The Wolverine

October 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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OCTOBER 2020 THE WOLVERINE 49 O n Sept. 16, shortly after the Big Ten officially announced that it would resume foot- ball Oct. 24, it became unofficially official who would be Michigan's starting quarterback in 2020. It was reported that redshirt junior Dylan McCaffrey has opted out of the season due to the CO- VID-19 pandemic and will seek a transfer. He had been embroiled in a competition with redshirt sopho- more Joe Milton to see who would become Shea Patterson's successor. With McCaffrey's departure, it is obvious Milton emerged as the clear winner, and given what has happened in situations like these the past decade, it may be a great sign for Michigan. Although Milton becoming Mich- igan's starting quarterback for 2020 was not a surprise when it hap- pened, he was not the initial favorite to win this job. That was McCaffrey. McCaffrey turned heads when he beat out Brandon Peters, now Illinois' starting quarterback, to back up Patterson in 2018. McCaf- frey then backed that up in mop-up duty when he dropped a pinpoint touchdown pass against Nebraska and outpaced the entire Wisconsin defense for a 44-yard score. McCaffrey looked like a polished dual-threat and the heir apparent after Patterson left Ann Arbor. In fact, Michigan was ready to make that happen before then as Patterson sputtered against Wisconsin in week three of the 2019 season. However, McCaffrey had some struggles of his own before a dirty shot to his hel- met by a Badgers defender knocked him out with a concussion. This raised some questions re- garding whether McCaffrey's style left him more vulnerable to injuries, but it was not enough to think he would not win the job, particularly during a pandemic. The circumstances of a pandemic would seem to favor McCaffrey over Milton, who has been branded as raw quarterback prospect with a booming arm that needed tutoring with respect to accuracy, touch and field aware- ness. As a result of the pandemic, Michigan did not complete its spring practices, and summer workouts were limited due to social-distancing restrictions. This would not give Mil- ton as many practice reps to develop and prove that he could be the starter. Yet Milton has done just that. Not- withstanding the pandemic, he com- mitted to training with former Mich- igan starting quarterback Devin Gardner to continue to develop dif- ferent areas of his game. Milton also participated in voluntary workouts with some of Michigan's receivers, such as 2019 leading wideout Ron- nie Bell, to improve his timing and build offensive rapport. This work has paid off in spades because it was enough for Milton to beat out McCaffrey. And that is tantalizing for the Wolverines. This would be the third time in the last decade that the underdog won the offseason starting quarter- back battle for Michigan, and the other two produced favorable out- comes for Michigan. The first led to the rise of Denard Robinson, who became one of the best quarterbacks in program history. After starting as a true freshman in 2009, Tate Forcier was the incumbent and ex- pected to remain the starter in 2010. However, as the season opener drew near, there were more and more reports that it would be Robinson, not Forcier, who would be QB1. Those reports were cor- rect, and Robinson raced out of the gates. He broke Michigan's single-game total offense record in back-to-back contests and finished with 4,272 total yards and 32 total scores as the Wolverines had one of the most efficient and explosive attacks in the entire country. The second was Wilton Speight over John O'Korn in 2016. When Jim Harbaugh was hired prior to the 2015 season, he recruited two trans- fer quarterbacks: Iowa graduate transfer Jake Rudock and O'Korn. Rudock started in 2015, and O'Korn was projected to start in 2016 after he sat out the requisite season given that Speight was only a low-three- star recruit in the 2014 class. But the prognosticators were wrong. Speight won the job, and de- spite all the concerns about whether he could lead a championship-caliber team, he did. He completed 204 of 331 passes (61.6 percent) for 2,538 yards (7.7 yards per attempt), 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions, while his 139.8 passer rating ranked third in the Big Ten. The Wolverines were 9-0 before Speight broke his col- larbone in the fourth quarter at Iowa, and if that had not happened, 2016 may have had a different ending. Based on this (albeit small) sam- ple, Milton winning the job speaks more about his development. Milton has always been considered a high- ceiling player, a quarterback who could be dangerous if he put it all together. That he has won this job in the manner that he has, beating a quality backup with room to spare, gives the impression that Milton has tapped into his full potential. And similar to how it was with Robinson, and even Speight, that may be magic for Michigan. ❏ INSIDE THE NUMBERS   DREW HALLETT Milton Magic? Staff writer Drew Hallett has covered Michigan athletics since 2013. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @DrewCHallett. Redshirt sophomore Joe Milton emerged as the winner of U-M's starting quarterback job and will be given the opportunity to tap into his full potential this fall. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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