J.J. McCarthy dazzles in first start as Michigan football hammers Hawaii, 56-10
Near the midway point of training camp, as quarterbacks Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy remained “neck and neck” in their pursuit of the starting job, Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh told reporters it would be obvious to everyone — players, assistants and anyone else he allowed into practice — if either passer separated from the other in the final weeks of camp.
On Saturday night at Michigan Stadium, after a lengthy weather delay postponed kickoff by an hour, it had become clear to everyone in attendance — from the 110,012 spectators to the trail of highly rated recruits to the poor visitors from Hawaii — that one of U-M’s quarterbacks is unquestionably different and more dynamic than the other.
McCarthy was one pass away from a flawless performance in the first start of his career as Michigan dismembered the Rainbow Warriors in exchange for a guaranteed payment of $1.9 million dollars. He completed 11 of 12 throws for 229 yards and three touchdowns in the first half to the delight of a crowd that informed Harbaugh of its preference through sustained, cacophonic roars for the former five-star prospect and smatterings of boos for McNamara.
The game itself devolved into comedy with Michigan scoring touchdowns on six of its first eight possessions against minimal resistance, finishing in a 56-10 rout for the Wolverines: tailback Blake Corum averaged 9.8 yards per carry on nine attempts in the first half; four different players caught passes of at least 31 yards in the first half; and the Wolverines yielded just a single tackle for loss in the first half — when McNamara absorbed a sack on third down.
There was nothing resembling a threat from Hawaii, whose quarterback, Joey Yellen, focused as much on keeping his limbs as completing passes. Hawaii averaged 1.5 yards per play in the first half and gained only two first downs.
Nothing from that point forward seemed relevant — except perhaps the point spread — in what ended as a 46-point victory.
Living up to the hype
It’s difficult to imagine a more ruthless showing by McCarthy. A gashing 24-yard carry by Corum on Michigan’s first play from scrimmage gave way to a 42-yard touchdown pass from McCarthy to wide receiver Roman Wilson on his first attempt.
That play foretold of the landslide to come in which McCarthy completed additional passes of 31 yards, 54 yards and 33 yards by the nine-minute mark of the second quarter. Hawaii’s pass rushers, who combined for zero sacks in two games entering Saturday, proved incapable of bothering McCarthy in the pocket. And Hawaii’s defensive backs, who yielded five passing touchdowns in blowout losses to Vanderbilt and Western Kentucky, proved inept when chasing Michigan’s talented stable of receivers both horizontally and vertically on the rain-slicked turf.
But the story of the evening was McCarthy and everything he injected into U-M’s offense. He flashed the trademark arm strength co-offensive coordinator Matt Weiss alluded to in August by telling reporters a quarterback can either throw the ball 70 yards or he can’t: McCarthy appeared as comfortable dropping a beautiful 54-yard spiral down the well to wide receiver Cornelius Johnson as he did rifling a goal-line slant to Ronnie Bell for a score.
And he flashed the kind of poise typically reserved for veterans in what might have been his most impressive moment of the night: A 17-yard touchdown to Johnson late in the second quarter during which he stood tall in the pocket, stepped up to avoid the rush and fired a laser on the move to the front corner of the end zone.
All of it seemed effortless.
The same could not be said for McNamara, who entered the game briefly in the second quarter and got extended reps after halftime. There were pockets of boos when U-M punted on McNamara’s third possession following a third-down sack. For fans, it hardly seemed to matter that the offensive line had crumbled to leave its quarterback exposed.
The only thing Michigan Stadium wanted was more McCarthy and more points, with roars filling the stadium when Harbaugh obliged by sending him onto the field for the next drive. (McCarthy connected with Johnson for a touchdown on the fourth play.)
McNamara’s evening further eroded late in the third quarter when his pass toward wideout Andrel Anthony was intercepted deep down the right side. And on that throw, his pocket was clean.
McNamara finished 4-for-6 for 26 yards.
Up to the challenge
Defensive line coach Mike Elston, whose group racked up seven sacks in last week’s mugging of Colorado State, told the media his group would face a stiffer test against Hawaii this week. The Rainbow Warriors, he said, were adept at running the football, even if the stats from their first two games hardly reflected it.
Maybe that’s really what Elston thought after watching Hawaii on film. Or maybe he was searching for a carrot to motivate his players in what everyone knew would be a lopsided affair.
Either way, Michigan’s defensive front responded with vigor. The Wolverines engulfed an overmatched offensive line to control the line of scrimmage and smother whichever tailback Hawaii sent onto the field.
Starter Dedrick Parson managed 28 yards on 12 attempts. He was stopped for two yards or fewer seven times in the first half alone. His backup, Nasjzae Bryant-Lelei, fared no better with 18 yards on six carries. The Rainbow Warriors averaged just 1 yard per carry as a team through two quarters.
Entering Saturday, Hawaii had rotated quarterbacks Joey Yellen and Brayden Schager through its first two games. The former earned the start in Week 2 but was replaced after the first quarter against Western Kentucky. Schager threw four interceptions in the final three quarters alone.
Yellen earned the start against Michigan as Schager dealt with an undisclosed injury. And from the opening possession — when edge rusher Jaylen Harrell flattened him from behind on third down — Yellen’s evening was as much about survival as anything else. He was chased, harassed and hurried into quick releases and throwaways by Elston’s ceaseless rotations, failing to complete a pass longer than 13 yards until the seven-minute mark of the fourth quarter.
Edge rusher Mike Morris and was credited with the unit’s only sack. Harrell and inside linebacker Michael Barrett supplied the quarterback hits.
Left tackle Ryan Hayes returned to the starting lineup after missing last week’s opener with an undisclosed injury. Hayes reclaimed his spot at left tackle to complete Michigan’s first-choice offensive line: LT Hayes, LG Trevor Keegan, C Olu Oluwatimi, RG Zak Zinter and RT Trente Jones.
Keegan briefly dropped out of Saturday’s game in the first quarter with what appeared to be an upper-body injury affecting his arm or shoulder. He later returned and played until Michigan pulled its starting linemen. (Keegan dealt with persistent shoulder injuries last season, though it’s unclear if this issue was related.)
Inside linebacker Nikhai Hill-Green also missed the season opener as he recovered from what Harbaugh described as a soft-tissue injury. Hill-Green was in uniform and participated in warmups prior to kickoff against Hawaii but did not play Saturday night.
Running back Donovan Edwards was evaluated in the medical tent for a right leg injury late in the first half, per the U-M radio broadcast. He was gimpy coming out of the tent and did not play in the second half. There was no update on Edwards from Harbaugh after the game.
Reserve defensive back Jalen Perry, whom coaches describe as one of U-M’s best special teams players, suffered an injury in the second half.