Saban said he sat down with his senior quarterback last week leading up to the Crimson Tide’s game with Georgia State. The conversation centered on McCarron’s handling of the offense and how Saban wanted his quarterback to continuing doing what he is doing.
“Don’t try to force things to happen that really aren’t there,” Saban said. “Don’t try to think that you’ve got to make a big play or put pressure on yourself and you want to make an explosive play so you try to take a chance throwing one up when something else is available to you.”
McCarron has adjusted as teams are game-planning to take away the Tide’s deep passing threats. This season, McCarron has remained efficient, completing 71.4 percent of his throws and tossing 10 touchdowns compared to three interceptions. Per pass, McCarron is averaging 8.32 yards while methodically driving the Tide down the field with quick throws.
McCarron has hit deep passes occasionally, with his long of 51 yards going to wide receiver Kenny Bell against Texas A&M. It was a mid-range throw, but Bell was able to evade defenders and score. His longest completion in the air came on a 44-yard flea-flicker touchdown pass to wide receiver DeAndrew White against the Aggies. McCarron hit a wide-open White in stride a few steps away from the end zone.
White also caught a 30-yard strike from McCarron against Georgia State, but other than that, the Tide hasn’t gone deep much.
“I’m going to take what (defenses) give me no matter what,” McCarron said. “Teams know we have deep threats so they’re going to be smart and make us have sustained drives and move the ball consistently. They’re going to take away deep passes, not let us have explosive plays.”
Added Saban, “I think AJ’s M.O. as a player and probably in a very positive way, he doesn’t make a lot of poor decisions because he's willing to do that, willing to have that kind of patience and make good choices and decisions about where he goes with the ball.”
McCarron’s receivers have adjusted their play, which has made his job a little easier. What truly makes this group special, in Saban’s estimation, is that “our guys really complement each other very well.”
“We have guys that are really good at the roles that we want them to play,” Saban said. “We have enough speed guys and vertical guys and slot and tough guys guys that are good blockers and some guys that are really good possession catchers that you can count on in critical situations to get open, that play smart and consistently make plays.”
Alabama’s top four receivers -- White, Bell, Kevin Norwood and Christion Jones -- make plays in different ways. White has emerged as the go-to wide receiver on the outside with Amari Cooper, the Tide’s most productive receiving threat a year ago, slowed by nagging foot and toe injuries since preseason practice. White is the team’s second leading receiver with 15 receptions for 212 yards and three touchdowns.
White said offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has incorporated shorter routes into the Tide’s offensive scheme to combat opposing team’s using two deep safeties. White said the speed the receiver group has used to burn defenders deep is now used to make moves in the open field to create plays after the catch.
“We’re just explosive, you know,” White said. “Fast, so that helps our game a lot. If you have speed and athletic ability, you can turn it into a big play.”
Bell, known for his flea-flicker catches and other deep balls, has caught nine passes for 132 yards and a touchdown. He’s changed his game and has gone across the middle more this season.
Norwood is considered the team’s possession receiver because of his timely catches and third-down conversions. He ranks third on the team with 12 catches for 145 yards and a touchdown.
“He’s one of those guys that you always know what you’re going to get,” Saban said. “In critical times in the game, he’s going to do it exactly like he’s always done it and you can count on it. He has made a lot of big plays around here in a lot of difficult situations.”
Added McCarron on Norwood, “He’s not really scared to go up and get the ball across the middle, either. It allows us as an offense to have him as a weapon either outside or down the middle and for him to go up and make a play. He’s done an excellent job for us. I can’t say enough good things about him though.”
Jones is the group’s swiss army knife. From the slot, he leads the team with 20 grabs for 232 yards and two touchdowns. His speed and shiftiness make him an absolute nightmare to cover.
Saban said Jones could be a running back and that he’s a really good “catch-it-and-run-it guy.”
He has become one of McCarron’s favorite targets.
“He has been doing a great job,” McCarron said. “He’s just a hard guy to cover for teams in the slot. … He allows our offense to expand.”
Saban said he appreciates the receivers versatility and knows that the group’s success is important for the Tide moving forward.
“Sometimes you can have really good receivers, but if they all do the same thing, it’s almost like a basketball team,” Saban said. “You can’t have all point guards, and you can’t have all centers.”