The Wolverine

November 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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24 THE WOLVERINE NOVEMBER 2020 BY JOHN BORTON M ichigan quarterback talk over the summer melted like ice cream on August asphalt when fall arrived. It's 2020, so anything goes. In this instance, prevailing wisdom held that while redshirt sophomore Joe Milton is extremely talented and had a chance, the starting job was likely go- ing to redshirt junior Dylan McCaffrey. McCaffrey held the experience advan- tage, and therefore the upper hand. McCaffrey wound up using the up- per hand to wave goodbye to Ann Ar- bor. He opted out of the season, and out of Michigan's football program, after Milton made his strong move to- ward becoming the U-M quarterback. It's no longer 3M on the Wolver- ines' invisible quarterbacks depth chart. There's Milton and redshirt freshman Cade McNamara, sporting a combined 11 career passes between them. All of those, of course, belong to Milton, since McNamara redshirted as a true freshman and did not see game action last season. Milton com- pleted 3 of 7 throws for 59 yards and a touchdown with an interception, af- ter going 3-of-4 passing for 58 yards and an interception as a freshman. He's also rushed for 47 yards and two scores in his eight game appearances. Well before fall arrived, Michigan of- fensive coordinator Josh Gattis stressed that nobody held an advantage in the quarterbacks battle. Everyone soon found out just how serious he was about that stance. "Joe has got a special talent," Gattis said. "He's a quarterback that's been blessed with a tremendous skill set, with an arm and accuracy. He's got every throw in the bag, plus an extra club that you don't necessarily need to carry all the time." That would be the ability to accu- rately wing it 70 yards downfield. That's hardly an every-series option in an offense, but the threat alone can change the defensive deployment. "I'd just like to credit Coach [Ben] McDaniels and Coach [Jim] Harbaugh and those guys, developing that posi- tion," Gattis said. "It was scary, a little bit, for us. Losing a starting quarter- back going into the offseason, I re- ally challenged those guys — we need someone to step up and show us that they can lead this team. "What we've seen so far with Cade and Joe, both of those guys display a tremendous amount of talent to be able to lead this team from the quar- terback position. Both guys are play- ing really well." Both of the top two quarterbacks made their share of what Gattis terms "wow throws" throughout fall camp. Milton executed some that would have drawn wows even in a certain league that plays most of its games on Sundays, the OC commented. McNamara hasn't been far behind, in that regard. "Cade has done an exceptional job as well, making some of those wow throws," Gattis said. "That's one of the things Coach McDaniels tracks each and every day — how many wow throws that our guys are mak- ing. Right now, those two guys are right at each other with making wow throws that have been exceptional throughout camp." Michigan's only other scholarship quarterback is true freshman Dan Villari, leaving the spot very thin — especially in a season shadowed by possible coronavirus quarantines. Michigan sideline reporter Doug Karsch insists the transition from wow in practice to wows in games isn't a small one. "You can be talented, you can have arm strength, but what happens when the lights are on and guys start play- ing real football?" he mused. "But I have one guy who is pretty skep- tical that told me he's not skepti- cal anymore about Milton." That's potentially good news for Michigan fans hoping the 6-5, 243-pounder can produce some- thing special this fall. It's not the fi- nal word, though, in an almost-can- celed season featuring twists and turns before the opening kickoff. ❑ TWO SIDES OF THE QB PICTURE Michigan's quarterback situation isn't what many expected going into August. That's not all bad, but there are certainly questions to be answered. Biggest Strength: Right now, it's redshirt sophomore Joe Milton's massive leap forward, a phenomenon to which all who have seen him testify. They say he's got it all — the build, the arm, the ability to use his legs and the determined leader- ship. But with fewer than a dozen college throws under his undeniably strong wing, he still has plenty to prove. He'll get that chance, starting at Minnesota on Oct. 24. Biggest Concern: If a Big Ten player tests positive for COVID-19, he can't return for at least 21 days. That's one-third of this virus-truncated season. It makes any team thin at a specific position group vulnerable. It makes teams thin at quarter- back exceptionally vulnerable. Milton and redshirt freshman QB Cade McNamara will continue following the extensive precautions mandated by U-M's medical protocols. They also might come out against Minnesota fully gloved and gowned, given the potential con- sequences of a positive test. — John Borton SIGNAL-CALLERS UNDERGO A SIGNIFICANT SHUFFLE QUARTERBACKS Redshirt sophomore Joe Milton has completed 6 of 11 collegiate pass attempts for 117 yards with one touch- down and two interceptions. He's also rushed for 47 yards and two scores in eight appearances. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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