By Mitch Light
It was far from the most stressful environment, and his team was favored by more than four touchdowns. But AJ McCarron made a nice statement Saturday night in Tuscaloosa as the Crimson Tide cruised past Vanderbilt, 34–0. Alabama’s sophomore quarterback played the best game of his short career against a Vanderbilt team that entered the game ranked 11th in the nation in total defense and fourth in the nation in passing efficiency defense.
McCarron had season-highs in completions (23), attempts (30), passing yards (237) and touchdowns (four). And most important, he did not throw an interception against a Commodore defense that had picked off 14 passes in its first four games. McCarron, who threw two picks in the first game of the season against Kent State, has now gone
21 quarters without throwing an interception.
“AJ played pretty well,” said Alabama coach Nick Saban, never one to offer effusive praise for his players. “He didn’t turn the ball over which was really important.”
The quarterback position was one of the few question marks for this Alabama team. McCarron beat out Phillip Sims in the preseason for the starting assignment and is trying to prove that he has what it takes — both physically and mentally — to run Alabama’s pro-style offense. He is 6–0 as a starter, with wins at Penn State and at Florida on his resume.
Alabama has already shown that it can run the ball with success. The Crimson Tide will need to prove that it can pass the ball — and do so in big spots — to be a championship team. Saturday night, McCarron and his offense took a step in the right direction.
“I definitely think we are an offense that can run and pass at will when we are clicking on all cylinders,” said tight end Brad Smelley. “I think we showed tonight that if you try to load the box, we can definitely make plays over the top and find the zones and the spaces that are open in there. We are a two phase team so we can run and pass.”
Alabama was particularly effective on third down against Vanderbilt, converting a season-high 70.6 percent (12-of-17). For the season, McCarron has completed 29-of-46 passes (63.0 percent) on third down with 23 of those 29 completions resulting in a first down.
If that type of production in the passing game continues, no one will question McCarron’s ability to be a championship quarterback.
AROUND THE SEC
• Tennessee’s Tyler Bray had thrown at least two touchdown passes in 10 straight games before being shut out by Georgia on Saturday night. Bray will be out of action for 4-6 weeks with a broken thumb.
• In two SEC games, Tennessee’s tailbacks have rushed for only 49 yards on 30 carries.
• In a 38–14 loss to Arkansas, Auburn was held scoreless for three straight quarters in the same game for the first time in the Gus Malzahn era.
• Vanderbilt’s average of 4.4 yards per play against Alabama was the highest of any Crimson Tide opponent this season. The Commodores, however, only had 43 offensive snaps, resulting in 190 total yards.
• Kentucky attempted a total of 26 passes for 17 yards in its 54–3 loss at South Carolina. The Cats averaged 0.65 yards per attempt.
• Arkansas has 109 plays of 10 yards or more this season. Kentucky and Vanderbilt each have only 44 such plays from scrimmage.
• Florida has been outgained 819 to 425 over the last two weeks.
• LSU has only allowed four sacks in six games. The Tigers are the only team in the league that is giving up less than one per game.
• South Carolina tailback Marcus Lattimore broke a two-game stretch of sub-100-yard games. He gained 102 yards on 22 carries against Kentucky, though he was held without a touchdown for the first time this season.