Michigan QB McCarthy focused on Rose Bowl, Wolverines' title hopes, not his potential NFL future

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Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy warms up during practice Friday, Dec. 29, 2023, in Carson, Calif. Michigan is scheduled to play against Alabama on New Year's Day in the Rose Bowl, a semifinal in the College Football Playoff. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

LOS ANGELES – The biggest question surrounding J.J. McCarthy going into the Rose Bowl isn't if this will be the junior quarterback's final game in maize and blue.

That one can wait a couple of weeks.

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The more immediate concern for the top-ranked Wolverines is making sure McCarthy is healthy after he struggled with a lingering ankle injury during the second half of the season.

On Friday morning, the junior gave himself a clean bill of health as Michigan (13-0) continues preparations for its College Football Playoff semifinal game against No. 4 Alabama (12-1).

“Everything is great in terms of ankles, knees, head, shoulders,” he said.

Even though Michigan went unbeaten in the regular season for a second straight year, McCarthy and the Wolverines were not firing on all cylinders down the stretch.

McCarthy had 137 yards on 37 carries and three touchdowns in his first nine games. In his past four, he has 9 yards on 20 carries and no TDs.

The ankle injury also had an effect on McCarthy's passing. He has averaged only 124 passing yards during his past four games and accounted for one touchdown, quite a drop from the 237.1 average and 18 TD tosses to start the season.

Despite the injuries, McCarthy's poise in the huddle is a huge reason why he is 25-1 as a starter. However, with all the talk about Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe's athleticism and ability to be elusive under pressure, McCarthy is hoping to show that he shouldn't be overlooked in those areas.

He realizes he may have to do that plenty against an Alabama pass rush that finished tied for 11th in the nation with 38 sacks.

“I feel like in order to beat this team, when you see the teams that get close to beating them or have beaten them, the quarterback is running the football a lot, and getting those six yards when nothing is to be had,” he said.

Coincidentally, McCarthy thinks the one area he has improved the most is moving around in the pocket and keep his eyes downfield.

“Making sure when the opportunities are at hand to scramble I am perfect at all hands and making sure we can hurt them in a moment like that,” he said.

McCarthy was 14th among quarterbacks from Power Five schools in percentage of short passes (0-9 yards) at 43.9%, but he is also accurate when throwing the deep ball. He was 24 of 44 with 10 touchdowns passes of 20 air yards or more, with his 54.5% completion rate only being surpassed by Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels of LSU (63.6%).

Overall, McCarthy was second nationally in completion percentage (74.2%) behind Oregon's Bo Nix.

By getting the Wolverines back to the CFP, McCarthy showed he was a man of his word. After watching TCU celebrate its 51-45 victory at the Fiesta Bowl last year, McCarthy took one question during the postgame press conference and said “We will be back, I promise you that” and then left.

If Michigan wants to play for its first national title since 1997, McCarthy will need to play mistake free. Despite throwing for 343 yards, rushing for 52 and accounting for three touchdowns, it was a pick-6 in last year's semifinal that ended Michigan's season.

This time, though, McCarthy feels like he is better prepared.

“I feel like last year I got caught up in the noise and all the emotions of it, and I’m just trying to stay simple," he said. "I think for the outside, it’s the biggest game in Michigan history, one of the biggest games in college football history.

"We’ve just got to try to keep things simple, and obviously the magnitude of it is huge. But we try not to focus on that and just focus on each play at hand."

When it comes to next season, McCarthy did leave open the possibility of returning even if coach Jim Harbaugh goes to the NFL and offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore was promoted. Moore was the head coach for four games during Harbaugh's two suspensions.

“Yes I do but I feel like I can play (in the NFL now) but there is so much more where I can grow and develop. There are many more things to help prepare me,” McCarthy said.


AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll

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