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'We'll look at it': Cade McNamara makes case to be Michigan starter but Jim Harbaugh is noncommittal

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Piscataway, N.J. – Cade McNamara doesn’t decide who should start at quarterback for Michigan; head coach Jim Harbaugh does. But McNamara has made the decision difficult or obvious, depending on how you look at it.

McNamara, the backup quarterback to Joe Milton, took over late in the second quarter, resuscitated Michigan’s offense after it trailed 17-0, and led the team to a 48-42, triple-overtime victory over Rutgers at SHI Stadium Saturday night. Michigan is now 2-3 and ended a three-game losing streak.

Michigan's Cade McNamara throws a pass during the second half.

Milton has started all five games this season. McNamara, who also gave Michigan a spark in the loss to Wisconsin and led the Wolverines to their only touchdown in that game, was asked if he feels he should now lead this team as starter.

“Personally, I feel like I’ve done enough for me to be put in that position,” McNamara said. “That’s coach Harbaugh’s decision. Whatever’s best for the team, that’s coach Harbaugh’s decision, but I feel like I’m confident enough in myself that if my number is called again, that I perform the same way.”

McNamara was 27-of-36 for 260 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for a 2-yard touchdown in the second overtime. He threw two touchdowns to Cornelius Johnson, one to tight end Nick Eubanks and another to Mike Sainristil. For the season, McNamara is 31-of-46 for 334 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions.

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“Cade was outstanding,” Harbaugh said. “Really gritty performance in all ways. His play was inspiring. Can’t say enough great things. So proud of him.”

Harbaugh, who told them last Thursday that Milton would start at Rutgers, said the plan was to play both quarterbacks. He was asked after the win if McNamara is the starter now.

“We’ll look at it,” Harbaugh said. “The way he played tonight, he’s gonna be in there.”

The Wolverines, trailing 17-0 when McNamara entered the game, scored with 3:26 left in the first half when McNamara connected with Johnson for a 46-yard touchdown. Johnson had 87 yards on four catches. McNamara said his mind-set was to be patient.

“I need to stay relaxed — I’m not going to get 17 points back immediately,” he said.  “As an offense, we have to take it play-by-play and drive-by-drive. That’s what I was preaching to the team and to the offense. Just staying relaxed and maintain that confidence, that no matter how much we get down, we’re still in this thing. The level of trust between all of us, that led to us being able to pull this off.”

McNamara is confident but not cocky. He knows he gave the team a spark but was also clear that the offensive line and the running backs made everything click, not to mention the receivers making plays.

“My level of confidence, my belief in myself, I think I push that to my teammates as much as I can,” McNamara said. “Just that swagger, just that trust level, too, just having confidence in ourselves and level of execution.”

Michigan is now 2-3 and plays winless Penn State, coming off a 41-21 loss to Iowa, Saturday at Michigan Stadium. For the Wolverines, it’s about building on this victory with three games left before the “Champions Week” crossover game.

“Coach Harbaugh talked about we’re in the second half of the season right now, our goal is to go 1-0,” McNamara said. “This week I think we got our swagger back a little bit, especially on the offensive side of the ball. We’ve been struggling a little bit. For us to come out with a win feels good.”

angelique.chengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis