Michigan QB Battle Reminds Analyst Of 2004 Competition

Jake Karalexis

As Shea Patterson moves on after two seasons under center, the Wolverines will have a quarterback competition for the first time since the 2016 season, in hopes of taking the next step at both the Big Ten and national levels. The two primary competitors for the job are redshirt junior Dylan McCaffery and redshirt sophomore Joe Milton. 

Former OL starter Rueben Riley joined “Inside the Huddle with Michael Spath,” this past week to compare this year’s quarterback competition with the 2004 race when he was in the program, ultimately won by freshman Chad Henne.

“I think when John Navarre left [after the 2003 season], honestly everybody in that building felt that it was Matt Gutierrez’s job to lose,” Riley said. “Gut was an exceptional quarterback as far as being an overall field general. He had an arm talent, mobility. It was his job to lose.

“I can’t quite recall, but I do think that he got the majority of the reps in spring ball, until he went down with a torn labrum [in August practices].”

Gutierrez's injury opened the door for Henne and sophomore Clayton Richard to compete for the job. Henne ultimately prevailed, leading to a four-year run as the starter for Michigan.

“I think coaches usually do say ‘Hey, we’ve got our guy, we want to see a certain amount of reps for him just to get acclimated and really ready for him to go,’" Riley said. "But in this situation right here, with McCaffery and Milton, they’re on an even plane where you’ve got to give them the equal amount of reps. 

"You’ve got to give them the equal amount of opportunities to be exposed and see what they really offer.

“I think Dylan does have a little more game experience, but where they are right now in their development, you have to make things equal to see who really emerges.”

Back in ‘04, Lloyd Carr and his staff were leaning towards Gutierrez under center, and allocated reps in spring ball accordingly. Might Harbaugh and his staff be secretly leaning towards either McCaffery or Milton for the job in 2020? 

“I think it should be an equal opportunity,” Riley said. “We have to agree that we’ve seen McCaffery more often in bigger game-time situations. He does have the upper-hand with experience. When you’re talking about the skill-set, and that feeling of ‘How high can these guys project?’ I think with knowing the package that Milton offers, you have to offer those guys the equal sample size as far as reps go.”

Another key part of the process will undoubtedly be the rapport with the receiving corps. The Wolverines return senior Nico Collins and junior Ronnie Bell from last year’s starting lineup. They will also add sophomore Giles Jackson, sophomore Cornelius Johnson and sophomore Mike Sainristil to their rotation for 2020. How McCaffery and Milton mesh with that group in spring and summer will play a big role in who opens under center at Washington Sept. 5.

“You get reps with both guys,” Riley said. “You need to understand which quarterback is in the game at that particular time. Are they a touch-and-accuracy guy? Are they a bullet guy?

“You have to adjust. I think as a receiver in trying to better your craft, you need to know: ‘Ok this is my quarterback, he has a tendency to do these things more.’”

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Comments (1)
No. 1-1
Over It
Over It

To me the question is "which QB do you want to push out of the program?"

I don't think the QB who ends up losing the QB battle will stick around. One of them will transfer. That's just the nature of CFB right now.