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It didn't take long for Michigan QB Cade McNamara to settle in against Rutgers

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

It took one play for Michigan backup quarterback Cade McNamara to feel comfortable leading the offense as soon as he entered the game at Rutgers late in the second quarter.

With the Wolverines trailing 17-0 at Rutgers last Saturday night, McNamara replaced starter Joe Milton and quickly drove the team 63 yards on three plays for its first touchdown in a wild 48-42 come-from-behind triple-overtime win over the Scarlet Knights. The win snapped Michigan’s three-game losing streak.

Michigan's Cade McNamara threw for 260 yards and four touchdowns against Rutgers.

But it was the first of seven straight completions by McNamara that got him in the groove. McNamara finished 27-of-36 for 260 yards and four touchdowns, and he also ran for a score in the second overtime. McNamara appeared Tuesday morning on the “Stoney & Jansen” show on 97.1 The Ticket and detailed his performance and what’s next as the Wolverines prepare for Penn State at Michigan Stadium on Saturday.

“Coach Gattis called some good plays, some plays I was really comfortable with as far as my ranking of them on a call sheet,” McNamara told the show, referring to offensive coordinator Josh Gattis."That first completion (14 yards to Mike Sainristil) was big for me. I needed a little touch on that throw, so instead of just ripping the first ball, I think that one kind of got my accuracy into place.”

The next play, McNamara connected with Cornelius Johnson for a 46-yard touchdown, that cut into Rutgers’ lead, 17-7.

“The shot to C.J., that was all on (running back) Zach Charbonnet and the O-line,” McNamara said. “Zach picked up a huge corner blitz. I felt that guy coming and then I felt Zach pick him up and that gave me time to wait for C.J. to get onto his double move and just for me to put a ball on him.”

McNamara looked poised and confident on that first drive and throughout the game. He told the “Stoney & Jansen” show how he prepares during the week.

“Really, I have like a checklist and a schedule for every day of the week starting Sunday as far as what I have to do in terms of pressures or first- and second-down coverages, to third-down coverages to situational scenarios as far as what the defense can give me,” the 6-foot-1, 205-pound McNamara said. “It’s a week-long process, and I consolidate all that on Friday morning and just really getting all that together that way, I’m ready by the time Saturday comes. It allows me to play relaxed and confidently with my eyes.”

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh would not say during his weekly Monday news conference that McNamara is now the starting quarterback. The competition was re-opened last week after McNamara came in late and sparked the Wolverines, directing their only touchdown drive in a 49-11 dismantling by Wisconsin. Milton earned the start at Rutgers, his fifth of the season. Michigan is now 2-3 with three regular-season games remaining before a bonus cross-over game to end the season.

McNamara was asked if he was disappointed he didn’t get the Rutgers start and whether he felt Milton had outperformed him in practice.

“No, I didn’t think so,” McNamara said. “Me and Joe go at each other in practice, really, for the last however many months. I felt like I had a good week of practice. I felt like it was another great week of practice I put together. I talked to coach Harbaugh, and they made the decision Thursday after practice. Really, as a competitor to be not named the starter after, like, in your personal belief, you believe you can help the team out in that way, but it was Coach Harbaugh’s decision, and the rest of the staff emphasized to make sure I was still prepared, that I wouldn’t let my emotions of not starting get the best of me.

“I’m still a team member, and whether I’m starting or not, when my number’s called, my team is going to need me at some point, whether that’s in the second quarter, how it was, or whether we went up big and I came in late in the fourth quarter, it didn’t really matter as far as that standpoint. That was kinda like my mindset going into that game.”

McNamara, a redshirt freshman, said the competition was close during preseason camp, but he felt he had practiced well enough to be named starter.

“Personally, I think I did all I could. Whether that was enough at the time is out of my control,” he said. “The coaches made their decision. Joe still played really well against Minnesota (in the season opener). He would practice really well, as well. It’s not like there was some huge gap or anything, but I really feel like he had a good camp. He practiced well, and he showed some good leadership traits at the beginning of the year for us. Again, it was Coach’s decision, and it’s my job as a team member to be as prepared as I possibly can.”

McNamara is 31-of-46 for 334 yards this season and has five touchdowns and no interceptions. He also has a rushing touchdown.

As the team readies for Penn State, McNamara has a checklist of things he wants to work on.

“I think being more clean with my RPO reads maybe,” he said. “I could always get better at that. I could always increase my accuracy a little bit, especially to the tight ends. Even that touchdown to Nick (Eubanks) I felt like I left it a little low. Try to put that ball up higher to make that catch a little easier on him. So I think my ball location, specifically to the tight ends, is something I can work on this week and I can use as an emphasis going into next game.”

McNamara, a native of Reno, Nevada, was a four-year starter at Damonte Ranch and set Nevada state records for passing yards (12,804) and career touchdowns (146) and was a two-time Gatorade Player of the Year (2017 and 2018) in Nevada. He was a four-star prospect as rated by 247Sports Composite.

He chose Michigan in part because of his initial meeting with Harbaugh, a former Michigan and NFL quarterback now in his sixth season with the Wolverines.

“Really I felt like my first day here, Coach Harbaugh was the very first person I got to see,” McNamara said. “He was standing at the end of the hallway and he just yelled, ‘Cade’ from the end of the hallway, and that was the first time I didn’t have to schedule a meeting with the head coach on my visit. We went right into his office and like 10 minutes later we were already watching my highlight reel in front of the entire staff. And even brought in (then-starting quarterback) Shea (Patterson) to come watch the highlight reel with me.

“I really feel like Michigan is the greatest combination of academics and athletics, and I think this class in particular, the 2019 class, we’re hungry. Now that I’ve become a part of this team, this team has big goals. We want to be different. Those were some of the traits that really intrigued me.”

Show co-host Mike Stone was intrigued by McNamara’s blonde highlights in his hair and ended the show asking if his teammates poke fun at his hairstyle.

“They did, actually,” McNamara said, laughing. “Over quarantine, we were a little bored. Me and my brothers decided to dye our hair. (The dye) kinda came out, but then we found out the season wasn’t happening, so I was like, ‘I kinda liked it during the summer, the weather’s still kinda nice right now, so I’ll go get it dyed again.’ Turned out, we ended up rescheduling the season, and I remember coach Harbaugh wasn’t the biggest fan of it. But some people are saying I can’t cut it now.”

What was Harbaugh’s reaction to his hair?

“He just looked at me, kinda smiled, and shook his head and laughed a little bit,” McNamara said. “He was like, ‘You know what? Your hair is good the way God gave it to you, Cade.’”

But the hair dye stays. For now.

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis