This is my story for today’s print editions:
TUSCALOOSA, Alabama — If you see Alabama’s AJ McCarron yelling, waving his arms or bouncing around the field after a big play Saturday against LSU, don’t think it’s anything usual.
In fact, it’s part of McCarron’s plan.
As the Crimson Tide quarterback thought back to last year’s two Alabama-LSU games, he realized a distinct difference. In the first one — a 9-6 home loss — McCarron tried hard to hold down his emotion. That wasn’t the case in the second meeting, which Alabama won 21-0 to clinch a national title.
“Everybody had hyped that first game up so much and I was trying to play it down and just not try to get too hyped up on a good play or something and just live for the next play and that’s not the way I play the game,” he said. “So I just didn’t play like myself.”
His statistics from the two games aren’t that different. He completed 16 of 28 passes for 199 yards with an interception the first time, while he was 23-of-34 with 234 yards and no interceptions in the next meeting.
But teammate Michael Williams, a senior tight end, said the offense tends to work off McCarron’s lead. So if the quarterback feels out of sorts, it’s likely the offense will notice.
“He’s our leader,” Williams said. “We follow.”
Last season, outsiders often called McCarron a “game manager,” which always seems to be a label given to quarterbacks who don’t do much other than not mess up.
He’s good at that — no interceptions in his last 11 games. But Tide coach Nick Saban said his offense’s emotional leader is much more than a bundle of excitement who doesn’t give away the game.
“I don’t think it’s fair to AJ that because I said he’s a really good game manager for us that it’s like that means he doesn’t do anything,” Saban said. “He does everything. I don’t think you can be a good quarterback unless you’re a really good game manager. That’s the ultimate compliment, to me.”
When McCarron is asked about that “game manager” label, he will reveal his feisty side. Usually, when he speaks with reporters, he keeps the emotion out of it. But not on this subject.
“What I think and then what the media tries to make a game manager out to be is two totally different things,” McCarron said, his passion rising. “I probably think more along the lines of Coach Saban. A game manager can be anything. He can throw nine touchdowns in one game, but he still managed the game. He could hand the ball off 47 times, but still manage the game.”
McCarron added, “Coach is saying, ‘He’s taking what the defense is giving him and he’s not making any real bonehead mistakes.’ And that’s the biggest thing. People now a days love to see the ball being slung around and everything, but that’s not our style of play.”
And then comes the key to McCarron’s philosophy of being a good game manager, taught to him by former Tide offensive coordinator Doug McElwain and emphasized by Saban and current offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier:
“So, I’m going to, like what Coach always, take what the defense gives me, and eventually, like our old saying, eventually they’ll give you the game,” McCarron said.