Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Flying high

Gone are the days when Alabama could be considered a team whose biggest offensive threat lies in the running game.

That’s because, so far this year, Alabama’s commitment to creating a more balanced offense – the Tide has 884 passing yards to 816 rushing – has revealed a new wrinkle in the offense: junior quarterback AJ McCarron is just as big of a threat to defenses as the running game.

Through four games this season, McCarron has thrown for 819 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s completed 63 percent of his passes, and ranks fourth nationally in passer rating, with 188.64. This time last year, McCarron had only thrown four touchdowns to two interceptions, and had a quarterback rating of 144.88.

Chase Goodbread, the Alabama football writer for The Tuscaloosa News, attributed McCarron’s performance this year partly to the arrival of new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier but said most of it has come from McCarron’s own development as a player.

“I think it’s AJ,” Goodbread said. “Coaches aren’t the ones on the field. I think Doug Nussmeier’s probably helped him in some regards. I think he’s throwing the play action pass maybe a little bit better this year, but AJ’s the one putting the work in.”

Senior center Barrett Jones said McCarron’s growth under center has been apparent this season. Jones said he was impressed with his quarterback’s play so far, attributing his success to his growing role as a leader on the offense.

“I think he’s really doing a nice job for us,” Jones said. “He’s starting to become a little more than just a game manager. Sometimes people label him. … We’re real excited with where he’s coming.”

Jones said part of McCarron’s strength as a passer is his playmaking ability downfield. McCarron has had 12 completions of at least 20 yards this season, and of his 10 touchdowns, four have come from the same distance. Still, McCarron’s downfield accuracy hasn’t been the only asset to the passing game.

McCarron has also done an excellent job of spreading the ball to his receivers, not allowing defenses to key in on any particular playmaker on offense. Alabama head coach Nick Saban said increased depth among the wide receivers has not only helped with younger players experiencing valuable playing time, but has helped tremendously in the passing game as well.

“We probably have a team that doesn’t have as many defined stars as we’ve had in the past,” Saban said. “I think that we have a lot of guys that have had a lot of opportunity to play, which is a good thing.”

No player has been established as the go-to receiver for McCarron yet, which allows him to more effectively spread the ball among the wide receiving corps. Seven players have turned in at least five receptions so far this season. No Alabama receiver leads the team in more than one receiving category.

Juniors Kevin Norwood and Kenny Bell lead the team with 159 total receiving yards and 22.7 yards per catch, respectively, while freshman Amari Cooper leads the team with nine receptions. Sophomore Christion Jones leads the team with three receiving touchdowns.

While Jones has the most receiving touchdowns on the team, he certainly isn’t the only one to have one. McCarron’s 10 touchdowns have gone to six different receivers, and although he’s spread the ball more to his receivers, players like freshman running back T.J. Yeldon and senior tight end Michael Williams have both proven to be viable receiving threats.

Goodbread said McCarron’s ability to spread the ball to his receivers is one of the reasons this year’s passing game has been so potent. Although there aren’t any superstars among the receivers that stand out to Goodbread, he said they’ve done a good job of helping McCarron find the open man.

“The fact that they’re spreading the ball around has been the main thing,” Goodbread said. “Right now, it’s a good situation for Alabama because they’re unpredictable, offensively. Nobody knows where the ball’s going.”

While McCarron’s ability to spread the ball and complete longer passes has been instrumental in the passing game, his efficiency is possibly the biggest asset so far this season.

This season alone, McCarron is completing just under two-thirds of his pass attempts. McCarron has been able to do this by not forcing as many throws as last year, running when his receivers are covered, throwing the ball away and, as has sometimes been the case, taking a sack. All of these factors combined have resulted in McCarron not throwing a single interception so far this year.

However, McCarron hasn’t suddenly become a more efficient passer. Even going back to last season, McCarron has gone 176 straight passing attempts without being intercepted. That places him second all-time in the Alabama record books in number of passes without an interception. The current record holder is Brodie Croyle, who threw for 190 passes without an interception in his final year at Alabama in 2005.

Goodbread said he expected this consistency to carry over from last year and to see a slight improvement from the quarterback. Still, he said even he didn’t think McCarron would go so long into the season without an interception.

“That’s pretty amazing,” Goodbread said. “And I didn’t expect him to throw a bunch of interceptions, but I don’t think anybody could have predicted that number would be at the end of September.”

Williams said McCarron’s efficiency has been a result not so much of his physical prowess, but simply by him recognizing plays and defenses at the line of scrimmage.

“He’s going through all his reads,” Williams said. “He’s making the right decisions. It’s basically decision making. And he’s learned that. He learned that the hard way, if you want to say, with Coach Saban, and right now, he’s doing a good job for us.”

Despite his efficiency so far this year, Jones said McCarron is still striving for improvement in all aspects of the passing game, something he said will eventually show up as the season wears on.

“I think he’ll be the first one to tell you we’re still leaving plays out there in the passing game,” Jones said. “So I feel really good about our passing game right now.”

Williams shared Jones’ sentiments, citing offensive miscues between McCarron and the receivers that resulted in him being sacked against the Florida Atlantic Owls.

More than anything, however, Williams said the biggest area of improvement his team could make in the passing game was making more explosive plays, sooner.

“We just need to get on the same page, get more explosive in the passing game,” Williams said. “It takes time. It’s still early. You can’t see how our offense will be right now. We have to keep progressing, and we’ll get better as the season goes along.”

Still, Alabama has a long way to go, and as of right now, will face four teams that rank in the top 20 nationally in pass efficiency defense: Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Tennessee and LSU.

Despite all the expectations surrounding McCarron and the receivers, Saban said everyone involved in the passing game could stand to get a little better. For Saban, the receivers need to have more consistency in running routes and play more elusively in man-to-man coverage. He said he’d also like to see the offensive line improve its pass protection and for McCarron to release the ball faster, among other things.

Regardless, Goodbread said if McCarron and the receivers keep playing as well as they have so far, only good things are going to come.

“As long as you’re not turning the ball over and completing two out of every three passes, which is what AJ’s done, not only this year, but last year too, the offense is going to move,” Goodbread said. “And it’s going to move pretty fast.”

Opposing defenses aren’t the only ones who’ve had to go up against McCarron and the passing game this season. Junior defensive back Dee Milliner and the rest of the Alabama defense have to do it every week. For Milliner, competing against Alabama’s passing offense week in and week out has given him an idea on how good a player McCarron is.

“AJ’s been probably one of the greatest quarterbacks in college football right now, in my eyes,” Milliner said. “If he can go out there against us and we compete against him and take away throws that he makes, I feel like when we got on the field, no other quarterback can do nothing against us. Because he’s the one that makes all the plays. If we can stop him, we can stop any quarterback.”

7 – seven players have at least five receptions so far this season

6 – McCarron has spread his 10 touchdowns to six different receivers

0 – No receiver holds the more than one team high in receiving statistics

4th – McCarron ranks fourth nationally in passer rating with 188.44

15 – Number of passes without an interception McCarron needs to make to hold the all-time Alabama record for most passes without an interception

More to Discover