J.J. McCarthy has chance to prove himself vs. top-ranked Illinois defense


Jim Harbaugh faced one of the most difficult personnel decisions of his coaching career heading into this year’s college football season.

Michigan’s eighth-year head coach had two solid quarterback options at his disposal in Cade McNamara and JJ McCarthy, and while both earned the right to be under center for the Wolverines, he knew s I had to make a decision.

So Harbaugh let the competition play out on the field. McNamara, who started all 14 games for the Wolverines in 2021 and led the team to a Big Ten championship and its first College Football Playoff berth, started the season opener against Colorado State. McCarthy, who is the more gifted athlete but attempted just 42 total passes as a true freshman while playing behind McNamara, started in the team’s second game against Hawaii.

In the end, it was McCarthy who shined the most, throwing for 229 yards and three touchdowns in a dominating 56-10 victory over the Rainbow Warriors. He was eventually named the team’s starter after that game and has been terrific ever since, helping guide the Wolverines to a perfect 10-0 record heading into Saturday’s Big Ten showdown against Illinois.

McCarthy ranks second in the Big Ten in both passing efficiency (157.6) and completion percentage (69%). Through 10 games, he’s thrown 14 touchdowns to just two interceptions and he’s done it with his legs, too, totaling 195 yards and three scores on the ground.

But while the Michigan sophomore has been consistent under center this season, the Wolverines are a run-heavy team, ranking second in the conference in rushing attempts and leading the Big Ten in both yards and in touchdowns.

According to FOX Sports college football analyst Joel Klatt, McCarthy will get a chance to prove himself Saturday against one of the stingiest defenses not just in the Big Ten, but in the entire country.

Illinois vs. No. 3 Michigan Preview | The Joel Klatt Show

Illinois vs. No. 3 Michigan Preview |  The Joel Klatt Show

Joel Klatt discussed why this game will be a test for JJ McCarthy’s confidence against the Ohio State Buckeyes.

“This game is going to be about JJ McCarthy,” Klatt said on a recent episode of his podcast.The Joel Klatt Show“He started playing really efficient football, leading the country in completion percentage, and all of a sudden, they got Blake Corum in the Heisman race and they just totally learned it.”

Corum has been the centerpiece of this Michigan offense throughout the 2022 campaign, ranking second in the Big Ten in rushing yards (1,349) and touchdowns (18). He has established himself as a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender, currently listed as the third favorite (+550), per FOX Bet, to take home college football’s most prestigious individual award.

But with Illinois’ defense focused on stopping Corum, McCarthy will have a chance to shine in a game that will precede the biggest matchup of his young career.

“JJ McCarthy has an opportunity to develop against a defense that will give him very tight windows,” Klatt said. “As a QB, you have to be on time, you have to make quick decisions, be ready to throw and you have to throw the ball accurately.”

Michigan and Illinois will kick off Saturday at noon ET in the Big House. If the Wolverines can get past the Illini and Ohio State is able to beat Maryland (3:30 p.m. ET), next weekend will set up one of the most anticipated games of the decade between Big Ten rivals Michigan and Ohio State.

“Imagine if he plays really well against Illinois, the confidence that will build for next week’s game against Ohio State on the road,” Klatt said of McCarthy. “That’s what this game is about.”

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Each week, FOX Sports college football analyst Joel Klatt dives into his top 10 teams, answers questions and discusses college football’s biggest stories on his podcast. Download “The Joel Klatt Show” here.


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