Unfairly, Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron was labeled a game manager. Coincidentally, he earned it in last season’s BCS championship game against LSU when he played solid, mistake-free football. With an All-American offensive line, a stable of elite running backs and a defense stocked with talent, the pressure’s never really been on the second-year starter to lead a two-minute drill or make the big throws.
But, eventually, it’s going to happen. Every team needs their quarterback to win at least one game for them. Down 17-14 to LSU Saturday night in Death Valley with 1:34 remaining, the Tide needed McCarron to be more than a game manager. And he was. A lot more. The junior completed four of five passes over 72 yards in 43 seconds, the final one a screen pass to running back T.J. Yeldon for 28-yard touchdown.
It was a perfect play call. Less than a minute later, No. 1 Alabama did what few teams have done against Les Miles: go into Baton Rouge at night and come out with a 21-17 win over the No. 5 Tigers.
John will have a special “Fifth Quarter” sifting through the aftermath of what was easily the best game of the day coming up here in a bit; this here is all about McCarron.
He wasn’t all great. McCarron was hot and cold all night and the Tide usually went as he did. In fact, if not for his game-winning drive, this would have been about the proverbial light coming on for Zach Mettenberger. The first-year starter for LSU played his best game of the season, throwing for 298 yards and a touchdown. It was the way college football pundits all over the country thought Mettenberger, the supposed “missing piece” for the Tigers, should have looked all year.
Mettenberger deserves a lot of praise for the way he played tonight, and if you’re going to assess who had the better game between the two QBs, Mettenberger would win that distinction. But McCarron won what really mattered, when it mattered. Now, and with all due respect to the likes of Tennessee and Mississippi State, the Tide have a victory over its first “real test” of 2012. There shouldn’t have been any mistake before, but there’s certainly none now: Alabama is playing like the best team in the country. Keep winning and a second consecutive BCS championship appearance — the third under Nick Saban — is guaranteed to be in play.
Who knows what challenges Alabama will face to get there — maybe they won’t — but they’ll have a chance as long as McCarron’s taking snaps.
After tonight, he’s going to be known as a game-changer.