The Next Two Weeks Are Critical For Cade McNamara And The Michigan Passing Attack

Michigan has leaned heavily on its potent rushing attack through the first two weeks of the season, while the passing attack remains a big question mark.
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During a 2016 interview with Showtime's 60 Minutes Sports, Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch described his philosophy when it comes to running the football. According to Lynch, the "Beast Mode" mentality began at a young age - spurred on by Lynch's uncle and former NFL cornerback, Lorenzo Lynch.

"We went to his house one time, and he told me something like this: 'It's fourth-and-1, the running back's coming to the hole, I'm going to kiss that (expletive) in the mouth.' That's what he told me—'Smell his breath.' This was at a young age too," Lynch said in the interview. "I think that's when it just clicked in my mind that if you just run through somebody's face, a lot of people ain't going to be able to take that over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again; they're just not going to want that."

When Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim asked Lynch if there was a deeper meaning behind the philosophy, Lynch simply replied, "Run through a (expletive)'s face, then you don't have to worry about him no more."

That pretty much sums up Saturday evenings matchup between the No. 25 Michigan Wolverines and the Washington Huskies.

In what can only be described as a brutally relentless rushing attack, the Wolverines hammered the Husky defensive front for a full 60 minutes. Led by sophomore running back Blake Corum and senior running back Hassan Haskins, Michigan finished with a total of 343 yards and 4 rushing touchdowns. The rushing performance was so outstanding that it marked just the third time in program history that two backs eclipsed 150 yards rushing in the same game - Corum 171, Haskins 155.

With the Husky defense completely helpless and unable to stop the Wolverine rushing attack, Harbaugh and Co. continued to go back to the well time and time again. In fact, the Wolverines carried the ball a whopping 56 times, leaving junior quarterback Cade McNamara to finish the evening with just 15 passing attempts for 44 yards in 60 minutes of play. The craziest part is that 33 of McNamara's 44 yards came on a single completion to Cornelius Johnson, meaning he was only 6 of 14 for 11 yards on all other attempts.

Understandably, the lack of a passing attack left many fans concerned - even after a convincing 31-10 victory over Washington on Saturday night.

During his weekly press conference on Monday afternoon, Harbaugh addressed the imbalance between the rushing and passing attack - leading to a very Jim Harbaugh-esque response.

While I certainly have my doubts about Michigan's passing attack, I'm still confident that the Wolverines can be dangerous through the air if necessary - and they've still got time to prove it.

In just 17 days from today, No. 25 Michigan will make the trip up to Madison (Wisc.) to square off with No. 18 Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium - a venue where Michigan hasn't won a football game since 2001. Between now and then, the Wolverines will face two teams in Northern Illinois and Rutgers that shouldn't pose too much of a threat. With the running game clearly working well and having the confidence in knowing that it's a strength of your team, it seems like now would be a good time to see what you've got in the passing game.

Here's why:

Who's your go-to WR?

cornelius johnson

The Wolverines lost more than a captain when senior wideout Ronnie Bell went down with a season-ending injury in week one, they lost their most reliable target downfield. 

Though we only got to see him for a quarter and a half against the Western Michigan Broncos, it looked like Bell was well on his way to becoming a household name by season's end. In what will almost certainly be recognized as one of the top plays of the 2021 college football season, Bell miraculously snagged the ball with one hand on a sideline pass from McNamara. The play didn't stand but the athleticism certainly caught the attention of folks across the country. Bell's follow-up to that play was a 76 yard touchdown reception from McNamara, which would turn out to be his final offensive play of the year.

So, what now for Michigan? Who is currently the most reliable downfield option for the Wolverines? Who's the biggest threat? When Michigan needs a guy to go up and make a catch, where is the ball going to go? 

It seems like the obvious answer should be Cornelius Johnson. Oddly enough, the junior wideout is currently Michigan's leading receiver with just three receptions for 48 yards on the year so far. At 6-3, 211 pounds, his experience and athleticism should make him the most obvious candidate to help fill the void left by Bell's absence. Other potential candidates include Mike Sainristil, AJ Henning and Roman Wilson - yet all are relatively unproven in the grand scheme of things.

With a trip to Madison just 17 days away and the meat of the Big Ten schedule on the horizon, Michigan will need to find answers to those questions quickly. They've got the perfect opportunity to do just that over the next two weeks.

What is Cade McNamara?

cade mcnamara

The only knock on Cade McNamara in 2021 so far is that he's done everything that's been asked of him, which isn't a lot.

Through the first two weeks of the season, the Michigan offense has attempted to throw the ball just 32 times - nearly dead last of all FBS programs. To their credit, the Wolverines haven't had much of a need to put the ball in the air thanks to a potent rushing attack. Led by Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins, the Wolverines are averaging 339.0 ypg - good for No. 5 in the nation. 

With so much productivity coming from the offensive line and the running backs, there's been very little need for McNamara to do much more than take the snap and hand the ball off. While it's certainly worked well through the first two weeks, it's highly unlikely that the Wolverines will be able to "ground-and-pound" their way to a Big Ten title in 2021. There will unquestionably come a time in the near future when Michigan's Big Ten title hopes will rest on McNamara's shoulders, specifically his right arm.

Outside of a spectacular performance on the road in Piscataway during the 2020 season, McNamara is still a relatively inexperienced college quarterback. In total, the junior QB has appeared in just six college football games with only two starts during his time at Michigan. Though McNamara has shown a lot of promise with limited in-game reps, he hasn't had to deal with the folks up in Madison or a white-out in Happy Valley. He hasn't faced a Spartan defense in East Lansing or a Buckeye defense that is loaded with future NFL talent...I think.

In closing...

Yes, Michigan will certainly be able to dominate NIU this weekend in the same manner that it did Washington - by hammering the ball with Corum and Haskins 50-plus times. Michigan will likely be able to take that approach the following weekend against Rutgers as well. That doesn't mean they should.

Unless the Wolverines truly believe they can hammer out 8.1 yards per carry on 50 carries at Camp Randall, it might be wise to spend the next two weeks finding out what McNamara and the passing attack is fully capable of.