Michigan sees shades of Cade McNamara in TCU’s Max Duggan

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — In the hours before his team choked Purdue to win its second straight Big Ten title, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh passed the time watching an epic clash between Texas Christian and Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship.

Harbaugh found himself transfixed by the redheaded prodigy playing the Horned Frogs quarterback, and every additional scratch to Max Duggan’s already bloody knees, every wheezing run that left him double in pain, endeared him even more. eventual Heisman Trophy finalist to one of the sport’s greatest. fervent purists. It’s hard to imagine Harbaugh, a grizzled former flagman himself, liking anything but an undersized, underrated quarterback throwing for 251 yards, rushing for 110 more and pushing himself to the absolute limit. with a trail of DNA in its wake.

“I can’t tell you what a joy and what a pleasure it was to see him in the game on Saturday,” Harbaugh told reporters on a Zoom call the following afternoon, shortly after the selection committee of the college football playoffs paired the Wolverines with TCU. in the national semi-final. “Nothing but huge respect for the type of competitor he is. And it’s going to be a huge challenge to prepare for a quarterback like that. All I’ve seen is just a relentless competitor, super talented, tremendous effort. I mean, every quarterback in the history of the game would have loved to have a game like he did on Saturday and have it on his resume.”

Fiesta Bowl preview: What’s at stake for Michigan, TCU?

Fiesta Bowl preview: What's at stake for Michigan, TCU?

Harbaugh’s lavish praise was notable both for his applicability in the Fiesta Bowl (Saturday at 4 p.m. ET), which pits Duggan’s unyielding toughness against one of the best defenses in the country, and for his familiarity with those who follow from near Michigan football. The adoring reverence with which Harbaugh described Duggan strongly resembled his appreciation for another unheralded quarterback, with will over skill, whose contributions played a significant role in reshaping the program’s culture in 2021: Cade McNamara, possessor of an effective blend of grit, perseverance, selflessness and leadership that propelled the Wolverines to a season that will be remembered for generations – even if he couldn’t match Duggan’s remarkable stats.

A year later, McNamara’s absence hangs over Michigan like an unacknowledged fog as his former teammates aim to surpass the benchmark he set guiding the Wolverines to their first conference title in 17 years and their first-ever appearance at the CFP. McNamara lost quarterbacking competition to former five-star prospect JJ McCarthy in early September and suffered what turned out to be a season-ending knee injury against Connecticut in Week 3. undergo surgery in Los Angeles, where noted orthopedist Neal ElAttrache – the Rams and Dodgers team physician – performed the operation, further isolating McNamara from his teammates. He entered the transfer portal in late November, committed to Iowa shortly thereafter and is no longer considered part of Michigan’s program, according to a team spokesperson.

One of the most important Wolverines in recent memory seemed to disappear in an instant.

“Cade was a great leader, he brought us together,” left tackle Ryan Hayes, who remains close to McNamara, said in an interview with FOX Sports. “He was exactly what we needed last year. And this year JJ has become a great leader: cool, calm and collected. Obviously a bit different styles of leadership, but both know how to lead an attack, know stay calm and collected, and they both did a really good job of doing that.

“It was time for Cade to move on. We love Cade. We know he wasn’t leaving our team. We still talk to him. No one on this team has a bad feeling about Cade. We love this guy. think he needed another chance. And we’re all excited for him. We’re all rooting for him.

Many wondered if Duggan would or should pull the same exhaust valve after finishing second to Chandler Morris in a quarterback competition earlier this year. Duggan had played 32 games in his first three seasons in Fort Worth, but the Horned Frogs won only 16 of 34 games during that span. Former head coach Gary Patterson, who earlier in his career oversaw some of the best seasons in program history, stepped down during the 2021 campaign to create the opening that was eventually filled by the coach. current Sonny Dykes.

Patterson’s disappointing end to tenure further stained Duggan’s resume as a starting quarterback. He threw for 5,920 yards and 41 touchdowns from 2019-21 but also threw for 20 interceptions and failed to string together more than three straight wins as the Horned Frogs finished under .500 twice. Duggan’s inequality has subjected him to the kind of criticism McNamara faced in Ann Arbor, where a growing percentage of fans yearned for the highly touted McCarthy to take the top spot in the depth chart in 2022.

“When I came here,” TCU linebacker Johnny Hodges said, “I noticed a lot of fans and stuff almost at (Duggan’s) throat calling for his head, ready for him. be done, calling other quarterbacks to play, just trying to see something new I think that was a big reason why he didn’t start at the start of (this season), just because of the fanbase. And just seeing him put all that aside and grow as a person, and obviously as a football player, now everyone loves him.”

Despite losing his starting job at fall camp, Duggan said the idea of ​​a transfer never occurred to him. He had grown to appreciate the Fort Worth community and wanted to fulfill his commitment to play four years and graduate from TCU. Duggan also told reporters he believed in how Dykes was rebuilding the program and informed his new coach that he would stay to become the best backup and teammate possible.

It was the answer Harbaugh expected from McNamara or McCarthy shortly before picking his own starter for this season. Harbaugh told reporters in late August that his quarterbacks “are both the kind of guys who don’t flinch or fold or give up at the slightest whiff of adverse circumstances or something goes wrong in their meaning. It’s not Cade McNamara; it’s not JJ McCarthy.” He was adamant that the potential loss of one of them to another team would not influence his decision.

Four months later, it’s fair to wonder how Harbaugh reacted when McNamara entered the transfer portal and committed to another Big Ten program. McNamara, who wore a redshirt earlier in his Michigan career, still has two years of eligibility if he chooses to use them. Harbaugh has yet to comment on the departures of McNamara and starting tight end Erick All, who also left the Wolverines for Iowa, as those decisions were made public earlier this month. Neither player is with the team for the Fiesta Bowl.

“That’s a tough question,” offensive co-coordinator Matt Weiss said when asked what has changed for McNamara over the season. “I think you should really ask Cade what ultimately led to this (transfer) decision. We were totally behind him and what he wanted to do. He needed to have surgery, and he wanted it done sooner. .rather than later so that he can have more opportunities (to play) next year.We fully support him to do what is best for him.

“I think maybe if he didn’t have the injury, I think maybe he would be in a role where, yeah, if something happened (to McCarthy) he would have a chance to win a national championship and be the hero.”

TCU’s Max Duggan Wins Davey O’Brien Award

TCU's Max Duggan Wins Davey O'Brien Award

This is precisely where Duggan finds himself as the Fiesta Bowl approaches. A knee injury to Morris in the third quarter of TCU’s opener returned Duggan to the starting role he was so disappointed to lose and sparked one of the best seasons in program history — at the times for the Horned Frogs and their most valuable player.

Duggan captivated fans with his heady mix of toughness, determination and great playing ability. He powered an offense that ranked sixth nationally with 40.3 points per game and produced more games than more yards (19) than any college football team. He threw for 3,321 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2022 while cutting his interceptions to four and rushing for more than 400 yards and six extra rushing scores. His list of accolades now includes the Davey O’Brien Award, the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, a second-place finish in the Heisman Trophy voting, and second-team All-American honors from three separate outlets.

“He’s a great guy,” Wolverines linebacker Junior Colson said. “He does great reads. He can kill us with his legs if we let him. He’s a warrior. He’s a fighter. You can tell every time, especially if the going gets tough, he will put the team on his back and carry them.” .”

Just like McNamara did for Michigan last season.

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Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with a focus on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13.

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