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December 22, 2012

Barker the perfect quarterback for Stallings' system

TUSCALOOSA | He was a caretaker.

As the one person touching the ball every play for Alabama's 1992 national championship team, Jay Barker was quite literally the caretaker of the Crimson Tide's offense.

The term "game manager" has been thrown about in abundance over the past decade, and its meaning has somewhat evolved. Not only does a game manager have to not lose the game, he must make wise decisions with 300-pound defenders crashing at his feet. He must get the team into the right play based on a defense's formation - know when it's time to run, know when it's time to pass and take what the defense gives you. He must be the be-all, see-all on offense. He must manage the game.

Barker was that for Alabama, delicately running an oft-criticized offense that bogged down at times, and knowing, with that defense, there was nothing wrong with a punt.

For coach Gene Stallings' do-no-harm offensive approach, Barker was the perfect quarterback.

"We played to the strength of our team, and that was our defense," Barker said, looking back two decades later.

The Crimson Tide certainly fielded a competent offense with its fair share of weapons, including a road-grading offensive line, electric flanker/returner David Palmer, a bruising fullback in Martin Houston and a pounding running back in Derrick Lassic. What Alabama lacked was a vertical passing game outside of Palmer.

The burden of the passing game fell on Barker, a sophomore. Luckily for him, the Crimson Tide's stout defense and effective running game didn't require Heisman-like numbers.

"Our job was not to turn the ball over," Barker said. "For anybody that's in that style or playing for a defensive-minded coach like (Nick) Saban or Stallings, that's what they expect of you. Don't put us in a bad situation. Don't turn the ball over. If you need to take a sack, take a sack. It's all these things going through your mind as a quarterback to make sure you're managing every play, getting your players in the right position, in the right formations, making check-with-me calls.

"Most of our run plays throughout my whole career were where we would go to the line of scrimmage with two different plays and I would pick, especially against Miami in that national championship game. That's the kind of stuff as a quarterback you have to understand the Xs and Os and schematically what they're doing and what's best for you to attack that particular defense. That goes a long way.

"There's a lot of things that people don't ever see and amount of time spent. They see the big plays in the run game. I always prided myself on knowing the defense and knowing what's the best run against this particular defense, what's the best pass protection." Barker averaged 124 yards passing per game that season, a paltry sum by today's standards in the era of the spread offense. He had just 18 yards in the Sugar Bowl. But for Alabama in 1992, it was enough to bring home the hardware.

"Offensively we didn't care," Barker said. "Our coaches called the plays. We could only execute and put up the type of numbers that offense was going to allow us to put up. But I'll tell you this: We won a lot of football games playing that style of offense. People at times were critical of it or commentators or people that maybe didn't understand it, but I promise you there were a lot of great football coaches and people at that time that were eating it up going, 'Man, I wish we could play like that and have that kind of success and win that many games.' "

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