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EAST LANSING, Mich. — Despite a career day from Cade McNamara, who was 28-for-44 for 383 yards, with two touchdowns but also a game-ending interception, he sat sullen, his lip quivering as the reality of Michigan’s first loss was hitting him in real-time.
The Wolverines dominated the Michigan State defense through the air, outgaining the Spartans 552-395 in total yardage. But the only stat that matters is the final score: 37-33, advantage MSU.
While McNamara could have taken solace in his mostly stellar play on Saturday, he credited the offensive line while blaming himself for not being better.
“We were confident we could move the ball,” McNamara said. “It was a combination of good pass pro today — we just came up short and that’s on me. I didn’t execute good enough for us to win this one.”
Though McNamara did turn the ball over in the end, it wasn’t his play that was the issue. Banged up for a series, Michigan inserted freshman J.J. McCarthy, who fumbled for the second consecutive drive, giving MSU the ball in good field position. It set up the go-ahead and ultimately game-winning score.
Still, McNamara blames himself for forcing a ball into coverage, which resulted in the Spartans being able to finish the game out in victory formation.
“Where I fell short? We did a good job of executing on third down and the O-line was giving me time to deliver some balls to the tight ends and receivers. We were moving the ball well,” McNamara said. “I think we had a couple plays — there was a few plays that stand out, there’s not many. I think I needed to do better. I just can’t do that at the end of the game. I’ve gotta check it down or something. That’s about it.”
While that final Michigan drive saw the Wolverines in a position to win the game with time running out, the drive beforehand — the maize and blue turned it over on downs deep in MSU territory — saw the officials hold onto their flags, at least in McNamara’s view.
Though the Wolverines went long, with an incomplete pass into the end zone on third-and-3, on fourth down, McNamara attempted to hit receiver Cornelius Johnson in the flat. He was hit, and the ball bounced off the grass. The starting quarterback feels that the officials should have given the call to Michigan, but the flag remained in the referees’ pockets as the Spartan Stadium crowd erupted.
“That last play, I thought it was (pass interference) honestly,” McNamara said. “We had a quick game called and the guy I was reading was in the flat and he actually just hit C.J. and I was throwing to C.J. so I don’t know why that wasn’t called.”
A career day, tarnished
Photo: Isaiah Hole
The big question coming into this game was whether or not Michigan would have enough offense to match Michigan State. That question has been answered: somewhat, yes. But also, no.
Michigan State scored touchdowns at every step, while the Wolverines stalled out in the red zone, settling for three field goals. In fact, the lack of conversions on that front kept MSU in the game, despite Michigan dominating, moving down the field with seeming ease.
It’s not something that’s a microcosm — it’s been endemic of late of the Michigan offense.
After the first three games of the season, Michigan had dominated while attempting just three field goals total. Since, the Wolverines have attempted at least three field goals per game. But why is that?
McNamara isn’t entirely sure, but he is clear that he and the tea are aware of it being a problem.
“Us stalling out, it’s a variety of reasons,” McNamara said. “Last game, we weren’t able to get the ball in the end zone. We had our opportunities last week and we did not execute. It could be a combination of that as well this week. Obviously, we’re gonna watch it on film. We know we have to do that and we’re gonna get better.”
But on the other end, when Michigan needed a passing play, save for on the last drive of the game and in trying to convert on the penultimate one, McNamara stood in the pocket and delivered strike after strike.
Going into the week, a likely vocal minority of the fan base had been calling for McCarthy to supplant McNamara in the starting lineup. Regardless of the final score, McNamara proved something on Saturday, that if Michigan needs to pass the ball, he can put up big numbers, hitting players like Andrel Anthony (recipient of the second-longest passing touchdown in Michigan history) and tight end Erick All — both of whom had career days themselves. Anthony hadn’t caught a pass before Saturday, but he finished the game with six receptions for 155 yards and two touchdowns. All had 10 catches for 98 yards.
Aside from Anthony’s second touchdown catch and two passes from J.J. McCarthy to All for 6 yards, it was McNamara who found his receivers with regularity, helping the team convert 8-of-17 third downs. With that in mind, while McNamara had likely cemented his starting position that much further, including in the minds of questioning fans, he doesn’t care what people think of him. He cares about winning and losing, and his team fell short on Saturday.
“I really don’t care about that,” McNamara said. “We lost and that’s what I care about.”