Michigan sees shades of Cade McNamara in TCU’s Max Duggan

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – In the hours before his team steamrolled Purdue to capture its second consecutive Big Ten title, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh passed the time by watching an epic matchup between Texas Christian and Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship.

Harbaugh was caught by the red-haired prodigy who played quarterback for the Horned Frogs, and every additional scratch on Max Duggan’s already bloodied knees, every wheezing run that left him doubled over in pain, made him love the eventual Trophy finalist even more. Heisman to one of the sport’s most athletic. ardent purists It’s hard to imagine Harbaugh, a grizzled former signal caller, loving anything more than an undersized, underappreciated quarterback throwing for 251 yards, rushing for 110 more and pushing himself to the absolute limit with a trail of DNA on his his step

“I can’t tell you what a joy and a pleasure it was to see him compete in Saturday’s game,” Harbaugh told reporters on a Zoom call the following afternoon, shortly after the College Football Playoff selection committee matched up the Wolverines with TCU. in the national semifinals. “Nothing but tremendous respect for the type of competitor he is. And it’s going to be a huge challenge to prepare for a quarterback like that. All I’ve seen is just a relentless competitor, super talented, tremendous effort. I mean, anyone Any quarterback in the history of the game would have liked to have a game like that on Saturday and have that on his resume.”

Fiesta Bowl preview: What’s at stake for Michigan, TCU?

Fiesta Bowl preview: What's at stake for Michigan, TCU?

Harbaugh’s praise was notable for both its applicability to the Fiesta Bowl (Saturday at 4 p.m. ET), which pits Duggan’s unyielding tenacity against one of the nation’s best defenses, and his familiarity with those who follow closely behind. Michigan football. The fawning reverence with which Harbaugh described Duggan closely resembled his appreciation for another unheralded, will-over-skills quarterback whose contributions played a major role in overhauling the program’s culture in 2021: Cade McNamara, possessor of an effective combination of noise, perseverance, selflessness and leadership that propelled the Wolverines to a season that will be remembered for generations, even if he could not match Duggan’s remarkable statistics.

A year later, McNamara’s absence hangs over Michigan like an unacknowledged fog as his former teammates aim to surpass the benchmark he set by guiding the Wolverines to their first conference title in 17 years and the first appearance in the CFP. McNamara lost a quarterback competition with former five-star prospect JJ McCarthy in early September and suffered what turned out to be a season-ending knee injury against Connecticut in Week 3. The decision to undergo a surgery in Los Angeles, where noted orthopedic surgeon Neal ElAttrache, the team doctor for the Rams and Dodgers: performed the operation and further isolated McNamara from his teammates. He entered the transfer portal in late November, committed to Iowa shortly thereafter and is no longer considered a part of Michigan’s program, according to a team spokesman.

One of the biggest Wolverines in recent memory seemed to disappear in an instant.

“Cade was a great leader, he brought us together,” left tackle Ryan Hayes, who remains close to McNamara, said in an interview with FOX Sports. “He was exactly what we needed last year. And this year, JJ has come in as a great leader: cool, calm and collected. Obviously a little different leadership styles, but they both know how to lead an offense, they know how to keep the calm.and collected, and they both just did a great job doing it.

“It was time for Cade to move on. We love Cade. We know he wasn’t leaving our team. We still talk to him. Nobody on this team has a bad feeling about Cade. We love the guy. I just think he needed a new opportunity. And we’re all excited for him. We’re all rooting for him.”

There were many who wondered if Duggan would, or should, pull the same exhaust valve after finishing second to Chandler Morris in a quarterback competition earlier this year. Duggan had appeared in 32 games during his first three seasons in Fort Worth, but the Horned Frogs won just 16 of 34 games during that stretch. Former head coach Gary Patterson, who earlier in his career had overseen some of the best seasons in program history, stepped down midway through the 2021 campaign to create the opening eventually filled by the current coach Sonny Dykes.

The disappointing end to Patterson’s tenure further tarnished Duggan’s resume as a starting quarterback. He threw for 5,920 yards and 41 touchdowns in 2019-21, but also threw 20 interceptions and couldn’t string together more than three straight wins as the Horned Frogs finished below .500 twice. Duggan’s slippage subjected him to the kind of criticism McNamara experienced in Ann Arbor, where a growing percentage of fans longed for the highly touted McCarthy to take over the No. 1 spot on the depth chart entering 2022.

“When I got here,” TCU linebacker Johnny Hodges said, “I would notice how many of the fans and stuff were almost at (Duggan’s) throat begging for his head, ready for it to be over, begging to play other quarterbacks. , I was just trying to see something new. I think that was a big reason why he didn’t start at the beginning of (this season), just because of the fan base. And just seeing him push all that aside and grow as a person, and obviously as a football player, everybody loves him now.”

Despite losing the starting job in fall camp, Duggan said the thought of transferring never crossed his mind. He had grown to enjoy the Fort Worth community and wanted to fulfill his commitment to play four years and graduate from TCU. Duggan also told reporters that he believed in the way Dykes was rebuilding the program and informed his new coach that he would stay to become the best support and teammate he could.

That was the response Harbaugh expected from McNamara or McCarthy shortly before choosing his own starter for this season. Harbaugh told reporters in late August that his quarterbacks “are both the type of guys that don’t buckle or fold or give up at the slightest whiff of adverse circumstances or something not going their way. That’s not Cade McNamara; that’s not JJ. McCarthy.” He was adamant that the potential loss of one of them to another team would not influence his decision.

Four months later, it’s fair to wonder how Harbaugh reacted when McNamara entered the transfer portal and committed to another Big Ten program. McNamara, who redshirted early in his career at Michigan, still has two years of eligibility if he chooses to use them. Harbaugh has yet to comment on the departures of McNamara and starting tight end Erick All, who also left the Wolverines for Iowa, since those decisions were made public earlier this month. Neither player is with the team for the Fiesta Bowl.

“That’s a tough question,” co-offensive coordinator Matt Weiss said when asked what changed for McNamara as the season progressed. “I think you really have to ask Cade what ultimately went into that decision (to transfer). We fully supported him and what he wanted to do. He had to have surgery and he wanted to do it sooner rather than later because he can get more opportunities (to play) next year. We fully support him doing what’s best for him.

“I think maybe if he didn’t have the injury, I think maybe he’d be in a role where, yeah, if something happens to (McCarthy) he’d have a chance to win a national championship and be the hero.”

TCU’s Max Duggan wins the Davey O’Brien Award

TCU's Max Duggan wins the Davey O'Brien Award

That’s precisely where Duggan is as the Fiesta Bowl approaches. A knee injury to Morris in the third quarter of TCU’s opener restored Duggan to the starting role he was so disappointed to lose and ignited one of the best seasons in program history, both for the Horned Frogs and his most valuable player

Duggan captivated fans with his heady mix of toughness, determination and big-play ability. He powered an offense that ranked sixth nationally in scoring at 40.3 points per game and produced more plays of 50+ yards (19) than any team in college football. He threw for 3,321 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2022 while cutting his interceptions to four and rushing for more than 400 yards and six additional scores on the ground. His list of accolades now includes the Davey O’Brien Award, the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, a runner-up finish in Heisman Trophy voting and second-team All-American honors from three different media.

“He’s a great guy,” Wolverines linebacker Junior Colson said. “He makes good reads. He can kill us with his legs if we let him. He’s a warrior. He’s a fighter. You can tell, every time, especially if things get tough, he’s going to put the team on his back and carry them . . .

Just like McNamara did for Michigan last season.

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Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13.

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