J.J. McCarthy excels in first start as Michigan overwhelms Hawaii

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Michigan sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy was near perfect in his first collegiate start and has earned the starting job.

Cade McNamara, last year’s starter who helped lead the Wolverines to a 12-2 record and Big Ten championship, was given the start in the season opener last week, and McCarthy started Saturday night against Hawaii per Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s plan to decide the starter after a neck-and-neck competition in preseason camp.

From left, Michigan offensive lineman Olusegun Oluwatimi celebrates with quarterback J.J. McCarthy after wide receiver Cornelius Johnson scored a touchdown during the second quarter.

McCarthy was 11-of-12 for 229 yards and three touchdowns in a half of play during No. 4 Michigan’s 56-10 win over the Rainbow Warriors in a game delayed an hour at Michigan Stadium because of lightning in the area. His incompletion was a dropped pass.

“J.J. had a near flawless performance, 11-for-12, and then one was dropped,” Harbaugh said in the wee hours Sunday morning after the game. “That’s tough to do any day of the week in practice. I thought he had a great game, playing really well. We’ll start J.J. next week (against Connecticut).”

Harbaugh was asked for clarification whether that meant McCarthy would be the starter going forward.

“Yeah, by merit he’s earned that,” Harbaugh said. “By performance. By merit.”

BOX SCORE: Michigan 56, Hawaii 10

Kickoff against Hawaii was pushed to 9:01 p.m., the latest start in Michigan Stadium history, but it didn’t delay the rout Michigan was expected to deliver as ginormous favorites. McCarthy led the offense to touchdowns on the first three drives. Michigan is now 2-0 after outscoring overmatched Colorado State and Hawaii by a combined 107-17.

Michigan scored five rushing touchdowns, by running backs Blake Corum, C.J. Stokes, Donovan Edwards, and Isaiah Gash and receiver Roman Wilson, a Hawaii native, scored on a reverse and had a receiving touchdown, a 42-yard pass from McCarthy to open the scoring.

This was never expected to be much of a challenge for the Wolverines. Hawaii, which collected $1.9 million for coming to the Big House, limped into the game having allowed 112 points in the first two games and yielding an average 506.5 yards a game.

The Wolverines had 410 yards of offense at halftime — they finished with 599 — and led 42-0 in large part because of McCarthy, a five-start recruit who saw playing time last season in designed packages. McNamara started every game and helped lead the Wolverines to a 12-2 record and Big Ten championship.

Michigan players said there’s a lot to learn from games like the ones they’ve played the first two weeks. Corum, who finished with 88 yards on nine carries, said the Wolverines are maintaining a big-game focus every week.

“We prepared like it was Michigan State, Ohio State,” Corum said. “It’s easy with a game like this to just not go into it like it’s Michigan State or Ohio State, but we treated today like it was a championship game. The boys had fun, I had fun. It was a great win, so I think that's what you just take away from it. Just treat every game like it's those big games. That's how you're gonna get better at the end of the day. I definitely feel like we got better today.”

Receiver Ronnie Bell, a team captain, led the team with 76 yards on six catches. He scored on a 13-yard pass from McCarthy in the second quarter. He had the lone drop.

“One of the biggest things this team does, it doesn't take anything for granted,” Bell said. “Like Hawaii, they had a fall camp just like we had a fall camp, they had a spring ball. They put in the amount of work we have, so I feel like that's a perspective that this team really has — not taking anything for granted. You can't take anybody we play for granted, because the work that we put in we know is being put in around the clock everywhere else, too. It’s a good thing this team does a good job of focusing on.”

McNamara came in with 6:22 left in the first half to run the offense. The drive ended with McNamara taking a sack for a 10-yard loss.

McCarthy returned for a final series in the first half and completed a 13-yard touchdown pass to Bell with 1:06 left. The touchdown was set up the play before when McCarthy connected with Cornelius Johnson on a 54-yard pass.

McCarthy’s work was done in the first half, and McNamara started the second.

In the first game of the season, McNamara, as the starter, had an uneven performance. As McCarthy started and played almost flawlessly Saturday night, McNamara was among the first to congratulate him after each touchdown, smiled and looked engaged on the sideline.

But he looked unsteady again when he took over in the second half and couldn’t move the offense. The first two drives went three-and-out and his third drive ended with an interception of an underthrown ball intended for Andrel Anthony.

Davis Warren was the third quarterback in and orchestrated a 91-yard touchdown drive when he first took over. A 56-yard pass to tight end Max Bredeson, younger brother of former Michigan offensive lineman Ben Bredeson, took the Wolverines to the Hawaii 15-yard line. Stokes, a freshman, scored on a 15-yard run. He finished with 61 yards on eight carries.

Warren followed that with another scoring drive, going eight plays over 65 yards as Gash, a redshirt sophomore, ran 38 yards for the touchdown.

Defensively, in the season opener, edge rusher Mike Morris said the defensive players were “eating” against Colorado State after recording 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks.

It wasn’t that sort of performance against Hawaii, because Michigan was stifling and dismantled the run game in the first half. The Rainbow Warriors struggled to gain 46 yards of offense in the first half, including 10 rushing. Morris had the only sack for Michigan and in the first half, Hawaii had two straight three-and-outs, six total and was 1-of-9 on third down.

Hawaii scored 10 second-half points and had 207 offensive yards as Michigan liberally substituted the backups.

“It started out the game two three-and-outs in a row, and there was a lot of guys that were playing well,” Harbaugh said. “And I think it started with a run wall. That's what it looked like to me. It was fun to watch our defense tonight. I mean, they were putting the pressure on and, and stopping the run by as well as you can do it.”

This was always going to be a blowout. The oddsmakers knew it, and the Michigan players probably did, too. Ultimately, it likely will be remembered as the game when McCarthy took over at quarterback.

angelique.chengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter.com: chengelis