In a season where Michigan has leaned on its quarterback and the passing attack more, McCarthy could wind up being the critical component in determining whether the Wolverines win their third straight over the Buckeyes and return to Big Ten glory or watch their postseason dreams shatter.

McCarthy came to Michigan as a five-star prospect to play for Harbaugh, a former quarterback himself who admires the youngster’s talent and ability. He also seems to know how to rein in McCarthy when it looks like he’s trying to do too much.

 

 

 

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