Cade McNamara believes he's 'done enough' to be Michigan football's starting QB

Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press
·5 min read

According to Jim Harbaugh, "nobody won or lost" Michigan football's starting quarterback job during the week.

But Saturday's 48-42 triple-overtime win at Rutgers seems to have brought a definitive conclusion to the position battle.

Cade McNamara, who entered the game in place of starter Joe Milton, led the Wolverines to a rollercoaster victory, completing 27-of-36 passes for 260 yards and four touchdowns.

And while Harbaugh did not declare after the game whether McNamara was the team's new starter or not, his comments — combined with McNamara's play — provided the answer.

“We’ll look at it,” Harbaugh said, “but the way he played tonight, he’s gonna be in there.”

Last week, McNamara replaced Milton in the third quarter of Michigan's blowout 49-11 loss to Wisconsin and threw for a touchdown on his opening drive.

He did the same Saturday night, albeit earlier than before.

After the Wolverines' first five drives totaled zero points, Harbaugh inserted McNamara at quarterback in the second quarter. Like last week, he threw for a touchdown almost immediately, connecting with receiver Cornelius Johnson for a 46-yard touchdown after Rutgers appeared to blow a coverage.

The drive sparked Michigan's entire team; the Wolverines out-scored Rutgers 48-25 once McNamara took over. It certainly woke up the offense, which finished with 497 total yards and generated touchdowns or field-goal attempts on eight of McNamara's 10 possessions.

The redshirt freshman was sharp throughout the game, making quick reads and delivering the ball with accuracy. He made plays in the face of pressure, including on a crucial fourth-down conversion, and kept the Wolverines from bottoming out with their first loss to Rutgers since 2014.

“Cade was outstanding,” Harbaugh said. “Really gritty performance. In all ways. Super tough. Executed. Was outstanding. His play was inspiring. Yeah, can’t say enough great things. So proud of him.”

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Cade McNamara (12) of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates next to teammate Michael Barrett (23) against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at SHI Stadium on Nov. 21, 2020 in Piscataway, New Jersey. Michigan defeated Rutgers, 48-42, in triple overtime.
Cade McNamara (12) of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates next to teammate Michael Barrett (23) against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at SHI Stadium on Nov. 21, 2020 in Piscataway, New Jersey. Michigan defeated Rutgers, 48-42, in triple overtime.

Following last week's game, Harbaugh announced that the Wolverines had reopened the quarterback competition between Milton and McNamara. And while McNamara felt that he practiced well during the week, Harbaugh let him know Thursday that Milton would be the starter at Rutgers.

McNamara admitted Saturday night he was disappointed once he learned the news. But he said Harbaugh and the coaching staff challenged him to “not let my emotions get the best of me.”

His teammates tried to do the same, too.

“His locker's next to mine and we talk every day,” said senior linebacker Josh Ross. “And I told him, 'Just keep being you. Keep being the leader you can be. I know how good you are. I know how good Joe is. And when you get your opportunity, you'll take advantage of it.' ”

McNamara's goal for the week was to stay ready in case he was called upon again. He guided the Wolverines to a touchdown to cut into Rutgers' 17-point lead in the second quarter and played turnover-free football.

“I’m not gonna get 17 points back immediately — and it’s not my job to,” McNamara said. “As a team, as an offense, we have to take it play by play and drive by drive. That’s what I was preaching to the team and the offense when we were going. Just staying relaxed and maintaining that confidence; no matter how much we get down, we’re still in this thing.

“I think the level of trust between all of us tonight, I think that led to all of us being able to pull this off.”

Michigan Wolverines running back Hassan Haskins (25) carries the ball as Rutgers Scarlet Knights defensive back Christian Izien (0)  pursues during overtime at SHI Stadium.
Michigan Wolverines running back Hassan Haskins (25) carries the ball as Rutgers Scarlet Knights defensive back Christian Izien (0) pursues during overtime at SHI Stadium.

After the game, McNamara mostly avoided talking about himself. He credited his offensive line and receivers and praised the run game, which rushed for 148 yards after combining for just 60 rushing yards between the two previous games.

McNamara exuded a cool sense of confidence. He entered this offseason third on Michigan's depth chart, behind two quarterbacks who were both higher-ranked recruits with more experience, and now, he has surpassed both. When asked if he felt he has done enough to earn the starting job, McNamara answered affirmatively.

“Personally, I feel like I’ve done enough for me to be put in that position,” McNamara said. “That’s coach Harbaugh’s decision and whatever’s best for the team, but from a personal level, I feel like I’m confident enough in myself that, if my number’s called again then, I can perform the same way. My job as a leader is to help lead these boys to another victory.”

McNamara's strong play doesn't answer all of the questions surrounding Michigan, nor is it a guarantee that the Wolverines will win more games down the final stretch of the regular season.

But McNamara's emergence is a bright spot in a season that has been marked by failures. And the Wolverines seem eager to see just how far McNamara can take them in the coming weeks.

“He’s very well prepared,” Harbaugh said. “I think he’s seeing things very good. His confidence has always been really high. It’s a testament to his ability. Really happy for him. As I said, it was gritty. Sometimes you gotta see it in a game, and he was as good as you could come in and play. Heck of a great comeback.”

Contact Orion Sang at osang@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines and sign up for our Wolverines newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Cade McNamara confident he should be the starter for Michigan football