GAINESVILLE, Fla. | AJ McCarron looked into the heart of The Swamp, and gave it a fist-pump.
Playing in one of college football's most hostile environments, the University of Alabama's first-year starting quarterback not only managed the game, but managed to make a difference in UA's 28-10 victory.
McCarron, who brought the experience of playing in front of more than 107,000 fans on the road at Penn State a few weeks before, found a more antagonistic audience at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in front of the second-largest crowd in Florida Field history, 90,888.
McCarron reacted with poise. He didn't quake after Florida scored on a 65-yard pass on its first play from scrimmage, instead steadily driving Alabama back 52 yards in 12 plays to answer with a field goal.
"I think playing that road game early in the year (against Penn State) really helped AJ manage the game," UA coach Nick Saban said.
If McCarron had a defining moment against the Gators, it came on a drive late in the first half that put Alabama up 24-10. He got jacked up by Florida's Dominique Easley late in the second quarter on a play where Easley was flagged for roughing the passer, hitting McCarron late and then falling on him. It continued after the play, when Easley jawed at McCarron, and Alabama's quarterback didn't back down. McCarron came back with a few choice words of his own, then turned to a group of Alabama fans seated behind the UA bench, gesturing to pump them up.
"Nothing big," McCarron said. "That's just between me and (Easley). We'll leave that on the field."
Saban took a moment to order his quarterback to get his emotions in check.
"Guy hit him in the head," Saban said. "He got a little excited about it. I told him, 'I don't want to come and pull the guy off of you, AJ.'"
McCarron went into halftime with a two-touchdown lead over a team that lost its starting quarterback to injury late in the second quarter. And while he didn't exactly catch fire to start the second half, he did continue to do what he has done well so far in his young career - keep from turning the ball over.
Bringing a string of 72 straight passes without an interception into the contest, McCarron went 12-for-25 for 140 yards, extending his streak to 97 passes in a row without being picked off. Along the way, he completed perhaps his most impressive pass of the season, when he hooked up with Marquis Maze on an 18-yard completion on third-and-eight. McCarron threw a high and hard fastball to the right sideline, just within reach of Maze, who snagged it and was able to drag at least one foot in bounds. That reception extended a possession that ended with Richardson's 35-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter to put UA up by three touchdowns, effectively icing the game.
McCarron looked to the crowd as he ran off the field, flapping both hands upward to big cheers from UA fans.
"That's how I play the game," McCarron said. "I'll always play the game with a lot of passion. That's just the way I was raised.
"An SEC win, on the road, at the Swamp - every game's the same, but right now this feels pretty good."
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.