Milton, McNamara competing to start at Rutgers

Thursday, November 19, 2020 - 5:42pm


Miles Macklin/Daily

After Michigan’s third three-and-out and what was nearly junior quarterback Joe Milton’s third interception, Jim Harbaugh decided it was the end of his night. Down 35-3 to Wisconsin with the situation looking hopeless, he pulled Milton for sophomore Cade McNamara.

And heading into Saturday’s matchup at Rutgers, it’s anyone’s guess who will be under center.

“We’re gonna open it up,” Harbaugh said Monday. “There’ll be competition. Both will see action with the 1s throughout the week.”

McNamara, who set Nevada state passing records in high school, did little to discourage competition in his limited snaps against Wisconsin. Upon entering the game, he immediately completed his first three passes for 23, 28 and 23 yards — the latter being Michigan’s only touchdown of the game, to sophomore receiver Mike Sainristil. And when the Wolverines lined up for a two-point conversion, McNamara executed a rainbow throw with touch to hit sophomore receiver Giles Jackson in the end zone.

Not only was that Michigan’s best drive of the game, but it was also perhaps the only positive moment it had all night.

One drive in the midst of a blowout loss shouldn’t mean much, as the Wolverines will remember from just a few years ago. In 2017, Harbaugh pulled a struggling John O’Korn midway through the second quarter against Rutgers in favor of Brandon Peters. Then a redshirt freshman, Peters led three straight touchdown drives and seized the starting job by the horns.

But by the end of that season, he was glumly walking off the field in Tampa Bay after an abysmal 20-of-44, zero-touchdown and two-interception performance in an Outback Bowl loss to South Carolina. It was a foregone conclusion that Shea Patterson, then an incoming transfer, would be the quarterback in 2018. The next time Peters played meaningful snaps, it was in an Illinois uniform.

That moment on Saturday, though, still serves as an impressive look at McNamara’s potential. Fifth-year senior tight end Nick Eubanks sees that in his work ethic. McNamara frequently texts him to come in at 6 a.m. to work out.

“As an older dude, it’s kind of harsh,” Eubanks said. “But you show up. Just being able to come in at 6 and work with him is an eye-opener. Him being able to get up that early just to come work out with some of the dudes, not only just me, is always an eye-opener.”

That started in the offseason, with McNamara trying to get route timings down. Now, Eubanks talks about his ability to make throws on the run and compete with Milton in practice.

Milton, too, was the beneficiary of hype due to practice performance pretty recently. Eubanks made mention on Tuesday of his ability to throw 70 yards, but despite his obvious ability to sling it, Milton has struggled to connect on downfield throws because of accuracy issues.

Michigan, which so outwardly believed in Milton’s potential just four short weeks ago, isn’t necessarily ready to give up on him just yet. Harbaugh refused to go into specifics on how he would make the call on who to start Saturday, but based on how he’s handled such situations in the past, it’s fair to say practice throughout the week will largely inform the decision.

And if it’s Milton again, his teammates will be just fine with that.

“He never looked at any situation negative,” Eubanks said. “He knows what he has to do and we know what he has to do. We’re falling right behind him. … That’s with any quarterback, as well. But we know Joe’s a special dude.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.

For a weekly roundup of the best stories from The Michigan Daily, sign up for our newsletter here.