J.J. McCarthy has stressed the same refrain for weeks now with regards to the untapped potential of Michigan’s offense.
“In my eyes, I don’t think we should be stopped,” McCarthy said Tuesday. “And I don’t think we’ve reached that yet. … Every game brings about new opportunities to improve and we’re just going to keep looking for those opportunities. We’re definitely not where we need to be.”
That may seem like a misleading statement, considering the Wolverines are 9-0 in large part thanks to their prolific offense. It averages 42.2 points per game, the second-highest mark in the Big Ten.
There is, though, a rather apparent area where Michigan can grow: downfield passes.
Nearly all season, McCarthy has been unable to connect with receivers on deep balls. In the Big Ten opener against Maryland, McCarthy overthrew his receivers on four separate occasions, later blaming the discord on his arm feeling “110%” following offseason rehabilitation for a shoulder injury. But those issues have persisted. Most recently on Saturday against Rutgers, McCarthy overshot a wide-open receiver in sophomore Andrel Anthony.
That throw prompted a sideline discussion with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, with Harbaugh telling McCarthy to put more air under the ball, that way the receiver is granted more time to adjust. But the pair leave the more nuanced technical discussion for after the game during film sessions.
When it comes to the disconnect, McCarthy is quick to pin the onus on himself.
“Every single time, I’ll say that’s on me because they’re getting open,” McCarthy said. “I have to put it on him. So I’d take 100% blame for all of the balls that are missed.”
To reach that upper-echelon, that machine-like, flawless offense, McCarthy is aware that he needs to execute on those downfield throws.
“That’s a huge part of any offense,” McCarthy said. “If you’re able to stretch the field like that and get those quick drives, it’s huge. So I feel like once we do hit that stride, it’s definitely going to improve our offense tremendously.”
Last week, co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Matt Weiss downplayed any concern, noting that McCarthy routinely completes deep balls in practice — which account for a larger sample size — and that in games, the offense still operates efficiently.
Still, McCarthy is constantly working to hone his craft. That way, in his eyes, the offense can reach the level he envisions.
“It’s just constant reps,” McCarthy said. “It’s reps. We worked at it so much today in practice, and it’s gonna click. We’re on the upward trend with all that stuff, and it’s gonna happen. It’s gonna happen, I can promise you that.”
Much of his confidence stems from the root of the problem — at least, what he believes to be the root. A shoulder injury sidelined McCarthy for spring ball and much of the summer. He missed valuable time to build rapport with his receivers, thus bleeding that process of developing chemistry further into the season than he may have liked.
Now, nine games into the season and eight starts into his tenure, that problem should be nearing a remedy. Saturday’s upcoming contest against Nebraska seemingly provides a good opportunity for McCarthy to flourish — the Cornhuskers allow 258.1 passing yards per game, the third-worst mark in the conference.
“A lot of those endgame shots are so brand new with just everything that happened in the spring and not being able to get those in-game reps,” McCarthy said. “But it’s coming together, for sure.”
With an opportunity to demonstrate growth against an inferior opponent, Saturday will show what degree of truth lies in McCarthy’s statement.