What’s Working in J.J.’s Favor?
It was clear from the moment J.J. took the field as a freshman, that he had a different level of athletic ability. With that, he had all kinds of potential at the quarterback position Michigan football hadn’t seen in previous years. J.J. was able to run the ball, extend plays, and make wild throws. This year, he’s taken a massive step forward with his understanding of the offense as well as honing in his mechanics and limiting mistakes.
When Bill Walsh invented the West Coast style offense in football (the offensive system that Michigan is built upon under Harbaugh), he placed a strong emphasis on timing. The quarterback’s footwork should match the routes of the receiver on every play. If the quarterback takes an extra half step or a hitch before throwing the ball, the timing is off and it can lead to incompletions and interceptions. Understanding the exact timing of hundreds of plays every week can be a lot to ask of a 21-year-old kid who is also a full-time college student at the best university in the world.
This year, however, J.J. has perfected that timing. The best example of this growth is looking back at the TCU game from last year (I’m sorry to bring up the pain again but stick with me for a second). On J.J.’s first pick-six, he’s trying to throw an out route to Ronnie Bell. He takes a hitch or stutter step before letting the ball go, causing the throw to be late, and allowing Bud Clark of TCU to step in front of it and intercept the pass.
This year, when J.J. is throwing the ball into tight windows week after week, the reason he’s successful is because he’s married his mechanics to the timing of the offense. This means he can execute riskier throws and eliminate many of the mistakes from last year.
Right now, J.J. is the most efficient quarterback in the country. He’s second in the country in passer rating, completion percentage, and yards per attempt.
Keep in mind that many of his throws are coming on third and long when the defense knows that Michigan football is likely passing the ball and thus responding accordingly. He also has 168 rushing yards and 3 rushing touchdowns. The player with second-best Heisman odds — Micheal Penix Jr. out of Washington- has 3 rushing yards on the season.
J.J. is an elite player who is perfectly executing Michigan’s offense right now. He also has the ability to go beyond the Xs and Os and make a play when everything breaks down.
In previous years, not to put down Cade McNamara, but when Michigan’s first or second options weren’t open on a passing play, it was likely an incompletion. Now, it’s J.J. buying time and either launching a ball to a receiver who eventually gets open or taking it himself for a nice gain.