After the UConn game, there was some buzz about J.J. McCarthy going to New York, as he had the sixth-best odds to win the Heisman trophy.
In what he played of the early-season blowouts, the sophomore quarterback performed very well. But the sudden jump to being named alongside college football’s elite didn’t come from that — it came from the enormous expectations placed upon McCarthy’s shoulders before he even stepped foot on campus.
Between his inconsistent deep ball, his occasionally lackadaisical decision-making and even his lack of raw numbers, McCarthy has fallen back to earth. Yet the No. 5 Michigan football team’s ascent has continued.
That’s, of course, thanks in large part to the Wolverines’ lethal rushing attack. But Michigan co-offensive coordinator Matt Weiss thinks that’s also because of McCarthy’s play, even if isn’t as flashy as everyone expected.
“I would say that the passing game is working very well, the running game is working very well — we’re extremely efficient,” Michigan coach Matt Weiss said Wednesday. “Obviously, we’d love more explosive plays. … And I think those things those things will come. But we built a great foundation of an offense that we feel really good about. And it’s been very effective. And it’s certainly a recipe for winning, which we definitely don’t apologize for.”
At times, Weiss’s spiel bordered on defensive, but he has a point. Even if McCarthy and Michigan’s offense hasn’t looked as explosive or as flashy as the rest of college football’s elite, it has been quite effective. The Wolverines are consistently near the top end of college football in many statistics including a top-10 scoring offense.
Weiss also mentioned that he believes Michigan has the foundation for an explosive offense. That was a common theme Wednesday. When Weiss was asked about possible disconnect on the deep balls McCarthy has been throwing and — more often than not — missing on, Weiss went back to the foundation he says they’ve been laying in practice:
“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 comes down to parsing through the coachspeak and balancing the expectations with the results. When McCarthy was named the starting quarterback, many expected him to lead an offensive renaissance. While that hasn’t happened yet, McCarthy has — in Weiss’s eyes — been far better than was expected of him. And he’s leading a Michigan offense that is considered to be — both statistically and subjectively — one of the nation’s best. And part of that leadership has come not from his arm, but from his legs.
Something that’s obvious from watching McCarthy play is how much his mobility has helped him. Early in the season, McCarthy was at times hesitant to run, holding onto the ball far too long. On other occasions, when McCarthy tucked and ran, he put himself in dangerous spots taking hits from players far larger than him.
Picking when to run as a quarterback is a balancing act — and right now, McCarthy seems to have found that balance.
“I think (McCarthy’s legs are) one of the areas where you can see significant improvement in his game,” Weiss said. “… The thing we always say to him is that the defense should have to stop you three times: They have to stop the play we call if we’re throwing the ball, they have to stop you from scrambling to throw and then they have to stop you from scrambling to run. So he’s starting to really click in that area.”
Even though McCarthy and Michigan’s offense hasn’t been as high-flying as many expected, Weiss was emphatic in his defense of McCarthy. Because, at the end of the day, the Wolverines are winning, and their offense has been an integral part of that.
So while McCarthy may no longer be in the Heisman conversation or talked about among the nation’s best quarterbacks, he’s doing his job. And for the most part, doing it well.
There’s an obvious next step for McCarthy and the Michigan offense, but for right now they haven’t needed it. The Wolverines have ascended with McCarthy as is. But if McCarthy can raise his play, the offense’s ceiling can only raise with him.