How did Michigan football QB Cade McNamara do with the starting job on the line?

Free Press sports writer Rainer Sabin answers three questions after Michigan football defeated Colorado State, 51-7, in Ann Arbor on Saturday:

What did Cade McNamara look like?

Before he even took the field Saturday, Cade McNamara found himself in a difficult position. The same quarterback who led the Wolverines to their first Big Ten title in 17 years stepped in with a slim grip on the starting job. Jim Harbaugh already stated that JJ McCarthy will start the Week 2 game against Hawaii. While Harbaugh said his decision shouldn’t be seen as a “demotion” for McNamara, it wasn’t exactly a vote of confidence in a player who had just been voted in as a captain by his teammates. McNamara’s struggles Saturday must be seen in the context of the strange situation Harbaugh has created for him. He was acting like someone under a lot of pressure, after all.

Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara looks to pass Colorado State during the first half Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, in Ann Arbor.

Easy shots sailed wide and low, missing their intended targets. And his frustration grew. After tight end Erick All tripped on a route and McNamara’s pass fell incomplete on third down inside Colorado State’s end zone, the quarterback yelled in anger. The botched play includes the performance of an off-pace quarterback. McNamara dropped five of his first six passes and his completion percentage dipped below 47 percent before the end of the first half. The low line was boosted by a 62-yard touchdown run to Roman Wilson. But Wilson caught McNamara’s throw 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage before tuning up.

When McNamara was replaced by McCarthy in the third quarter, the Wolverines led by 30 points. Victory was guaranteed for McNamara. But he couldn’t get much else going after completing just 9 of 18 pass attempts for 136 yards.

Could JJ McCarthy be the answer to replacing Hassan Haskins?

McCarthy added an explosive element to the ground game. On his first carry, he made the tackle on the edge of the red zone before running around the edge and beating a defender at the end line. The 20-yard touchdown provided the latest indication that McCarthy can be a playmaker.

MORE FROM SABIN:Is a College Football Playoff championship really possible for Michigan?

Harbaugh indicated McCarthy’s athleticism gives him an advantage over McNamara, and the dual threat he poses may be needed as the Wolverines look to replace Hassan Haskins.

Haskins was the catalyst for a rushing attack that led the Big Ten a year ago. His departure this offseason left a big void, and it’s uncertain whether it will be filled. While Donovan Edwards and Blake Corum averaged 5.6 yards per carry on Saturday, neither consistently demonstrated the power that Haskins regularly displayed. Maybe they never will. If that’s the case, Michigan’s running game may need to build yards in different ways. Enter McCarthy, who shows the ability to advance to the second and third levels in the blink of an eye.

His 50-yard gain on three carries offered the latest proof of that talent.

Michigan defensive back Rod Moore celebrates an interception against Colorado State's Clay Millen during the first half Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, in Ann Arbor.

Michigan defensive back Rod Moore celebrates an interception against Colorado State’s Clay Millen during the first half Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, in Ann Arbor.

How did Michigan DC Jesse Minter do in his debut?

At Big Ten media days in July, Harbaugh wondered if his defense might be better than the one that experienced a resurgence a season ago.

Sure enough, Aidan Hutchinson, David Ojabo and Dax Hill were no longer in the fold. But the collection of returning markers and top picks now had a solid understanding of the system Mike Macdonald installed during his lone season in Ann Arbor. The design, with its malleable facades and multiple coverages, proved to be a great success. Michigan finished in the top 10 in scoring last fall and McDonald was soon recalled to the NFL. That led to the arrival of Jesse Minter, Macdonald’s former teammate with the Baltimore Ravens. Minter was given the responsibility of running the same program that Macdonald had installed.

So far so good.

The Wolverines were able to generate consistent pressure, pounding CSU quarterback Clay Millen’s pocket and swamping the Rams’ offense. Michigan had seven sacks and forced two fumbles, including one that led to a 45-yard punt return by DJ Turner. The Rams, brandishing a new offense under first-year coach Jay Norvell, never had much of a chance. They averaged 3.7 yards per play and didn’t advance further than the Michigan 42-yard line until the fourth quarter.

The no-name defense was filed for Minter.

Contact Rainer Sabin at rsabin@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @RainerSabin.

This article originally appeared in the Detroit Free Press: How did Michigan QB Cade McNamara fare with starting job at risk?

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