Speaking to reporters on a Zoom call Tuesday afternoon, Vincent Gray accidentally tipped the Michigan football team’s hand.
The junior cornerback was asked about Penn State’s quarterbacks ahead of Saturday’s game, but Gray thought the question pertained to the Wolverines’ own quarterback situation. And a day after coach Jim Harbaugh declined to publicly name a starting quarterback, Gray let it slip.
“From the looks of it, I think (sophomore) Cade (McNamara) is going to be starting at quarterback for us this Saturday,” Gray said. “Cade has got the wheels turning for the offense right now, and I think they’re going to let him keep going.”
Despite Harbaugh’s unwillingness to announce the decision, the move comes as no surprise. Junior quarterback Joe Milton, who became the first Harbaugh recruit to start the season under center earlier this fall, struggled mightily against Wisconsin and Rutgers. Before getting benched in favor of McNamara in both games, Milton went a combined 14-for-31 passing for just 187 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.
McNamara, on the other hand, raised eyebrows in his relief appearances. In his first drive of mop-up duty against the Badgers, he finished a perfect 3-for-3 passing for 74 yards, a touchdown and a two-point conversion. Then he led a 17-point comeback against the Scarlet Knights — the Wolverines’ third-largest in program history. He completed 27 of his 36 passes for 260 yards, four passing touchdowns and no turnovers. He also added a rushing touchdown in the triple-overtime win.
Above all, McNamara delivered a spark to a team that spent the last month merely going through the motions. During their three-game losing streak, the Wolverines lost by a combined score of 114-56. They were in dire need of a meaningful change.
McNamara delivered. And even though he’s just now getting his first chance as a starter, his tenacity started long before he took the field during a game.
“Especially at practice, he’s always in the game,” sophomore tight end Erick All said Monday. “Like he makes a bad throw, he’s not down on himself, but he’s like, ‘Let’s go.’ He’s just real passionate. You can just tell after every throw or after every practice, he talks about practice, or after every game he talks about what’s going on during the plays and stuff.”
Added Harbaugh: “His mindset is very good, very solid. … Confident, he’s got faith in his ability and works extremely hard. Tough, too. So, (a) really good mindset in all those areas.”
For a Michigan team that limped into Piscataway with its first 1-3 record since 1967, the insertion of McNamara might’ve saved the program from itself. A loss to a team that entered with a 1-24 record in its last 25 games would’ve been a damning indictment of a free falling program.
Against Rutgers, McNamara’s confidence and passion were apparent in his play style. The same is true of his postgame locker room speech.
“Cade just has that fiery attitude to him that really inspires a lot of players on the sideline and gets them going,” Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis said Monday on the Inside Michigan Football radio show. “We’re very much pleased. You never really know about a quarterback until you see them in a game situation.”
If that’s the case, the Wolverines now know what they have in McNamara: a new starting quarterback. Even if it took a slip of the tongue to find out for sure.
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