Bama's McCarron feisty, poised and unbeaten

BY foxsports • October 6, 2011

AJ McCarron absorbed a late hit from a hulking defensive lineman and shortly after that received a scolding from his more diminutive head coach.

Guess which one the Alabama quarterback quietly endured?

McCarron defiantly chased after 282-pound Florida defensive end Dominique Easley following the late hit that drew a flag and his ire, then headed to the sidelines where TV cameras clearly showed coach Nick Saban heatedly telling him to calm down.

''I was trying to get him to settle down,'' Saban said. ''And after about the fourth or fifth time of saying `Will you settle down, settle down, settle down, settle down,' then I probably said something I wish I hadn't said. Because when your daughter tells you, that really makes you feel bad.''

Thus far, McCarron has proved more than capable of handling a bad word - not to mention the much tougher challenges of being Alabama's starting quarterback. The first-year starter has displayed boldness, poise and a Greg McElroy-like care with his throws for the second-ranked Crimson Tide (5-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) going into Saturday night's game against Vanderbilt (3-1, 1-1).

McCarron hasn't put up big numbers or needed to since he's backed up by a dominant running game and one of the nation's best defenses. He also hasn't thrown an interception since getting picked off twice in the opener, but is set to face a Vandy defense that has swiped a nation's leading 14 passes.

McCarron has been solid in hostile environments like Penn State and Florida, but also made an impression when he bounced up from the hit by Easley.

''He's fearless,'' left tackle Barrett Jones said. ''He's really confident. I think you've got to play with confidence when you're playing quarterback. That's something that we definitely like to see.''

What did McCarron say to Easley?

''That's between me and him,'' he said after the game. ''We'll leave that on the field.''

One potential gauge of McCarron's progress since backing up McElroy last season: He only drew a scolding from Saban this time. Last year, a poor decision on the field led to a vigorous swat on the butt that was also captured on camera and has drawn nearly 120,000 views on YouTube.

''I think AJ has gotten in a pretty good place psychologically for his position,'' Saban said. ''I think it's important that he can stay there.''

McCarron has completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 919 yards and four touchdowns. Alabama hasn't had much success throwing the ball downfield.

The Tide has more rushes (15) for 20-plus yards than passes (13). McCarron's two longest completions have come to running backs Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy, and No. 3 came on a fake field goal.

Those kinds of statistics might give McCarron, like McElroy, the label of a game manager.

But ''manager'' isn't a four-letter word, Saban points out. It's about getting the offense into the right play, targeting the right receiver and otherwise executing correctly.

''That's what managing the game is, and that's very, very positive,'' Saban said. ''Being talented and not managing the game - calling the wrong play, total disarray, lots of penalties, lots of interceptions - how does that rate you? We haven't had that.''

McCarron was locked in a battle to replace McElroy that stretched through preseason camp. He and Phillip Sims were even listed as co-starters going into the opener, but it's clearly McCarron's team now.

Even his defensive teammates have noticed a change in demeanor.

''It seemed like earlier in the season, he was kind of, `I'm not sure,''' linebacker Nico Johnson said. ''Now, he's kind of got that swagger. That (approach that) `I know what I'm doing, I'm going to get it done and I'm ready to lead.'''

McCarron, who has not spoken to reporters except after some games, expressed confidence in the offense following the Florida game. The Tide is second in the SEC in scoring and third in total yards.

''I feel like we're a really balanced offense,'' McCarron said. ''A lot of teams want to sit on the run. It's almost impossible because we've got so many threats out wide and guys who can go make plays for us.

''Right now, we're in a groove and this offense is starting to establish an identity for ourselves and we've got to keep it that way.''


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