Michigan ended its three-game losing streak last week against Rutgers, albeit in unimpressive fashion. The Wolverines needed triple overtime to outlast the Scarlet Knights, 48-42.
Today, Michigan (2-3) plays host to winless Penn State (0-5) in a matchup of perhaps the two most disappointing teams in the Big Ten this season. Despite the lack of anticipation and excitement that typically surrounds this annual collision, there’s something to be gained here for the Wolverines.
It’s no secret this season hasn’t gone the way everyone within this program hoped it would. However, a strong finish to the year could give Michigan some momentum heading into 2021. In addition, with a win, the Wolverines could extend what has been a miserable season for a division rival.
It’s hard to say how much these poor 2020 campaigns will impact these two programs, but any wins that can be found could limit that possible damage. That’s what makes this game important, despite the lack of stakes the matchup holds within the conference.
Additionally, its likely redshirt freshman quarterback Cade McNamara will get his first career start for the Wolverines, following a five-touchdown performance last week in relief of then-starter Joe Milton.
We’ve seen backup quarterbacks come in and perform heroically in past seasons of the Jim Harbaugh era.
In 2015, Wilton Speight replaced an injured Jake Rudock on the road against Minnesota. Speight threw the game-winning touchdown pass with less than five minutes to play. In 2017, backup John O’Korn replaced an injured Speight against Purdue. O’Korn threw for 270 yards and a touchdown on 18-of-26 passing.
Later that season, third-stringer Brandon Peters relieved an underperforming O’Korn against Rutgers. Peters, a redshirt freshman at the time, went 10-of-14 on his pass attempts for 124 yards and a touchdown.
However, none of those guys – Speight, O’Korn or Peters – ended up being the guy to get Michigan over the hump in the Big Ten. Speight and Peters eventually transferred, and while O’Korn finished his career in Ann Arbor, it’s fair to say his impact on the field was less than noteworthy.
So, where does McNamara go from here? Is he the latest in a line of backup quarterbacks who flash potential when their number is called, only to have their Maize and Blue careers fade as time goes on? Or, is there something more here with McNamara? Is this the Wolverines’ starting quarterback for the foreseeable future?
Those are questions that won’t be answered in today’s game alone. But with every outing, the picture will become more clear, both for McNamara and for Milton.
These final four games on Michigan’s schedule are about finding answers for the 2021 campaign. Winning goes a long way, make no mistake, and this is a game the Wolverines should win at home – given the way Penn State has struggled all season.
But winning alone does not solve all the problems that Michigan is currently facing. The Wolverines need to find solutions. Either they’ll find some against the Nittany Lions, or they’ll find themselves back in the loss column.