Michigan football stock watch: Cade McNamara takes command of starting QB job

Free Press sports writer Orion Sang looks at which Michigan football players helped their stock and which players hurt their stock in the 48-42 win at Rutgers on Saturday:

SHAWN WINDSOR: Cade McNamara saved the day for U-M — and maybe Harbaugh’s job

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QB Cade McNamara: It would be a major surprise if McNamara did not start Michigan’s next game. He played well enough to leapfrog Joe Milton on the depth chart; without McNamara, the Wolverines would’ve lost to Rutgers. The redshirt freshman completed 27-of-36 passes for 260 yards, four touchdowns and a 172.3 quarterback rating. He made open throws, like the 46-yard touchdown toss on his first drive of the game, and kept the offense on schedule with short, quick completions. With McNamara under center, the Wolverines punted only once. He’s only 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, and it remains to be seen how much he can offer in the run game (although he did run for a short touchdown on a zone read), but McNamara throws with precision and displayed poise in leading U-M back from a 17-point deficit. This is his job to lose now.

[ Harbaugh’s comments after win over Rutgers shows how far U-M has fallen ]

Michigan Wolverines quarterback Cade McNamara (12) rolls out during the third quarter against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights Nov. 21, 2020, at SHI Stadium.Michigan Wolverines quarterback Cade McNamara (12) rolls out during the third quarter against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights Nov. 21, 2020, at SHI Stadium.
Michigan Wolverines quarterback Cade McNamara (12) rolls out during the third quarter against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights Nov. 21, 2020, at SHI Stadium.

WR Cornelius Johnson: Of Michigan’s six scholarship receivers, Johnson has the biggest frame (6-3, 205 pounds), so there will always be a place for him on the field this season. Against Rutgers, he led Michigan with four catches for 87 yards and two touchdowns on seven targets. Johnson seems to be a solid route-runner who can create separation with his cuts, and he also ran hard after the catch against the Scarlet Knights. He has emerged as Michigan’s primary downfield option.

GRADES: Rising offense let down by defense, kicking

DT Chris Hinton: Michigan’s pass rush has been severely blunted by injuries to defensive ends Aidan Hutchinson and Kwity Paye, but the Wolverines were able to get home a few times against Rutgers thanks in part to their sophomore defensive tackle. Hinton, a former five-star prospect, showed what made him such a touted recruit by generating pressure from the interior of Michigan’s defensive line. He recorded his first sack and recorded two tackles for losses and four total tackles. He also generated pressure on a three-man rush at the end of regulation — although he couldn’t get to Noah Vedral, threw a touchdown on the play. Michigan’s defensive line is a work in progress, but Hinton played the best game of his career on Saturday night.

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QB Joe Milton: Milton got off to a good start, completing his first four passes for 58 yards and three first downs. Unfortunately, the third completion was fumbled away by Johnson, ending a promising opening drive. And things went sideways shortly after that, as Milton was unable to lead Michigan to points on any of the five possessions he quarterbacked. You can’t pin the offense’s overall struggles on Milton, who entered the season as a first-time starter after an unprecedented offseason. He still has promise, as evidenced by a pretty deep ball to Giles Jackson (and a back-shoulder fade that was not completed). At the same time, Milton has now completed just 14-of-31 passes for 187 yards and two interceptions over the past two games, while McNamara has completed 31-of-46 passes for 334 yards, five touchdowns and no picks over that same span. At this point, Michigan has to see what McNamara can do as the starter — which relegates Milton to the sideline.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights wide receiver Aron Cruickshank (2) catches the ball against Michigan Wolverines defensive back Daxton Hill (30) during the first half at SHI Stadium.Rutgers Scarlet Knights wide receiver Aron Cruickshank (2) catches the ball against Michigan Wolverines defensive back Daxton Hill (30) during the first half at SHI Stadium.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights wide receiver Aron Cruickshank (2) catches the ball against Michigan Wolverines defensive back Daxton Hill (30) during the first half at SHI Stadium.

S Daxton Hill: Entering the season, Michigan believed its former five-star safety could be one of the top pass defenders in the Big Ten. And while Hill was one of the lone bright spots on the defense through the first four games, he regressed Saturday. He gave up a big 43-yard completion that led to Rutgers’ first touchdown when he tried to play the ball, only for the receiver to make the catch; later, Hill seemed to be caught flat-footed on a 61-yard touchdown pass to Bo Melton. He also appeared to be the nearest defender on a completion near the sidelines after Vedral scrambled to his right and threw a ball up for grabs. Hill did end the game with an interception on Vedral’s last-ditch heave into the end zone on fourth-and-9 — but U-M needs more consistent play from him.

[ Haskins cements status as Michigan’s No. 1 RB, injures pile up vs. Rutgers ]

Running backs not named Hassan Haskins: The Wolverines said they would rotate four different running backs, and through the first half of the season, that’s exactly what they did. But on Saturday night, they changed that approach, instead relying upon Hassan Haskins for 67% of the running backs’ carries — and he responded with 110 yards on 22 rushes and the game-winning touchdown. Haskins seems to be Michigan’s No. 1 back. And that means there are fewer carries for Zach Charbonnet (six carries for 26 yards), Blake Corum (four carries for 9 yards) and Chris Evans (one carry for 4 yards). At this point, Evans seems to be a running back in name only; he caught four passes for 30 yards on five targets, including a key 21-yard snag on fourth-and-5 in the fourth quarter.

Contact Orion Sang at osang@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines and sign up for our Wolverines newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan football stock watch: Cade McNamara takes command of QB job

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