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November 5, 2013

McCarron and LSU linked

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When the final words are penned on AJ McCarron's career at the University of Alabama there will most assuredly be a chapter dedicated to LSU. The two are linked.

There was a valuable lesson learned against the Tigers in 2011, a breakout performance against them in the national championship game later that season and an all-time comeback led in 2012. If athletes are defined by their play in big games, McCarron earned his stripes against LSU.

He played timidly two years ago, scared of making a mistake in a 9-6 overtime loss. He vowed to never play that way again.

"I didn't really play like myself that game," McCarron said. "It was like the game of the century, people kept saying. I didn't really play with a lot of energy. I had some big throws in the game. I showed no excitement. I just tried to stay mellow, but that's not how I play. I didn't play like myself really."

It was his first year as a starter and in a road win against Florida earlier in the season, UA coach Nick Saban told him to calm down (in so many words) after McCarron got carried away with emotion after a quarterback sneak for a touchdown.

He throttled himself after that play, going against his natural instincts. But Saban reversed course after the LSU game, telling his quarterback to not calm down.

"Every since then I've played like myself and he's just let me go."

Redemption came two months later when the game was put on McCarron's shoulders with a game plan that called for Alabama to challenge the LSU defense with passes on first down. McCarron threw for 234 yards and connected on 68 percent of his passes in a 21-0 win for the national title.

Then came last season's game when he led a 72-yard drive in the final minutes to pull out a stunning 21-17 come-from-behind road win. McCarron never showed more emotion than in the final seconds when he broke down on the sidelines.

"Sports means a lot to me," McCarron said. "I play with my heart on my sleeve and I go hard every play."

The reaction proved how much McCarron cared.

"To see AJ act that way after the game, it was like, man, all the hard work that do around here is just paying off," senior wide receiver Kevin Norwood said. "All that emotion came out at once. You can't control.

"It was just him not getting down on himself, him taking it to the next level. He knew what he had to do to get this team a win. He came out and did it."

The final meeting in McCarron's career against LSU is no less meaningful. A perfect season is on the line. A chance for a third consecutive national title can be spoiled. A Southeastern Conference division title is still up for grabs.

One or two plays always seem to determine the outcome and McCarron knows it.

"Both are great teams," McCarron said. "We know it's going to be blow for blow. It's always like that no matter what the record is. It is a great rivalry in a way and it's always two great teams going against each other. Every play does really count."

Reach Aaron Suttles at aaron@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0229.

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Reach Aaron Suttles at aaron.suttles@tuscaloosanews.com or 205.722.0229. 

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