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November 24, 2012
McCarron pushes right buttons
TUSCALOOSA | AJ McCarron took what Auburn gave him Saturday, and the Tigers gave him pretty much everything.
They gave up long runs.
They gave up wide-open pass plays.
They gave up seven touchdowns on seven consecutive possessions, seven points for every series that the University of Alabama's first-team offense took the field.
In the end, under duress from UA's relentless assault, Auburn just gave up entirely.
It might have been as easy as it looked, but it wasn't simple. To execute with near-perfect efficiency, Alabama's offense needed McCarron to be nearly faultless in his decision-making. The Crimson Tide's junior quarterback was just that, not only completing 15 of 21 pass attempts for 216 yards and four touchdowns, but also changing plays at the line of scrimmage to match UA's play-calling with what Auburn's struggling defense would least be able to stop.
"I felt like I knew what they were going to do every play," McCarron said.
That wasn't guesswork. McCarron studied Auburn all week, to the point that come game time he was able to read the Tigers' defense like a children's book.
It boiled down to this: When Auburn had two safeties playing deep he checked to a running play, and when Auburn played one safety in deep coverage he checked to a pass.
The result, in chess terms, was checkmate.
"AJ did a great job with his checks," said running back Eddie Lacy, who shredded Auburn for 131 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries.
In addition to changing from run to pass and vice versa, McCarron also surveyed Auburn's defense and switched at the line of scrimmage from one running play to another, or from one pass play to another. He saw holes in the Tigers' defense and targeted them.
"Everybody was on their assignment and we made plays," McCarron said.
Before the backups took over midway through the third quarter, Alabama's offense averaged 4.9 yards per carry and a little better than 10 yards per pass attempt. It added up to seven touchdown drives, a few of the grinding variety and a few that benefitted from quick-strike big plays.
Alabama's first-team offense was also perfect on third down, converting 8 of 8 chances. On four occasions, McCarron hit open receivers running under Auburn's coverage to move the chains on third down.
"Sometimes they're first reads and sometimes they're not," the quarterback said. "I just kind of read what the defense is doing, taking what they give me, and I knew if I get it to my guys they can run and get first downs.
"We knew coming in they were going to play the deeper part of the field on third down and make you throw it underneath, and we did that."
Alabama also caught Auburn flat-footed early in the game with a fast-paced, no-huddle attack. The Crimson Tide utilized the no-huddle to motor down the field for its first two touchdowns.
"That's what we wanted to do was try to get them off-balance at the beginning of the game," said wideout Kevin Norwood, who caught five passes for 65 yards with two touchdowns. "I think that's what we did, and it kept the ball moving."
Freshman Amari Cooper caught five passes for 109 yards and two scores and Kenyan Drake added 67 rushing yards on 10 carries. T.J. Yeldon ran for one touchdown, gaining 38 yards on eight attempts.