FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.--A.J. McCarron doesn’t want to talk about his legacy at Alabama, but in two years as a starting quarterback, he’s led the Crimson Tide to back-to-back national championship games, maybe back-to-back wins come Monday night.
The junior, who announced a couple weeks ago that he will return next year for his senior season, doesn’t really think about his “legacy,” per se, but does want to be remembered around Tuscaloosa as a leader and a winner.
Oftentimes McCarron is labeled a “game manager.” He'll roll his eyes when reporters ask him about the term because it isn’t a bad thing like many make it out to be.
“That saying right there is kind of funny to me,” he said. “I’ve said it a million times. I think you can throw the ball 50 times a game and lead your team to victory by throwing it, or you can hand it off 30 times and only throw it 20. I think ‘game manager’ can be so many different things and I think people try to label it as a guy that doesn’t really do much for his offense.”
Alabama head coach Nick Saban rolls his eyes a little bit, too, when asked about the topic.
“You can’t be a good quarterback unless you’re a good game manager,” he said earlier this season. “You’ve got to process a lot of information quickly and make quick decisions…I don’t think it’s fair to AJ that because I said he’s a really good game manager for us that it’s like that means he doesn’t do anything. He does everything. That’s the ultimate compliment, to me.”
McCarron seldom makes mistakes (he’s thrown just three interceptions to 26 touchdowns this season) and has learned how to effectively call plays and make checks. And his upcoming opponent Notre Dame has taken note.
“He doesn’t get rattled much,” said Irish safety Matthias Farley. “He makes great decisions and he leads the team very well. You can tell the guys have a lot of respect for him.”
McCarron had a good season last year as his first as a starter and was named MVP of the national championship, but his numbers are better this year. McCarron loved his old offensive coordinator Jim McElwain and has high praise for him, but Doug Nussmeier has certainly left an imprint on McCarron’s development.
Last year McCarron went 219-of-328 for 2,634 yards, 16 touchdowns and had a passer rating of 147.27, which was good for the 25th most efficient quarterback spot in the nation.
This year with more experience under his belt, McCarron has gone 191-of-286 for 2,669 yards, 26 touchdowns (he only needs three more to be Alabama’s all-time career leader) and is the most efficient quarterback in the country with a 173.08 rating.
McCarron thinks Nussmeier is a major reason why he’s evolved.
“He’s been outstanding to me,” McCarron said. “He’s helped me grow as a quarterback more than I ever thought I really could. I never look at stats, but the other day I was talking to my dad about it and it kind of blew me away just how few pass attempts (286) I’ve had and my numbers compared to last year (328).
“I think he’s helped me grow in the aspect of learning when to throw the ball away a lot more than I did last year. It’s been an honor working with Coach Nuss. I can’t say enough about him.”
When Nussmeier arrived in Tuscaloosa last spring, he didn’t want to change much about Alabama’s offense, but he did want to work on his quarterback. He immediately wanted to meet McCarron, spend time with him, find out just how important football was to him, and how willing he was to learn under his tutelage.
“You can be result-oriented or process-oriented and he’s very process-oriented,” Nussmeier said. “When people don’t know what he’s doing, he’s studying extra [film].
“To watch what he did through 15 practices in the spring, and to watch where he started this fall, and just to watch the continual progression, and he deserves all the credit for that because of his hard work and effort, his ability really, I think, brings our offense together.”
McCarron’s growth is on display in his stat line, but even when he struggles, his leadership shines. Take Alabama’s trip to Death Valley for the national championship rematch against LSU in November. Down 17-14 with 94 seconds left, McCarron, who had gone 0-for-5 in the second half, engineered the two-minute drill of his life, taking the offense 72 yards in five plays and capping it off with a 28-yard screen pass to T.J. Yeldon for the game-winning touchdown.
“AJ’s ceiling is so high,” Nussmeier said. “I feel like he’s just starting to scratch the surface of where he’s going to go as a player."
Monday when Alabama arrives at Sun Life Stadium to play for its third national title in four years, McCarron will have the opportunity to add on to his strong legacy in the making.
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