McCarron Flawless in Bama Win Over A&M

A.J. McCarron will not be ignored.

A.J. McCarron will not be ignored.

For a two-time BCS champion, University of Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron sure doesn’t get a lot of attention. Usually referred to as a “game manager,” he’s been largely been considered nothing more than a replaceable cog in the Bama football machine.

That could all change after the performance he delivered against Texas A&M on Saturday. Not only did McCarron’s Tide roll all over the Aggies, he had a career day in what was surely the biggest regular season game he’s played as a starter.

Always efficient, Alabama coach Nick Saban can always count on McCarron to deliver the handful of times per games he is asked. Last season he threw 22 times per game on average, excluding the championship game against Notre Dame. Over those 13 games he averaged two touchdowns and 0.2 interceptions a week.

[You get 0.2 INTs by dividing his three of the season by 13 games played—just so we’re clear]

The perception of McCarron’s abilities (or inabilities, as the case may be) is more about the abundance of NFL caliber talent around him than anything he’s lacking personally. He doesn’t throw 34 times per game, as Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel did in 2012, because usually he doesn’t have to.

Then again, there was nothing usual about Alabama’s Saturday afternoon rematch with A&M, the team that handed them their only loss of the season last year.

Johnny Football came out of the gate slinging. It took the Aggies exactly seven plays to put six on the board against the vaunted Bama defense—two of which were Ben Malena rushes, which gained four net yards. Manziel gained three times that rushing on the first offensive play of the game.

The ensuing possession for Alabama went like this: Rush for seven, five-yard penalty, pass for two, rush for one, punt. When A&M scored on the next possession, it became clear McCarron was going to have to do more if Saban’s boys were going to keep up with Manziel and an offense that often seems it can score at will.

And that’s exactly what happened, because it was all Alabama for the rest of the first half. With just over seven minutes left in the first, McCarron connected with Kevin Norwood on a 22-yard TD pass. Moments into the second he hit DeAndrew White for a 44-yard TD.

Five minutes later McCarron completed a 51-yard TD pass to Kenny Bell. And three minutes after that, T.J. Yeldon scored on a four-yard rush.

A&M went up 14-0 in less than six minutes, Alabama went into the locker room at half-time up 28-14. Turns out—both teams were just getting started.

Early in the third it looked like the Aggies were ready to claw themselves back into the game. After a three-and-out by the Tide, Manziel rushed for nine before an ill-advised pass was intercepted by Bama safety Vinnie Sunseri, who ran it back 73-yards for a TD.

The Manziel error led to the score that, for all intents and purposes, put the game out of reach for the Aggies. They did come on strong in the fourth quarter and for a second there had many believing the impossible may actually be possible. But a fatigued defense had no answer for Bama’s T.J. Yeldon, who surged in the second half.

Although they would ultimately come within seven points of the Tide, McCarron’s five-yard TD pass to Jaiston Fowler put his team up 49-35. The clock-killing drive ate up six critical minutes in the fourth, leaving just over two minutes for A&M, who needed two touchdowns just to tie the game.

It wasn’t enough. Alabama defeated Texas A&M 49-42. And it’s fair to say that McCarron’s play and Manziel’s mistakes made the difference.

Like McCarron, Manziel also had a career day. He passed for 464 yards, going 28-for-39, with five TDs and two INTs. He had a 72 percent completion rate, which is about average for him, and averaged nearly 11.9 yards per pass. It was still a great day for Manziel on the stat sheet, but his two INTs represented at 14-point swing in the final score.

McCarron had a comparable day, but the final numbers aren’t as gaudy because he wasn’t playing from behind all day. He went 20-for-29 passing for 334 yards, with four TDs and zero INTs. He completed 69 percent of his passes, averaging 11.5 yards per pass.

Those are simply not the numbers of a “game manager.”

If you want to see the numbers of a game manager, look at former San Francisco 49ers QB Alex Smith’s in 2011. The Niners went to the NFC Championship that season, despite Smith averaging 0.94 TDs per game. But he averaged 0.31 INTs per game, meaning he was even less likely to blow the game than win it.

Is that comparing apples to oranges? Sort of. Assuming McCarron gets a shot in the NFL, his numbers could be much the same or even worse than Smith’s. Or they could be better. We won’t know that for at least another year.

What we know right now is A.J. McCarron is a far better college quarterback than he’s ever been given credit for. It’s time to give this kid some credit.

 

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