PISCATAWAY — It’s hard to evaluate J.J. McCarthy.
Sometimes, the sophomore quarterback is missing on deep passes, a recurring issue that’s been a point of criticism all year. Saturday, he missed sophomore receiver Andrel Anthony in this exact way once again.
Other times, he’s zipping in lasers on a rope so frozen it would shatter if someone touched it — proven by his dart into senior receiver Cornelius Johnson for a touchdown at the end of the third quarter, making the score 42-17 en route to the No. 5 Michigan football team’s 52-17 rout over Rutgers.
Similarly, he’ll run and pick up massive yards on key plays, only to follow it up by not sliding or stepping out of bounds, just to get rocked and put his health in jeopardy.
He’s two sides of the same coin, but the Wolverines just keep seeing heads.
“I was looking up after the game and (it) was like he threw for 151 yards, (but it) felt like 300 to me because of the plays he was making,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaigh said. “(He was) standing in there making some incredible throws and touchdown throws.”
Some of McCarthy’s throws were objectively great, the one to Johnson included. But McCarthy was far from perfect, going 13-for-27 on passes, sometimes choosing the wrong read and at times putting his receivers in jeopardy by forcing the ball into dangerous coverages.
When McCarthy’s team comes away with a 35-point victory and 433 yards of offense, though, it’s easy to focus on the upsides and downplay the stumbles.
So the Wolverines continued to do so.
“J.J. McCarthy, he just does not get rattled at all,” Harbaugh said. “But he was getting hit and missing the deep ball by a couple inches. And we’re hitting those in practice. And we’re really close in the games. And soon we’ll be hitting ‘em in the games.”
Wednesday, in Schembechler Hall, co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Matt Weiss struck a similar tune in McCarthy’s defense.
“When we’re at practice, we have obviously a larger sample because there are 100 plays a day, and those (deep) passes are getting completed,” Weiss said. “It’s just a matter of time before that shows up in the game. And yeah, certainly we could push the ball down the field more. But like I said, we’ve been very efficient. ”
It still didn’t show up Saturday.
Now, that’s not to say McCarthy isn’t a good quarterback. He certainly has the talent to give most starters in college football a run for their money. Saturday, though, it wasn’t his physical attributes that most impressed, it was his mental.
“He was getting hit, too, standing in there with a lot of courage,” Harbaugh said. “I watch him series by series, the kid is like Björn Borg out there — ice man. Not exactly like Björn Borg, you don’t have to be. He’s got a lot of emotion, but there’s a real quality about him that doesn’t matter if he’s at home, doesn’t matter if he’s on the road, doesn’t matter if they’re cheering his name, doesn’t matter if they’re booing him, hitting him, ahead, behind — that “it” factor is there with J.J. McCarthy.”
While McCarthy might not have the flowing locks to completely pull off Borg’s look, Harbaugh didn’t misspeak about the striking resemblance in demeanor. Hit after hit — whether McCarthy beckoned it on a QB scramble, it was a roughing the passer penalty or a clean hit in the pocket — he got up, shook it off and went to the next play.
It gave the Wolverines the opportunity to bury the Scarlet Knights, not slowing Michigan’s lurching offensive machine down in the second half. And it’s what every team needs in its quarterback — poise.
McCarthy won’t hit every throw, and he’s sure to dazzle at least once per game. It makes him tough to figure out. Harbaugh will tell you he has an “it” factor, while others might tell you he’s inaccurate. But what either side says doesn’t matter
Because Saturday, and in every game so far this season, McCarthy stayed calm and did enough to win.