On Saturday, the Michigan football team’s offense limped through a scoreless second half against Rutgers. While the Scarlet Knights stymied the Wolverines’ rushing attack, junior quarterback Cade McNamara wilted, throwing for just seven yards across the final two quarters.
Still, two days later, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh offered a positive review of McNamara’s performance.
“For the most part, I thought he was pretty darn good,” Harbaugh said.
McNamara’s first half, which included 156 passing yards and sustained two touchdown drives, was exceptional and made the late-game miscues all the more surprising.
Speaking after practice on Monday, McNamara faulted Michigan’s offensive attrition on a lack of momentum. With four consecutive three-and-outs to begin the second half, the Wolverines was unable to develop any sort of rhythm.
Having watched the film of his performance, McNamara wouldn’t concede whether the root of his problems were more footwork-related or mechanical-based. He did, however, acknowledge that he rushed a few throws, including a would-be touchdown in the final seconds of the first half, when he missed senior tight end Luke Schoonmaker in the corner of the endzone.
Heading into a pivotal matchup against Wisconsin, McNamara remains confident in the passing game, in spite of the struggles.
“I think throughout the season, our intermediate stuff has been really good,” McNamara said. “We’ve thrown it deep in the game (and) we’ve been able to do that really well, so I think we’re building.
“… When we’re in those scenarios where we have to throw our way back into a game, I think I’m more than capable of doing that.”
The Badgers will certainly test that declaration. Through four games, the Wolverines’ passing game has played second fiddle to their rushing attack, averaging the second-fewest passing yards per game in the Big Ten. When Rutgers stacked the box with an eighth player, McNamara and company could not engineer the offense by themselves. For the first time this season, the opposition successfully carried out a gameplan to stop Michigan’s offense.
Wisconsin, which boasts the top rushing defense in the Big Ten, seems well-equipped to follow that blueprint themselves.
“Really stout, really good,” Harbaugh said of the Badger defense. “Guys that have played a lot of football. Experienced, solid, physical, athletic defense that knows the scheme and they’re very dialed in.”
That unit will place McNamara further underneath the microscope. Still, Michigan’s second half woes cannot solely be attributed to McNamara — suspect playcalling and the receivers, who dropped several catchable balls, are equally to blame. But, the Wolverines’ fate may very well hinge on McNamara’s ability to develop a consistent passing game and establish the momentum that he lamented.
It’s a task made more difficult by the raucous environment inside Camp Randall — not only has Madison emerged as a house of horrors for the Wolverines in recent years, but McNamara is yet to play a road game in front of fans, a byproduct of the pandemic.
“Overall, I’m gonna have to do a better job, or really just a louder job, of communicating whatever the protection is or whatever I’m asked to do,” McNamara said. “Just me being louder, whether that’s doing stuff with more signals, we’ll see, but I’m ready for the challenge.”