Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron (10) celebrates his touchdown run with wide receiver Christion Jones (22) as LSU cornerback Jalen Mills (28) watches. (AP photo by Bill Haber)
This is my story for today’s print editions:
TUSCALOOSA, Alabama — For all the intense pressure of the final minutes of Alabama’s 21-17 win at LSU on Saturday, Tide quarterback AJ McCarron says it wasn’t any harder than the typical Thursday practice.
And, actually, Thursday’s workout in the two-minute drill might jangle his nerves a little more.
“I probably was a little more calm Saturday,” McCarron said Wednesday, before smiling because the punch line was coming next: “Because you didn’t have Coach (Nick) Saban right there yelling, ‘Let’s go!’ ”
Saturday marked another point of progress in McCarron’s journey as Alabama’s starting quarterback, and it’s not just because he led the game-winning drive.
Instead, it’s this: Even with No. 1 Alabama playing a huge road game at the nation’s fifth-ranked team, McCarron said Saban still let him run the offense as he has all year.
That included changing plays at the line of scrimmage, if needed — even on the last drive. He said he didn’t change anything on the last drive, but considered adjusting a route or two. In the end, however, “I liked everything, and in that situation, it’s good to play fast and not think too much.”
“Sometimes this year, I’ve checked off a bunch,” said McCarron, who has compiled a 21-1 record as Alabama’s starting quarterback. “Some games, I’m checking off every play. It kind of depends.”
This is different from a year ago.
“Last year, it was call it and run it,” McCarron said, smiling. “It’s part of earning trust and growing as a quarterback and reaching that point with Coach Saban.”
Saban even has allowed McCarron to insert a little trick he learned this summer while working out at the Manning Passing Academy, where the Tide quarterback learned from Super Bowl winners Peyton and Eli Manning.
When he checks off to a play at the line of scrimmage, you’ll see McCarron give signals to his teammates, letting them know what the new play is. But sometimes those signals don’t mean a thing.
Instead, they’re dummy signals designed “to give the defense reason to think.”
“That’s a little Manning camp special right there,” McCarron said. “Learned that from Peyton. He says some crazy things sometimes.”
As for Saban, he said he likes McCarron’s focus.
“I think he’s got good focus,” Saban said. “I don’t see him being out of sorts in any way. I haven’t detected anything. He’s usually pretty good about things. He’s pretty consistent in how he goes about doing things.”
McCarron also is displaying the on-field confidence Saban has said he wants from his quarterback. Again, that included the last drive.
McCarron said that at the start of the winning drive, he told his offensive line, “If we complete the first pass, we’ll win the ballgame.”
He completed the first pass to Kevin Norwood.
“The line turned to me, and it was like, ‘OK, let’s go,’ ” McCarron said.
Afterward, McCarron was caught on camera, tears running down his face as a steady stream of teammates came up to speak to him. He said they were telling him how proud they were of him and how they knew he could do it.
“That’s probably the most special thing — not just the win, but for them to say things like that,” he said.
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