How McCaffrey Reacted to His Number Being Called at Notre Dame

dylan mccaffrey michigan throwing

How McCaffrey Reacted to His Number Being Called at Notre Dame

Football

How McCaffrey Reacted to His Number Being Called at Notre Dame

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Imagine the scene: you’re hanging out in one of the most famous venues in all of sport. You’re watching your team battle, trying to make a comeback, down two scores. You’ve been preparing for a moment like this, but likely thought the first time you’d finally get your chance was in garbage time against some whatever opponent. The crowd is roaring at every moment, big or small, and they are not with you. They want your team to lose. The environment is hostile.

And then, your number is called. How do you react? How do you respond?

If you’re redshirt freshman quarterback Dylan McCaffrey, the answer is — with a pretty cool demeanor. If nothing else, that’s how his teammates saw it.

“Dylan – one thing that stood out to me from even Week One at Notre Dame, he came into the huddle when Shea was cramping up, and you could tell right away, he brought up the confidence in the huddle,” fourth-year tight end Zach Gentry said. “It hadn’t skipped a beat. He went in, completed some passes. Did what he needed to do. That was really impressive. He came in and kinda just took command of the huddle. He’s been like that ever since – you can never tell if he’s nervous. He talks really steady. He just goes in and makes plays. (He’s) pretty special.”

McCaffrey himself admits he takes his job with an ‘if you’re not preparing, you’re preparing to fail’ type attitude.

Last season, he was a true freshman, and not even an early-enrollee, so he came to Ann Arbor in the summer. His job, once he made it through the grind of fall camp was to lead an offensive unit against — well — one of the best defenses in the entire country.

As the de facto leader of the scout team, McCaffrey was preparing the top defensive players on the team for the quarterback they would face each week, and it helped carve him out of stone. It was apparent when he took the field at Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 1, as he entered the hostile environment with his team down 14, the offense attempting to make a late, fourth quarter comeback. As his number was called, McCaffrey rushed out to the huddle and took charge, because that’s what he had learned to do en route to becoming the team’s Co-Scout Team Player of the Year on offense.

The thought of coming in for some garbage time, mop-up duty in the later non-conference games wasn’t on his mind as much as being there in the moment, “taking mental reps,” knowing that his time could come sooner than later.

And that’s precisely what happened.

“You’ve got to prepare like you’re one play away all the time, because frankly you are – you never know,” McCaffrey said. “That was one of those things where I tried to prepare in case something happened like that, and fortunately, I was prepared when it did.”

It was clear the moment wasn’t too big for him. McCaffrey wasn’t in for long, but when he was, he completed four of his six passes for 22 yards, and rushed three times for 10 yards.

It wasn’t a Heisman performance, but it was about as good of a start he could have. His confidence was apparent. Michigan lost the game, but fans were abuzz about what could eventually be once McCaffrey has the reins in full.

For the former four-star, second-year signal caller, the most important thing once he set foot on that field, knowing the ball was about to be in his hands was to remain calm and get through that first play.

“Anyone’s going to be nervous going into a game, but it’s just a matter of getting that first play done,” McCaffrey said. “Once you get that first play, it was like, ‘Alright! There you go. You can breathe a little and just try to have fun with it.’ It’s been awhile since I played in a game.”

The drive started with 14:03 left in the game. Karan Higdon ran the ball three straight times, with the second netting the Wolverines a first down. Then, Higdon got three yards, and starting quarterback Shea Patterson got another two on a pass to tight end Sean McKeon.

So, McCaffrey was asked to get a first down on a third-and-5 to start out his career in earnest. He completed his first career pass for 6 yards, throwing to senior Grant Perry. Two plays later, there he was rushing for three more yards. Then a 5 yard completion to Donovan Peoples-Jones, another fellow second-year player. Then another 5 yard rush. 10 yards, again, to Grant Perry for another first down.

dylan mccaffrey michigan quarterback

It’s in his genes: Dylan McCaffrey has shown the ability to do a little bit of everything in a Michigan uniform.

The drive stalled from there, but he got another shot, and made the most of it. McCaffrey nearly hit Gentry, who was held. Michigan got 15 yards as result of pass interference.

A big game environment could have been too much for the young McCaffrey, but his mental reps paid off. First and foremost, though, that feeling that he had his teammates’ support was what kept him calm and helped him carry through.

And now, when his number is called, he knows they have his back — because he had theirs in a moment of clear duress.

“I just went out there and tried my best to enjoy it,” McCaffrey said. “I thought the team embraced it and the team definitely had my back. I think that’s something that helps any young quarterback getting thrown in there. Fortunately they did, so I felt comfortable with them having my back.”

McCaffrey has now appeared in three of Michigan’s four games. He’s completed 8 of his 15 attempts, averaged an impressive 8.4 yards per attempt with two touchdowns — including a 56 yarder against Nebraska to true freshman Ronnie Bell. He broke what looked to be a huge 75 yard touchdown run, but a holding penalty brought it back.

Still, despite the adversity (this time in garbage time), he kept his composure, and led his team from the 25 to the Nebraska 20 on that drive.

His next opportunity may come this Saturday, as the Wolverines travel to Evanston to take on Northwestern at 4:30PM EST. And if his number is called, once again, on the road, in potentially hostile territory, McCaffrey will eagerly embrace the moment, and lead his team.

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