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What Can J.J. McCarthy Prove Against Penn State?

JJ McCarthy faces his toughest test of the year on Saturday against Penn State. @AndrewH_ discusses what he can prove against Penn State to climb draft rankings.

In the first matchup all year of both teams being top ten in defense and offense, J.J. McCarthy has a chance to emerge. The Michigan quarterback has shown he is more than capable of being a reliable option long-term in devy. Where his immediate impact falls will depend on his draft position next April.

National media is torn on him, but he is a draft Twitter favorite. His arm doesn’t blow anyone away with the throws he makes like Caleb Williams, but the accuracy he displays is second to none. McCarthy’s ball placement, anticipation, and ability to throw his receivers open should not be overlooked. 

Despite all those things he has in his arsenal, he hasn’t faced the competition that most would like. That all changes on Saturday against Penn State in Beaver Stadium.

Against Penn State, McCarthy has a chance to get his biggest win of the 2023 season to date. At the same time, he could also dispatch a top-ten defense led by star defenders Chop Robinson and Kalen King. Nittany Lions defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has done well in limiting opposing passing offenses. If he does it against McCarthy, he could be staring down another head coaching opportunity. 

For McCarthy, though, he stands to win the most out of anyone on Saturday. This begs the question, what exactly can he prove?

Can He Protect the Ball Against Tough Defenses? 

McCarthy has shown he can protect the ball in 2023. He gets criticized for being too conservative with his passing attack, but he has been lethal in picking apart a defense. The defense he faces on Saturday will be unlike any he has faced since late last year against Ohio State and TCU. 

Ohio State and TCU were handled nicely by McCarthy, but what Manny Diaz and the Nittany Lions will throw at him will be something else. Chop Robinson coming off the edge looking for a strip sack will be a problem. Kalen King, playing outside and inside corner, will be looking to take away Michigan’s best receivers. If McCarthy can distribute the ball well, keep the turnovers down as he has all year, and look the same, he may finally be cooking with gas. He has the skillset and ability to be QB3 in the 2024 rookie class if he declares. Winning and looking impressive against Penn State goes a long way towards achieving that.

Does He Have Poise Under Pressure? 

Coming into the Fall, McCarthy’s poise under pressure was a big thing worth watching in his game. Michigan’s coaching staff knew that and rebuilt the offensive line, and now he faces almost no pressure each game. That is all going to change, or should, against Penn State.

Robinson has had a quiet year, but he has provided help to guys like Adisa Isaac by taking the most attention. The front seven for Penn State is arguably the best in the Big Ten while also being underrated. McCarthy will feel the pressure, be forced to move outside the pocket, and have linebackers closing on him fast. 

How he handles that pressure inside and outside the pocket will make or break this game. If he remains calm under pressure and delivers darts downfield, it will be a long day for the Nittany Lions.

Can He Keep Pushing the Ball Downfield?

Most people don’t think about Michigan football and associate pushing the ball downfield. With two running backs, such as Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards, one would assume they are a run-first team. Corum has been reliable, but he and Edwards have taken a step back in 2023. McCarthy has stepped up and is providing explosive plays in the passing attack. 

Everyone looks at Caleb Williams as this downfield passer, which he is. When you look at his average target depth, it is 9.1, and McCarthy’s is 10.6. The Michigan passing attack has been explosive, with Roman Wilson being the leading receiver. But he doesn’t have this big chunk of plays without the headstart of the ball being pushed downfield. 

It was mentioned above that McCarthy has top-level ball placement, anticipation, and the ability to throw his receivers open. Pair those traits with his target receivers over ten yards down the field, and you have a very explosive passing offense. 

If he can do that against this Penn State defense, everyone better start giving him the credit he deserves. Everyone has their flavors at quarterback, but McCarthy needs to get his roses once and for all.

To see prospect film of McCarthy, check out the DynastyGM!! Rankings, trade calculator, league analyzer, and much more. Just $4.99/month, or better yet, bundle with the Nerd Herd for just $6.99/month and get extra podcasts, the Dynasty Prospect Film Room, and more.

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