Succession (Michigan 56, Hawaii 10)

It's not complicated. It's just football.

Photo: Zoey Holmstrom

Funny thing, this sport of ours – it waits for no one.

It doesn't matter if you're the starting quarterback or the backup long snapper...there's always someone right behind you, pushing you, ready to take even the smallest opportunity to overtake you. There's only 22 starters and there's just 1 ball. And while everyone wants to win, no one wants to watch from the sideline. 

Guys come to a place like Michigan because they want to be the guy – especially quarterbacks. They want the ball. They want to compete.

Sometimes, those competitions are more visible than others. Like when you're the starting quarterback for the defending Big Ten champions. Hard to get any more visible than that.

Michigan entered last night's game against Hawaii as a 52-point favorite. Even with the rain which pushed the kickoff back an hour...there was essentially zero question about the eventual outcome of the game. Hawaii is a program in flux, with a new coach and a ton of transfers both in and out...they were never going to hang with Michigan for long. Seemingly the only thing in doubt was just how impressive JJ McCarthy would look, and would Cade McNamara be able to do enough to keep the 5-star phenom in is rear-view.

After just two plays – the second being a 42-yard downfield strike to an in-stride Roman Wilson to take the early 7-0 lead – it seemed pretty evident that JJ was ready to take full advantage of his first ever start as a Wolverine. We all felt it right away. 

JJ looked about as comfortable in the Michigan backfield as any QB I've seen back there since Denard. He was calm, read the field and moved around the pocket extremely well. And when he made a pass, it was on target every time. His only incompletion was a short crossing route which hit Ronnie Bell in the hands. Everything else was gravy.

All told, 11 of 12 for 229 yards and 3 touchdowns later, JJ is now the starting QB for Michigan going forward. McNamara did enter the game, but struggled to get the offense going and orchestrate a drive that ended in points against one of the worst defenses Michigan has faced in a long time. McNamara never looked comfortable. He was sacked a couple of times. All 4 of his completions were short dump-offs, and his final throw of the night was an interception on a pass to Andrel Anthony late in the 3rd quarter. 

3rd/4th string QB Davis Warren took the remainder of the snaps in the game and frankly looked pretty good in his debut.

Football is a harsh game on many fronts. But the higher up you go in the sport, the level of competition gets even more fierce. It's a zero-sum game. Sure, you always need a good backup QB, and right now, Michigan is blessed with two very good QB's. But there can only be one starter and right now, JJ has come along further and faster than Cade, even having been the first QB to lead Michigan to a win over Ohio State and their first Big Ten title in 17 years. 

Every team has their own identity. The 2021 Wolverines had guys like Hutchinson, Ojabo and Haskins. They had Mike McDonald and Josh Gattis. The 2022 Wolverines don't have those guys. But this team is different. I think this team is better than the one it succeeded. 2021 Michigan needed and ultimately succeeded because of the steady rhythm of Cade McNamara at QB. But right now, what Michigan needs is someone who can do the things JJ McCarthy can do. They need his athleticism and his improved arm. They need his swagger. 

This isn't the first time a returning starting QB with a win vs Ohio State and a Big Ten title under his belt has been replaced at Michigan. As Dr. Sap pointed out, in 1972, Dennis Franklin replaced Tom Slade as a the starting QB, and went on to win at least a share of 3-straight Big Ten titles from 72-74. Not bad.

Make no mistake, Michigan will need Cade McNamara again this season. The team captain is just too experienced to just let sit on the bench. JJ needs Cade to push him forward. What do they say? Iron sharpens iron? Maybe. But the biblical analogy certainly rings true when it comes to competition in football. If you stop moving forward, you wilt, and then someone passes you by.

It's not complicated. It's just football.

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