From a role player and game manager to impact playmaker, the transformation of Alabama’s field general has really been something to watch. AJ McCarron just played his role and executed the game plan to perfection last season, as the Tide rolled for another national championship.
Which begs the question – how can you be a great quarterback and not manage the game? Great game managers are great quarterbacks, but not only is he managing the game better than he ever has, but he’s now an impact performer and not just a role player.
In a game Saturday night where the quarterback play will be at a premium, AJ McCarron will be the difference for the Tide. Not because he’s setting records at Alabama or a presumed top five pick in the draft, but because he’s 20-1 as a starter, and he is playing the position more efficiently than anyone in the country and has more confidence than he’s ever had.
His confidence has flourished ever since the rematch took place in New Orleans last January, where he completed 23 of 34 passes for 234 yards and no turnovers.
McCarron has thrown for more touchdowns than he did in all of 2011 already. He threw for 2,634 yards and 16 touchdowns a year ago with five interceptions. Through eight games in 2012, McCarron has thrown for 1,684 yards, completing 69 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns. He has yet to commit a single turnover in a game this season – 177 passing attempts – and he directs the most ultra-balanced offense in college football. Sure, he doesn’t have Geno Smith’s statistics. That’s because Alabama has had a commanding lead in every game by halftime.
McCarron is not Peyton Manning; he’s not Tom Brady. He benefits from five future NFL offensive linemen, two running backs who could play on any college football team and emerging wide receivers in Kenny Bell and Amari Cooper – not to mention the best defense in college football to go along with the best head coach.
His role in 2011 was to avoid losing football games; his role in ‘12 is to win football games. There’s a difference. He’s the lifeblood of the Tide’s conservative yet risky style of play. Bama could be content running it 80 percent of the time with their offensive line and with the stacked house at running back, but because of McCarron’s emergence, development and confidence, teams now get to pick their poison in how they want to get beat. Cooper and Bell have been a massive part of that transformation, as has the rest of the offense as a whole. Teams can’t load the box and play the running game solely, and when the risk is taken, McCarron will burn secondaries on play action. Just ask Sal Sunseri and Tennessee how devastating play action can be. McCarron threw for four touchdowns against the Vols all on play-action passes.
LSU is no mystery. We all know they have future NFL defensive players. John Chavis will try and confuse McCarron with disguising blitz packages in an attempt to make McCarron turn the football over, something no one has been able to do yet.
Last year, it was the defense and Trent Richardson winning football games. This year, McCarron’s role had to be expanded on offense, and he’s flourished under new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who just happens to be more aggressive than Jim McElwain in calling plays. Alabama is second in the SEC in scoring at 40.6 points per game. Nussmeier is a former NFL quarterback, and he has really worked with McCarron on play-action passes and making his footwork better within the pocket. His development has been made plain for all to see.
In a top-five showdown where physical defenses and downhill, power running games will get the bulk of the pregame talk, AJ McCarron will be the difference for Alabama, furthermore bolstering his Heisman-worthy resume all the more.
Photo Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE