JJ prepares to throw the ball as a Michigan player and Rutgers player make contact in front of him.
The junior quarterback won't let a stumble define his potential this season. Kate Hua/Daily. Buy this photo.

Don’t go looking for the J.J. McCarthy who threw three interceptions against Bowling Green.

Because he’s not here.

“Stay in the moment, forget what happened, learn from it, and just try to get that much better each and every day,” the junior quarterback affirmed Monday.

A punctual, yet necessary response, McCarthy’s attitude toward his role has evidently shifted. Touted as a do-it-all five-star quarterback, the signal caller was put to the test by an unlikely foe in the lowly Falcons. Initially caving in under the weight on his shoulders, McCarthy believes the stumble allowed him to hit his stride.

“The biggest thing I learned from it is to not put so much pressure on myself, “ McCarthy said. “Going into that game I just put an unrealistic expectation for that game and when one thing went wrong, the pressure, I just really felt it.”

Pressure certainly mounted on the second year starter. Amid a red-hot start, McCarthy had a QBR of 95.6 in week one and 96.9 in week two, good for ninth and third best in the nation, respectively. He had thrown 558 yards, five touchdown passes and had no turnover issues. He was rolling as Heisman whispers abounded.

Then, Bowling Green abruptly pumped the brakes. In an already much maligned game, McCarthy more than stumbled, making bad read after bad read en route to a 9.3 QBR. Again — nine, point, three.

The streak had stopped. And just as McCarthy had time to pick his head up, he stared down a 3-0 Rutgers program. Despite his falter, the pressure was still on.

“I talked about it with (Harbaugh), and coach Campbell and coach Moore,” McCarthy said. “Just that whole process of unraveling it and diagnosing it did a lot for me.”

Equipped with a new mentality, McCarthy delivered. It wasn’t a perfect throwing day — he received ample help from the 33 carries his running backs towed, coupled with seven rushes of his own — but it was a return to form. 

McCarthy completed 15 of his 21 passing attempts, good for a 71.4 percent completion rating. He also exhibited improved accuracy from his past game, hitting freshman receiver Semaj Morgan for a touchdown with a defender draped over him and continuously finding a passing groove. Most importantly, even when passes fell errant, they didn’t land in the hands of opposing defenders.

McCarthy contributed in all facets of the game, chipping in 51 yards on the ground. More than anything though, he finished with zero total turnovers. It was certainly an improvement.

That improvement landed McCarthy back in the good graces of QBR. Playing “one of his best games” according to Harbaugh, McCarthy looked much different than he had just seven days ago. A complement to this rebound, he finished with the second best QBR in the nation for the week against the Scarlet Knights, with a 96.8 — 10 times his previous week’s score.

Despite the high praises of Harbaugh and the box score, McCarthy remains unsatisfied.

“That meant a lot to hear that, because I didn’t think so myself,” McCarthy said of the compliments. “There’s a lot of plays that I want to get back. And there’s a lot of reads that I felt like I could have progressed onto and throws that I could have made.”

While the junior quarterback may have dismissed the compliments, he nonetheless acknowledged that he had found success against Rutgers. It’s a success that’s come not just with a new mentality, but a new outlook on his do-it-all five-star quarterback abilities.

“I used to be kind of forcing my abilities to show on certain plays or certain situations,” McCarthy said. “But now I’ve continued to try and do a very good job of allowing these plays to come to me. And allowing my athleticism and special attributes to show when the time is needed.”

If there was a time to experience these lessons this season, it was against a less-than-stellar opening lineup of games. McCarthy already got more than his fair share of lessons at the hands of TCU. Nevertheless, implementing those lessons is a different story. And as the clock rang triple zeros against Rutgers on Saturday, he suggested that the J.J. McCarthy who was under center two weeks ago won’t be taking the field anymore.

Because he’s not here.