There was something about Cade McNamara’s demeanor. The way the senior quarterback sat at the podium after the game; arms crossed, leaning back in his chair with a deadpan expression painted across his face.
It was not the look of someone who thought he had just locked up the starting quarterback position. The unabashed confidence that he proudly wore earlier in fall camp was seemingly gone.
McNamara’s stat line was neither bad nor good: 9-of-18 for 136 yards. But nearly half of those came on a Roman Wilson screen pass turned touchdown. McNamara didn’t do anything that truly jumped out at you, good or bad.
Even he recognized that.
“It’s just kind of like first game stuff,” McNamara said. “I missed a couple of targets, we had a couple of drops. It looked like a first game, I felt like, on the offensive side of the ball and we’re definitely going to clean that up, and I’m gonna be a part of that.”
How much he will be a part of that is out of his control now. Due to Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s decision to prolong the competition into the season, sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy is set to start next weekend’s game against Hawaii. After that, presumably, Harbaugh will make a decision.
Realistically, this could’ve been McNamara’s final game as the starting quarterback for Michigan. No one outside of Harbaugh knows, and even he might not yet.
This unique circumstance is one that even McNamara didn’t see coming.
“I’d definitely say it was pretty unusual, it was kind of a thing I wasn’t expecting by the end of camp,” McNamara said. “I thought I had my best camp, I thought I put myself in a good position, and that was just the decision that coach (Harbaugh) went with.”
The separation between McNamara and McCarthy was, by all accounts, as slim as it could be coming out of fall camp. No one said a word about who was in the lead, player or coach. The tone was always the same too, anything that one could do, so could the other.
Today, though, the rhetoric was a bit different. When speaking of his two quarterbacks, the contrast in Harbaugh’s tone was evident. On one hand, he spoke highly of McNamara, as he always has:
“I thought (McNamara) was really good,” Harbaugh said. “Executing, as I said, no issues again, you’ve got to give credit to the quarterback as well when that’s taking place on offense.”
But when Harbaugh spoke of McCarthy, his backup for the day that led Michigan on two touchdown drives in the second half, he gushed.
“(McCarthy) was electric when he got in, no question about that,” Harbaugh said. “I thought he also went through his reads very well. It’s great to see him playing just super calm, cool, and collected. I think he’s been conveying that he’s doing a great job too and really improved a lot.”
Next week, it will be McCarthy’s turn to start, with McNamara likely to relieve him in the second half. Harbaugh has said many times that there is not one criterion he will judge the quarterbacks under, but it is safe to assume he will at least glance at the box score. In that regard, McCarthy will not need to do much to have a measurably better performance than McNamara. But what about after that?
Everything is still up in the air. Eventually, somebody will be the permanent starting quarterback.
“I think coach (Harbaugh) mentioned that he doesn’t really want to do the switching this year,” McNamara said. “So I think however it shakes out, that’s just how it’s gonna be.”