Quarterback JJ McCarthy arrived at Tuesday evening’s player press conference with the same easy, confident demeanor he always does.
He sauntered up to the podium, cracked a joke, and asked how everyone was doing. He seemed unaffected by the pressure of the week, with a game that decides the fate of Michigan’s season looming large.
With Blake Corum’s status a mystery and Michigan’s run-first offense turned on its head, McCarthy suddenly has become the key to the game. But is he ready to shoulder that burden?
In his own words, he’s more than ready.
“It feels like the stars are aligning,” McCarthy said. “(The Game’s) finally here, it’s meant to be. And we couldn’t be more excited for it, honestly.”
This game is McCarthy’s best chance all season to show his stuff. The Wolverines’ offensive game plan, the one that led them to 11-0 with the college football playoff well within reach, is no longer feasible. Running back Blake Corum, even if he’s available to play, won’t be 100 percent. And his backup, Donovan Edwards, is not a guarantee either.
With the running game that the team has leaned on all season ailing, it feels like McCarthy’s time to shine. But he needs the confidence to do so, especially after a dip in form over the past few games
“One of the sayings we have around here is ‘just do you,’ and I’m gonna do me,” McCarthy said. “What I did to get me here, I’m gonna do that next Saturday for sure”
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What did McCarthy do to get to Ann Arbor? He dominated the high school game with confident, accurate throws in tight windows, displaying his high football IQ in the process.
But at the college level, that production hasn’t been seen outside of brief flashes of brilliance. Against Illinois last weekend, McCarthy did prove he can lead a passing game, if only for a quarter. Ohio State certainly will pose more of a threat than the Illini did defensively, forcing McCarthy to tighten up his throws even further.
If McCarthy loses his confidence or poise in the pocket at any time against the Buckeyes, he will pay. One thing that could come to his aid — meditation.
“(Meditation is) huge,” McCarthy said. “Because you just center yourself back, whether I’m in my bedroom or in the woods or back in the Big House, it brings you back inside yourself and centering yourself. No matter what environment I’m in, it feels like home.
And in a hostile environment like the Horseshoe will be Saturday, JJ will need all the comfort he can get.
McCarthy will be thrown into the fire Saturday if the running game is not clicking. He has all the tools necessary to beat Ohio State, and all of them have been on display at times this season. Earlier in the season, he proved he could create explosive plays with his arm. And against Illinois, McCarthy proved he had the poise to take control of a game, and escape with a win.
But against the Buckeyes, with everything on the line, he will have to put it together for the first time all season.
Like it or not, it’s up to JJ.