TUSCALOOSA — In Alabama’s playbook, the Crimson Tide has the same play that essentially every team in America has these days.
You’ll see it every Saturday when you watch college football. The quarterback sets up several steps behind center with a running back to one side. As he reads the defense, he has the option of handing off or keeping the ball to run himself.
Alabama center Barrett Jones joked that this read-option play is a little easier to block when AJ McCarron is playing quarterback than backup Blake Sims, who is a known threat to run.
“AJ always hands off,” Jones said, smiling.
But it’s not so simple any longer. Although McCarron still hands off almost always as usual on the read-option, he is showing lately he is willing to do more than stand behind the line and let others carry the ball.
Last year in 13 games, he kept the ball for a run 13 times for 50 yards. This year in 11 games, he has kept it 22 times for 129 yards.
McCarron is doing it more lately, giving Saturday’s opponent, Auburn, something else to think about. In Saturday’s 49-0 win over Western Carolina, he scrambled for 24 yards on one play — the longest run by anybody on either team all day.
Alabama coach Nick Saban apparently wasn’t happy as his quarterback went streaking down the right sideline, looking to pick up as much yardage as possible.
“I always mess with Coach,” McCarron said, laughing. “He told me he was screaming for me to get out of bounds the whole time. They told me when I came to the sidelines Coach was screaming, ‘Get out.’ And I kept going.”
When McCarron went to the sideline, he figured Saban would have something to say — about how it was OK for Sims to run not McCarron.
“I came off after we scored on that long drive, came over and he met me,” McCarron said. “I knew what he was about to say, so I said, ‘I just wanted to show you who was the real athlete out of us two.’ He started laughing and just walked away, couldn’t do anything but smile.”
Saban said he doesn’t want to risk McCarron that way when he never has shown a great ability to run.
McCarron responded, “I’m smart. I know when I got to get down and when I have an opportunity to get some extra yards. … I know when to get out and when to stay up.”
His willingness to run paid off against LSU three weeks ago when he rushed for an 11-yard touchdown just before halftime. As the receivers ran their routes, the defense accounted for them but not for McCarron.
“Most of the teams do that against quarterbacks they don’t think are going to beat them running the football,” he said. “Sometimes it opens up and you just have to take what they give you.”