J.J. McCarthy’s senior season began with a bang.
Michigan football’s star quarterback commit led IMG Academy to a 49-13 win over Venice High School on Friday night, completing 23 of 37 passes for 333 yards and five touchdowns.
Against an overmatched opponent, McCarthy completed an array of quick passes and screens, hit on a couple big plays and even converted a pair of third downs with his legs.
It was a solid debut for McCarthy, who as recently as this spring was preparing to play his senior season in La Grange Park, Illinois.
In a normal year, the coda to McCarthy’s high school career would’ve taken place at Nazareth Academy, where he won a state championship and reached three title games in as many years. Instead, because of uncertainty of the Illinois high school football season during the COVID-19 pandemic, McCarthy packed his bags and transferred to IMG, the famous football powerhouse in Bradenton, Florida.
Despite the relatively quick turnaround between his transfer and the start of the season, McCarthy was in full command of his offense. He rarely seemed to make the wrong decision.
Thanks to IMG’s overwhelming talent advantage, the gameplan didn’t ask McCarthy to do too much, and for the most part, he played within the framework of the offense, hitting receivers on stick routes, screens and swing passes out of the backfield.
IMG was content to get the ball to its playmakers in space, and while these were simple throws, McCarthy put the ball in a spot where his teammates could turn upfield and pick up yards after the catch.
Beyond that, there were a handful of plays in which McCarthy pushed the ball downfield and showed off the talent that earned him dozens of scholarship offers and a lofty ranking from recruiting sites.
McCarthy shouldn’t be confused with someone like Justin Fields or Kyler Murray, star quarterbacks who could gain chunks of yardage on the ground, but he has good mobility. He picked up two key third downs using his legs, including a third-and-7 conversion in which he planted his leg and juked a defensive back.
McCarthy’s mobility was also on display during his third and fourth touchdown passes of the night. Facing a third-and-20 on IMG’s first possession of the second half, McCarthy shuffled to his right, reset his feet and delivered a strike to his tight end down the seam for a long touchdown.
On his next score, McCarthy moved up in the pocket to avoid the rush, rolled out to his right and threw a dart to his receiver in the middle of the end zone in what was his most impressive play of the night.
These are the type of plays that make McCarthy a high-level prospect. He possesses the arm talent to make tough throws, but also has the presence of mind to keep his eyes downfield when the play or his pass protection break down.
In college, McCarthy likely won’t be asked to be a huge contributor in the run game. But he has the ability to keep the ball on a few read-option plays per game — which Michigan has incorporated within the offense over the past two seasons — and more importantly, he has enough mobility to buy time as he tries to make big plays in the passing game.
As for McCarthy’s misses, there were a few ill-advised throws. During one third down, he stared down his slot receiver and nearly threw an interception while attempting to complete a slant across the middle. On another incompletion, he tried to fit the ball into tight coverage on the sideline (the play was defended well by Michigan State cornerback commitment Charles Brantley).
A couple other incompletions, though, still featured solid decision-making from McCarthy.
In one of the rare instances in which he could not connect with receiver Jacorey Brooks, a five-star prospect committed to Alabama, McCarthy hung in the pocket and took a hit while still delivering a strike down the middle to an open Brooks, who was unable to catch the ball for a touchdown.
There are obviously some throws McCarthy would like to have back. But it was still a solid performance in his first game of the season — and it seems likely that McCarthy will only grow more comfortable with his new teammates as the season continues. Already, he has a rapport with speedy slot receiver Ari Allen, who caught McCarthy’s fifth and final touchdown pass of the night.
Saturday will be a painful day for Michigan fans, considering it was supposed to be the start of the now-postponed 2020 season.
But McCarthy’s performance Friday night could provide some consolation — and is perhaps a sign of better quarterback play ahead for the Wolverines.
Contact Orion Sang at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines and sign up for our Wolverines newsletter.