Alabama Crimson Tide: A.J. McCarron

SEC lunchtime links

April, 30, 2014
Apr 30
12:00
PM ET
More talk of scheduling, some NFL draft talk and more in today's lunch links:

SEC's lunch links

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
12:00
PM ET
The Super Bowl is just days away, but we know you college football fans are just as excited, if not more, about what comes after that. National signing day. Notably, stories relating to both are a part of today's lunchtime links:

Allstate Sugar Bowl preview

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
11:00
AM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- Thursday night’s Allstate Sugar Bowl (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) matchup between No. 3 Alabama and No. 11 Oklahoma features two of the most storied programs in college football history. Here’s a preview of one of the most intriguing games of the bowl season:

Who to watch: Alabama's AJ McCarron, who, with two national titles, is one of the winningest quarterbacks in the history of the game. Even though the Crimson Tide came up just short of advancing to another national championship game, McCarron has put together another fabulous season. He was a first-team Walter Camp All-American, won the Maxwell Award and finished second in the Heisman voting. On top of owning virtually every passing record at Alabama, McCarron also has a career record of 36-3 as the Crimson Tide's starting quarterback. A win over the Sooners in his collegiate swan song would cap the finest quarterbacking career in Alabama history in fine fashion.

What to watch: How Oklahoma performs against the preeminent program from the preeminent conference in college football. Even though the SEC has reeled off seven straight national titles, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has questioned why the SEC is accepted as college football's top conference, even calling it "propaganda." Stoops also has suggested the SEC's defensive reputation has been overhyped, because of substandard quarterbacking in the past. Stoops, however, has never disrespected Alabama, and this week called the Crimson Tide the best team in the country despite their loss to Auburn. Still, the fact remains, the Big 12's reputation will be squarely on the line this game, especially after Baylor's disastrous showing against Central Florida in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Oklahoma's reputation will be on the line, too. The Sooners can prove on the national stage they're on their way back to standing alongside the nation’s elite programs. Or they -- and the Big 12 -- will take yet another perception hit heading into the College Football Playoff era, where perception will be paramount.

Why to watch: This will pit two of the most tradition-rich programs in college football history. Alabama and Oklahoma have combined for 17 national championships, including four in the BCS era. Despite their histories, the Crimson Tide and Sooners have met only four times before: the 1963 Orange Bowl, 1970 Bluebonnet Bowl and then a home-and-home in 2002-2003, which the Sooners swept. Nick Saban and Stoops, however, have faced each other only once, in the 2003 national championship game when Saban was at LSU. The Tigers won that game 21-14.

Prediction: Alabama 41, Oklahoma 17. The Sooners have thrived as the underdog, both in the past, and here late this season. But Alabama is another animal, and Oklahoma, which has been inconsistent offensively all season, will struggle to move the ball against linebacker C.J. Mosley & Co.
Alabama reporter Alex Scarborough and Big 12 reporter Jake Trotter break down the biggest storylines in Thursday’s Allstate Sugar Bowl matchup between Alabama and Oklahoma:

The last time the Crimson Tide just missed out on a national championship game and ended up in the Sugar, they didn't seem to be very motivated. Will they be motivated this time?

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron #10 of the Alabama Crimson Tide
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesIt's hard to imagine AJ McCarron and the Crimson Tide coming out flat against OU in the Sugar Bowl.
Alex Scarborough: With AJ McCarron and C.J. Mosley guiding their respective units, I don't think motivation will be a problem. The leadership on this team is too strong for Alabama to come out flat emotionally. There are too many seniors who don't want to go out on a sour note with back-to-back losses. Revenge, even though it can't come in the form of a national championship, is at play against the Sooners. That loss on the road at Auburn has eaten away at the Tide for a month now, and I believe this team is eager to get that monkey off its back and change the narrative of its season. As Brian Vogler told the media a short while back, this game is all about respect and proving again that Alabama is one of the best teams in the country.

Jake Trotter: I don’t think motivation will be a problem for Alabama. Then again, it could be. After all, the Crimson Tide have played in the national championship game in three of the last four years. Playing in the Sugar is a step down. One thing we do know is that Oklahoma will be motivated. This is the biggest bowl the Sooners have played in since the 2008 national championship game against Florida. As a double-digit underdog against the preeminent program in college football at the moment, it’s a guarantee Oklahoma will be fired up to play well.

For OU to pull off the upset, what is the one thing that has to happen?

Scarborough: Aside from Alabama surprising me and coming out flat, I think it comes down to the defense. McCarron, T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper will put up plenty of points on offense, but can Mosley and the secondary rebound after what was a testing season defensively? Alabama was excellent in terms of production this season, but our colleague Edward Aschoff was wise to focus on the importance of the Tide facing another zone-read team as both Auburn and Texas A&M had success moving the ball against them. Even Mississippi State had some success spreading the field and pushing the tempo. Alabama has to set the edge and stop the run early against Oklahoma, forcing Blake Bell, Trevor Knight or whoever plays quarterback for the Sooners into obvious passing situations. If Oklahoma finds itself in a lot of second-and-mediums and third-and-shorts, Alabama will be in trouble because while there's plenty of talent at safety with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Landon Collins, there's a significant drop off at cornerback once you look past Deion Belue.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesTrevor Knight and the Sooners need to get off to a good start if Oklahoma is going to pull off the upset.
Trotter: The Sooners have got to get off to a good start. Whether Knight or Bell (or both) is at quarterback, this is not an offense built to come back from behind. After falling behind early to Texas and Baylor, Oklahoma had to scrap the game plan and start throwing the ball. And the end-result was a pair of blowouts. Conversely, if Oklahoma can start fast, then hang in the game past halftime, the pressure will swing on Alabama, which is expected to win this game big. And like at Oklahoma State, the Sooners would be a successful trick play or big turnover away from taking the Tide to the wire.

Who is the player to watch in this game?

Scarborough: This is going to be a very interesting game for Alabama linebacker Trey DePriest. He's had a fairly solid junior season, but he hasn't done what many expected when the season began and there was speculation over whether he'd turn pro early. Well, he's already said he intends to return to school, and with Mosley moving on, he'll be the man leading and executing Kirby Smart’s and Nick Saban's defense in 2014. How he does against Oklahoma is an important step in that progression. He needs to show he can both lead his teammates, as well as show the sideline-to-sideline type of tackling that Mosley brought to the table. As more teams go to the zone-read offense, that part of the game becomes more and more important. And if I can add a second player to watch quickly, keep an eye on freshman tailback Derrick Henry. He's a talented big man at 6-foot-3, and the buzz is that he may be poised to pass Kenyan Drake for second on the depth chart.

Trotter: Receiver/returner Jalen Saunders is Oklahoma's X-factor. In the Sooners' upset victory over Oklahoma State, Saunders unleashed a 61-yard punt return touchdown, a 37-yard reverse rush that set up another score and a game-winning, 7-yard touchdown grab in the corner of the end zone in the final seconds. For the Sooners to have a chance, Saunders must deliver another monster performance.

SEC lunchtime links

November, 22, 2013
11/22/13
12:00
PM ET
It's Friday, which means only a day until game day. Thank goodness. Here's some reading from around the league to get you ready:

SEC Week 12: Did you know?

November, 15, 2013
11/15/13
10:00
AM ET
It's a relatively light week in SEC football with only four intraconference games and one nonconference matchup as teams hit the home stretch of their respective schedules. Here are a few nuggets for readers to chew on in advance of this weekend's SEC action, with an assist from the fine folks at ESPN Stats and Information.
  • Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron didn't have a terrific start to this season but he's coming on strong lately, especially when it really matters, like on third downs. Since Oct. 1, McCarron's Total QBR on third downs is 96.3, which is fifth best in the FBS (in his first four games, his third down QBR was 57.2). He has completed 72.7 percent of his third-down passes, which is second only to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel in that time span and converted 59 percent on third downs with zero turnovers in the last five games. McCarron converted only 33 percent of the time with two turnovers in the first four games of the year.
  • The Crimson Tide's opponent, Mississippi State, is trying to knock off a team ranked No. 1 in the polls. The last time the Bulldogs beat a team atop the Associated Press poll? 1980. The opponent? Coincidentally, it was Alabama. The Bulldogs have had only three shots at a top-ranked team since 1980 and lost all three (1998, 2008, 2012). Also, since Dan Mullen has taken over, Mississippi State is 5-19 against SEC West teams (the Bulldogs are 9-4 against the SEC East).
  • Auburn has more than doubled its average production running the football this season. The Tigers are averaging an SEC-best 320 rushing yards per game, compared to 148.4 last season. They also have 33 touchdowns on the ground, compared with just 16 a year ago. They've also improved yards per carry (6.5 from 4.1) and number of carries gaining 10 or more yards (100 this season, 64 last year).
  • Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray has seen his numbers dip some in recent weeks. After averaging 304 passing yards in the first six games of the season, Murray has thrown for just 217.7 yards per game in Georgia's last three outings. His touchdown-to-interception ratio (3-to-2) isn't quite what it was in those first six games (17-to-5) and his opponent-adjusted QBR is down (76.3 from 89.3).
  • Injuries and a struggling offense have been a significant part of Florida's decline this season, but so has the Gators' run defense. Five games into the year, Florida boasted what was one of the country's best run defenses (at one point, the Gators ranked No. 1 in average yards allowed). In the first five games, Florida allowed 65 yards per game, 2.8 yards per carry and three rushing touchdowns. In the last four, the Gators have allowed 165.5 yards per game, 4.3 yards per carry and nine rushing touchdowns. Not a good formula when one of the SEC's best backs, South Carolina's Mike Davis, is on deck.
  • Speaking of Davis, he currently leads the SEC in rushing yards per game with an average of 117.6. That's good for 12th in the FBS. Since joining the SEC, only one Gamecock has finished the season with the league's best rushing average, and that was Duce Staley in 1996, who averaged 124 yards.
  • Ole Miss has its final nonconference game of the year on Saturday, hosting Troy. Traditionally, the Rebels have had great success against teams that currently reside in the Sun Belt, going 28-1-2. The only loss came all the way back in 1915 to Arkansas State. Saturday is the first meeting between Ole Miss and Troy.
  • Vanderbilt has been pretty successful in the month of November under head coach James Franklin. The Commodores are 7-2 in the month since he took over and currently, they've won six straight dating back to Nov. 26, 2011. Vandy will seek its seventh straight November victory against Kentucky. In the 10 years prior to Franklin's arrival in Nashville, Vanderbilt was 3-32 in November games.

Tide, Tigers contrast in QB stability

November, 5, 2013
11/05/13
9:00
AM ET

When AJ McCarron steps behind center on Saturday night for Alabama's first offensive snap in its showdown against LSU, he'll be making his fourth start against the Tigers.

The senior has been the picture of stability the last three years as Alabama’s starting quarterback. His first start against LSU was Nov. 5, 2011, dubbed "The Game of the Century," one that LSU won 9-6 in overtime at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, McCarron's counterpart on Saturday night, will make his second start against the Tide. LSU hasn't quite enjoyed the same stability that Alabama has, though Mettenberger has provided a steady hand and productive play this season, making LSU's offense the talk of the program for once; hard to do in a program known for its defense.

[+] EnlargeLSU/Georgia
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsZach Mettenberger was 28-of-35 for 298 yards and a score in his first start against Alabama.
But in the same time span that McCarron has served as Alabama's lone starter in the Tide-Tigers showdowns, LSU has had three different starting quarterbacks. Mettenberger started last season's game but when the teams met twice in 2011 – in November and in January for the BCS championship – the Tigers had a different starter each time.

That's simply a microcosm of these two power programs. Both are championship-caliber teams that are annually in the BCS national championship discussion. Both have stable coaching staffs and a foundation built on great defense and the ability to run the football. Both recruit at a high level and, of course, play in the same division, the SEC West.

But since the Nick Saban took over at Alabama in 2007, the Tide have had just three quarterbacks start against LSU: McCarron, Greg McElroy (2009-10) and John Parker Wilson, who predated Saban and started for the Tide from 2006-08.

In that same time span, the Tigers have had a different starter vs. Alabama six times. In 2007 it was Matt Flynn, who was a senior. Jarrett Lee started the 2008 game, while Jordan Jefferson started in 2009 and 2010. In 2011 Lee started the November "Game of the Century," and Jefferson started the BCS national championship later that season. Though the Tigers have had four different quarterbacks in that span, it's been rare that the same one has started twice in a row against the Tide like Mettenberger will do Saturday.

Despite that contrast, the series has been back-and-forth. Alabama has won four times since 2007, LSU three. The Tigers' success despite quarterback turnover is even more fascinating in an age where quarterbacks dominate the headlines and up-tempo spread offenses are en vogue.

Take last season as an example, one in which the Tigers didn't make a change at quarterback but didn't get strong play from the position either. Florida (3rd), Oregon State (13th) and Kent State (25th) were the only schools other than LSU with a Total QBR of less than 55 for the season to finish in the top 25 of the BCS standings at the end of the regular season. The team with the worst QBR of thos, LSU (38), finished eighth in the final BCS standings last season.

Even in 2011, when the Tigers went 13-1 and went to the BCS title game before falling to Alabama, the quarterback situation was far from stable. Lee made nine starts that season, Jefferson made five. There was even discussion in the aftermath of the 21-0 title game loss to the Crimson Tide about LSU coach Les Miles' decision to not play Lee at all that night and leave Jefferson in, which Miles later said was because he wanted a mobile quarterback who could avoid Alabama's tenacious pass rush in the game.

The reason the Tigers were able to succeed despite a sometimes uncertain quarterback situation is their defense. LSU finished in the top 12 nationally in total defense each season from 2010-2012 and had a 34-5 record in that time span. They've also had a reliable running game to turn to move the chains offensively.

Alabama has enjoyed the fruits of both of those traits during their run of three BCS titles in four seasons, but the stability at quarterback is evident. The Tide have finished the season with a better QBR than LSU each of the last five seasons.

Stable or not, life is tough for the quarterbacks in this game. During the Saban era, Alabama quarterbacks have a QBR of 42.8 against LSU, while LSU's is 33.1 against the Tide. The touchdown-to-interception ratios aren't pretty (8-to-6 for Alabama, 7-to-11 for LSU) as the defenses take center stage in this matchup.

But the Tigers have shown that even in this era of offensive dominance, good defense can still get you far. And now, they just might have the quarterback to knock off the nation’s top team.

Revisiting Texas A&M-Alabama, part I

September, 10, 2013
9/10/13
1:40
PM ET
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Texas A&M shocked the college football world when it went into Tuscaloosa, Ala., and upset the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide last November. It was a game for the ages, with the Aggies jumping out to a 20-0 lead, Alabama charging back to make it close and a nailbiter finish that included a turnover near the goal line.

With the Crimson Tide coming to Kyle Field for a rematch with the Aggies, anticipation has built throughout the offseason. The Tide are again No. 1, defending their BCS championship from a year ago and the Aggies still have their linchpin, Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, who made his most compelling case for the trophy that afternoon at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

As the heavily hyped clash approaches, let's look back at some of the keys to last year's game and how they might affect the rematch.

1. Credit to the Texas A&M defense

When dissecting Texas A&M's upset of Alabama last season, many cite the Aggies' offensive explosion en route to a 20-0 first-quarter lead as one of the most difficult things for Alabama to deal with. And while the Aggies used creative playcalling and personnel packages, their fast pace and precision execution to score three touchdowns on their first three drives, the Aggies' defensive effort had as much -- or more -- to do with their ability to take that kind of commanding lead.

A.J. McCarron
John David Mercer/US PresswireAJ McCarron threw his first interceptions of the season in Alabama's loss to Texas A&M last season.
The first play from scrimmage helped the Aggies set the tone as Alabama handed off to running back Eddie Lacy on an off-tackle play to the left side. Tight end Michael Williams motioned to that side of the formation to help open a hole for Lacy, but Texas A&M linebacker Sean Porter eluded Williams and sliced into the gap between Williams and left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and made a strong tackle to stop Lacy for no gain. Alabama went three-and-out on that drive and punted.

The Crimson Tide's next offensive drive started on a much better note for Alabama, with Lacy gaining 23 yards on his first two carries. But everything halted as the Aggies created a turnover when quarterback AJ McCarron tried to find Kenny Bell in the middle of the field. As a McCarron pass hit Bell in the chest, safety Howard Matthews delivered a hard, clean hit to Bell, who dropped the pass. Porter was there to intercept the pass, and that set up the A&M offense with great field position after a 16-yard return to the Alabama 41.

One of the key players throughout the day for the Aggies' defense was defensive tackle Spencer Nealy. A former defensive end who moved to defensive tackle at the start of the 2012 season despite lacking what would be considered "SEC size" for a tackle, Nealy played an integral role in the Aggies' run defense. Evidence of that was on display at the start of the Crimson Tide's third drive of the game.

On the first play of the drive, Alabama handed off to T.J. Yeldon on the left side and the 6-foot-5, 277-pound Nealy, who lined up at nose tackle on that play and for much of the day, used his quickness to beat center Barrett Jones and tackled Yeldon for a loss of 4 yards. The Crimson Tide went three-and-out on that drive as well as the Aggies forced McCarron's hand with a safety blitz and Matthews got into the backfield untouched, forcing an incomplete pass. The defensive effort by the Aggies forced McCarron to start the game 1-of-5 passing for 5 yards.

And even though the Tide were able to gather their bearings and make a strong comeback with some big plays on offense, the Aggies still found ways to make plays on defense. Matthews plugged a gap on third-and-2 when Yeldon tried to cut back for first-down yardage, holding the Crimson Tide to a third-quarter field goal. Safety Steven Terrell stripped Yeldon in the fourth quarter on the play after a 50-yard pass from McCarron to Amari Cooper. And of course, cornerback Deshazor Everett picked off McCarron on the Tide's final offensive play with 1:36 remaining.

The drawback for Texas A&M in the rematch is that many of the above names are gone. Nealy, Porter, Terrell and other key players -- such as defensive end Damontre Moore and linebacker Jonathan Stewart -- have graduated. They've been replaced by younger, more inexperienced players who have taken their lumps in the first two games. The Aggies also haven't had their full complement of defensive players because several served suspensions in the first two games. Saturday will be the first opportunity for all of their key guys to play together this season.

Lacy is gone for the Tide, as are several offensive linemen. The Tide struggled in that area in their season-opening win against Virginia Tech. So there will be adjustments on both sides with the differences in personnel.

2. Finding the "Y"

Manziel went to receiver Ryan Swope, the "Y" receiver who lines up in the slot on the right side of the offensive formation, early and often against the Crimson Tide. Early in the game the passes were of the short, quick variety, hitch routes that gained incremental yardage, almost like running plays.

Ryan Swope
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireRyan Swope, a senior last season, made 11 catches against Alabama.
As the game wore on, Manziel went downfield to Swope, who made some of the biggest catches of the season. One was in the middle of the field for 28 yards as he was nailed by safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the third quarter. In the fourth, Manziel found Swope down the right sideline for 42 yards.

Swope graduated as well, but look for the guy who made the catch on the play after Swope's 42-yard reception -- Malcome Kennedy -- to be a factor. Kennedy caught a 24-yard touchdown pass on the next play and having experience in a game like that can only help him this Saturday. The question is, can Kennedy bring the kind of consistency that Swope did in catching 11 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown against Alabama?

And should he be healthy for the game, 6-foot-5 freshman receiver Ricky Seals-Jones could be a factor at that position as well. Seals-Jones missed the Sam Houston State game last Saturday with a knee injury.

3. McCarron can scramble, too

While Manziel is known for his scrambling, McCarron showed he has good mobility as well.

McCarron isn't nearly as fleet of foot, but he did show the ability to escape pressure and make quality throws. On two instances in the Crimson Tide's first scoring drive, he evaded the Aggies' pass rush and found Cooper for a first-down completion.

In the second half, McCarron scrambled and tried to find Cooper. He avoided an interception from Everett (who was ruled out of bounds on the catch), but nevertheless, scrambling is a tool McCarron can use if the Aggies dial up extra pressure Saturday.

4. Defending Manziel on the ground

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Dave MartinJohnny Manziel had great success running in the first half against Alabama, but the running lanes closed a bit in the second half.
In the first half last year, Manziel was electric with his feet. Then-offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury was comfortable in calling designed quarterback draws. They were successful as Manziel piled up 82 yards on nine first-half carries.

But the Tide did a much better job containing Manziel in the final two quarters. In the second half, he finished with 10 rushing yards on nine attempts.

This season, Manziel is making an effort to improve as a pocket passer without taking away his playmaking ability. The Aggies have a new offensive coordinator and playcaller (Clarence McKinney) and a new quarterbacks coach (Jake Spavital). It will be interesting to see how much running Manziel does Saturday and how Alabama handles it.

5. Big plays in the Alabama passing game

Cooper, now a sophomore for the Tide, had a huge game in last year's matchup, catching six passes for 136 yards.

He had a catch of 50 yards and a 54-yard touchdown reception, both in the fourth quarter. The first came on an out-and-up, when he beat Everett one on one. The next one came when the Aggies sent Everett on a cornerback blitz and Cooper beat Matthews deep for a touchdown.

Podcast: Talking Tide, Aggies and more

August, 13, 2013
8/13/13
2:00
PM ET
In the latest edition of the ESPNU College Football podcast, ESPN.com senior writer Ivan Maisel visits with SEC Bloggers Chris Low and Edward Aschoff about several topics, including the quarterback situation at Auburn, the importance of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron and the the latest surrounding Texas A&M and quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Click here for the podcast.

SEC lunchtime links

August, 8, 2013
8/08/13
12:20
PM ET
"College Football Live" and its Summer Tour stops in Alabama today. Tom Rinaldi and Todd McShay will check in on Nick Saban, AJ McCarron and Co. Catch them throughout the day on "SportsCenter" and on CFB Live at 5 p.m. ET on ESPNU.

Here are some other things from around the SEC that you may find interesting.
  • Alabama's deep group of receivers may make this year's offense one of the best in school history, receiver Kenny Bell says.
  • Auburn fullback Jay Prosch draws strength from his faith and family as he tries to overcome his mother's death.
  • Georgia's offense didn't exactly light it up in the Bulldogs' first scrimmage.
  • LSU is trying to make sure its players act responsibly when using social media.
  • Kentucky forced just 13 turnovers last season and the Wildcats are making that a point of emphasis during the preseason.
  • Vanderbilt receiver Jonathan Krause is trying to rebound from a season in which he was the forgotten man on offense.
  • Florida having a successful season doesn't hinge on the quarterback, receivers or offensive line. It depends on how well the linebackers develop. The Gators did lose one of the country's top kick returners on Wednesday when the school announced that Andre Debose had suffered a torn ACL.
  • Texas A&M running back Ben Malena is a steadying force in the Aggies' backfield.
  • Five former college quarterbacks weigh in on how they believe Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel has handled his success.
  • Missouri still hasn't settled on a starting quarterback. James Franklin, is trying to hold off redshirt freshman Maty Mauk and sophomore Corbin Berkstresser.
  • Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze is frustrated with quarterback Bo Wallace's decision making.
  • TCU coach Gary Patterson took a shot at LSU coach Les Miles for reinstating running back Jeremy Hill after allowing teammates to vote to return to the team.

SEC lunchtime links

August, 5, 2013
8/05/13
3:17
PM ET
A little lunchtime reading from around the SEC:

Brandon Harris makes the rounds 

June, 6, 2013
6/06/13
9:00
AM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The explosion of offers and attention was overwhelming enough for Brandon Harris when spread over four months.

But it was nothing compared to the 72-hour window a week ago that essentially offered confirmation that the four-star quarterback (Bossier City, La./Parkway) has arrived on the national scene and isn’t going away.

AJ McCarron mesmerizing in play-action

January, 4, 2013
1/04/13
4:30
PM ET

Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsIt was appropriate that this throw was the decisive one for Alabama in its SEC-title win.
AJ McCarron and his Alabama Crimson Tide teammates broke the huddle with a fresh set of downs after T.J. Yeldon's 5-yard run on third-and-5 kept the drive alive against the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Championship.

With 3:40 remaining and facing a 3-point deficit, Alabama lined up at Georgia's 45 with two tight ends on the line and two wide receivers set to the same side. It was the same formation the Crimson Tide had used on 20 of their 22 plays after Georgia took an 11-point lead with 6:31 remaining in the third quarter.

Twenty of those 22 plays were runs that gained 167 yards and two touchdowns, including Yeldon's drive-sustaining run.

Georgia lined up defensively with one deep safety on this play, leaving one-on-one coverage on the outside for Amari Cooper.

When McCarron took the snap, he faked a handoff to Yeldon, looked left and threw the ball 43 yards in the air to Cooper, who went untouched into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.

It was McCarron’s 11th touchdown pass off play-action this season and his ninth such touchdown on first down. In 2011, McCarron had a total of five touchdowns off play-action.

Alabama's running game has set up McCarron all season. He leads FBS in pass efficiency (173.1), and play action has been the key.

McCarron completes nearly 70 percent of his passes thrown after a run fake and is averaging an SEC-best 11.9 yards per attempt. He has not thrown an interception off play-action in 130 attempts, with his last one coming in last season's loss to LSU.

McCarron's average throw after a run fake travels 11.7 yards downfield, and he completes 76 percent of his deep throws that are set up by play-action. On such passes, he has eight touchdowns and no interceptions in 21 attempts.

As he was against Georgia, Cooper has been McCarron’s favorite target on those downfield throws, catching 11 of 14 passes thrown 20 yards or longer when he was the target. Eight of those receptions were off play-action, including four touchdowns.

McCarron will face a Notre Dame Fighting Irish team in the BCS Championship Game that leads the nation in scoring defense (10.3 PPG).

The Irish have given up two touchdown passes on play-action all season, tied for third fewest against an AQ team, and one touchdown on a pass thrown 20 yards or more.

On paper, it will be the biggest test that McCarron has faced this season. A passing grade could give McCarron his second straight BCS Championship, something no quarterback has accomplished.

Alabama powers its way to SEC title

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
12:43
AM ET

John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsEddie Lacy ran for 181 yards for Alabama.

Alabama won its first SEC championship since 2009, handing Georgia an SEC championship game loss for the second straight season.

The Tide got it done on the ground. They ran for 350 rushing yards, the most in SEC championship game history.

Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon became the first teammates to each run for 100 yards in SEC championship game history. Lacy’s 181 rushing yards are the third-most in the history of the SEC title game.

The Tide were committed to the run, as they ran the ball 51 times, two shy of the SEC championship game record of 53.

Two tight ends, too much

Alabama ran 36 times for a season-high 298 yards with two or more tight ends in the formation. The Tide ran out of this personnel package on 26 of their 34 second-half plays, gaining 199 yards and two touchdowns. Alabama averaged a season-high 5.5 yards before contact out of this formation.

AJ McCarron completed 8 of 9 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown with two or more tight ends in the formation.

Getting it done inside the tackles

Alabama outrushed Georgia 304-72 inside the tackles. The Tide averaged 8.0 yards per carry on such runs, including a season-high 13 that gained 10 yards or more. Lacy (172) and Yeldon (125) led the way for Alabama, with both running backs gaining over 100 yards inside the tackles for the second time this season. They also did it against Missouri.

Strong run game leads to play action

McCarron completed 5 of 7 passes off play action for 116 yards and a touchdown. McCarron has 11 touchdown passes off a run fake this season, six more than he had all of last season. Eight of the 11 touchdowns have been on passes thrown 20 yards or longer, including Cooper’s 45-yard touchdown against Georgia.

Georgia’s defense allowed a season-high 512 total yards, just the second time the Bulldogs allowed 500 yards in the past seven seasons. For the first time since at least 2000, they’ve allowed 300 rushing yards in three straight games.

Alabama will most assuredly face Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game on January 7, as the SEC goes for its seventh straight BCS National Championship.

Down goes No. 1.

The defending BCS champions and the nation's top-ranked team, the Alabama Crimson Tide were upset by No. 15 Texas A&M 29-24 on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

The Aggies jumped out to a 20-0 lead behind their high-powered, up-tempo offense and a strong defensive start and hung on in the second half, never relinquishing the lead even when it appeared the Crimson Tide were on the verge of going ahead. Let's take a look at the high points from the thriller:

It was over when: Alabama linebacker Tyler Hayes committed a neutral-zone infraction when the Aggies were lining up to punt it away to the Crimson Tide with 40 seconds left. The penalty gave Texas A&M a first down and the Aggies took a knee to seal the win, as the Crimson Tide had no timeouts to stop the clock.

Game ball goes to: Johnny Manziel. Really, you could give it to a lot of guys (the Aggies' offensive line, senior receiver Ryan Swope and the defense made some big plays) but Manziel is the straw that stirred Texas A&M's drink -- and has all season. He finished 24-of-31 passing for 253 yards, 2 touchdowns and, most importantly, zero interceptions. He also made plays with his feet, rushing for 92 yards on 18 carries (he has now surpassed 1,000 rushing yards on the season). He took care of the ball, made good throws, extended plays and played about as well as you can expect a redshirt freshman to in that environment.

Key stat: 3-0. The turnover margin. Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron threw two interceptions, including one on the Crimson Tide's final offensive drive, and the Tide also fumbled once when T.J. Yeldon coughed it up at the Aggies' 38, killing a potential scoring drive. The Aggies scored on the ensuing drive to take a 29-17 lead. The Aggies' loss to LSU on Oct. 29 was marred by five turnovers. This time, they flipped the script.

Key play: Sophomore cornerback Deshazor Everett's interception with 1:36 to go. On fourth-and-goal from the 2 and needing a touchdown, McCarron tried to hit receiver Kenny Bell on a short out route near the pylon, but Everett stepped in front of Bell and intercepted the pass to get the ball back for the Aggies and kill the Crimson Tide's drive.

What it means: The Crimson Tide's (9-1, 6-1 SEC) BCS Championship Game hopes took a huge hit with this loss. Three teams -- Oregon, Kansas State and Notre Dame -- could remain undefeated after their games on Saturday night and jump Alabama in the BCS standings. And on the flip side: Welcome to the SEC, Texas A&M. Many wondered whether the Aggies could compete in the SEC when they made the move to the country's premier football league. Not only have the Aggies (8-2, 5-2) shown they can compete, they've shown they can beat the best teams the league has to offer. Kevin Sumlin has this team peaking, and it could jump into the top 10 with this win. It's definitely a new era in College Station, Texas.

And this could also be a formal introduction into the Heisman Trophy race for Manziel.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Bold predictions: Alabama at Tennessee
Lane Kiffin makes his return to Knoxville Saturday night (7:30 ET/ESPN) to face Tennessee.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

SEC SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 10/25