LSU-Bama Preview: Who is QB AJ McCarron?
Who is AJ McCarron? Outside of the South, he's relatively unknown. If so, this is his breaking out party. CFN's David Sweigart stops to analyze the Capstone signal caller. What's his background? How close of a quarterback battle did he have heading into September? What are his strengths/weaknesses?
By David Sweigart
Every preseason brings with it a bevy of questions for every team - but for the 2011 Crimson Tide there was really only one: the quarterback position. Most observers suspected the defense was going to be one of the top units in the country, that the offensive line was big, strong, and in the case of the first team, experienced, and the running game would likely overpower opponents.
But would Bama get enough production and consistency out of their two young quarterbacks? Would that position anchor them, and stop them from reaching its national championship aspirations?
Alabama native AJ McCarron arrived at the Capstone for the 2009 season. The tall pro-style quarterback was a highly regarded 4* recruit that played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and participated in the EA Sports Elite 11 camp.
McCarron redshirted his first year on campus and served as the back up to Greg McElroy for the 2010 season. The Tide went in to its 2011 spring practice with an open competition at quarterback; redshirt sophomore AJ McCarron vs. redshirt freshman Phillip Sims. They exited without naming a true No. 1 player at the position.
The battle would continue through summer camp and into the first game of the season: Bama at home versus Kent State. McCarron ended that game with the following stat line: 14/23 for 226 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions. Sims had a tougher outing: seven completions for 73 yards and two interceptions.
And in that moment, a starter was born.
Alabama traveled to Happy Valley the next week and McCarron played the entire game under center. He finished the day 19/31 with 163 yards, 1 touchdown, and most importantly – 0 interceptions.
Any questions about a quarterback battle were officially put to rest. McCarron has thrown only one interception since that game, and McCarron has fluctuated between proficient and very good.
The 2009 National Championship Alabama team won the title with first-year starter McElroy under center riding a dominating defense. Could the same be the case with McCarron? Here's a quick statistical comparison between the 2009 McElroy and the 2011 McCarron through eight games:
McElroy (2009): 121/202, 60%, 1,445 yards, 9 TD, 3 INT
McCarron (2011): 134/200, 67%, 1,664 yards, 10 TDs, 3 INT
Since throwing 2 interceptions in week one, McCarron has done a good job of protecting the football - working as a game manager for a team that needs its quarterback to keep the mistakes to a bare minimum. However, while he's not asked to push the ball down the field too often, arm strength isn't an issue; he can make all of the throws.
His inexperience at the position - he has relied on his check downs a bit too much - is clearly evident, but that's what the coaching staff is telling him to do.
Don't force it, take the throws that are there, and let the running game and defense do the work.
Better to punt and let the defense stop the other team than give up good field position by trying to fit it in a window.
Against LSU, McCarron will face an oopportunistic secondary and a defensive line that's extreemly active and likely to get in his face on a regular basis.
McCarron will get his jersey dirty.
The LSU defense will give him a few "welcome to big time college football, young man," hits. It'll be important that McCarron stays poised under pressure and does not try and do too much with his arm; he's had few opportunities to prove he can do that.
The 2011 season has basically been homework and a pop quiz for McCarron, but in LSU he faces the first big test of his career. Win or lose, much will be written about the play of the Alabama quarterback against LSU.
Follow David on Twitter @DMS225
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