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September 10, 2011

TALKIN' TIDE: McCarron appears to end QB competition

CULLMAN — Well, that didn't take long. The Crimson Tide's quarterback competition that stretched throughout the preseason and into the home opener against Kent State last week seemed all but decided Saturday afternoon in Happy Valley.

 Redshirt sophomore AJ McCarron got the nod against Penn State, and put on a veritable clinic of efficiency and ball control for much of the Tide's 27-11 win over the Nittany Lions.

McCarron performed well in last week's blowout of the Golden Flashes, splitting time with redshirt freshman Phillip Sims, but Coach Nick Saban played coy on whether McCarron would be named the starter. Citing McCarron's experience as a back-up last year, Saban released word a few days ago the sophomore would start against Penn State, but noted competition will continue for the starting spot.

 For all intents and purposes, it seems the competition has ended. McCarron was 19-for-31 through the air, passing for 164 yards and one touchdown. The most important stat? Zero interceptions, bouncing back from the two he tossed last week.

 Sims never even saw the field until the final few minutes in mop-up duty.

At home last week, McCarron showed solid decision making and a good understanding of the offense against an admittedly inferior opponent, but he looked even better when tossed into the pressure cooker of a hostile road start Saturday. He made the right checks, solid reads, and proved he's smart enough to take one on the chin and punt, instead of tossing a pass into coverage and risking an interception. And that's exactly what Saban wants.

 On the few shots he took downfield, McCarron showed he has more than enough talent to run this offense. But, it takes a lot more than athleticism, as departed starter Greg McElroy showed in his two seasons under center. McElroy may not have been a flashy guy, but he was smart, and the fact that he is now a back-up in the NFL for the New York Jets shows how premium a quality that can be.

 The strength of the 2011 edition of the Tide seems to be the veteran, swarming defense. So long as the offense can score some points, and keep that defense in good position, that might be enough.

Judging by the job McCarron did against a solid Penn State defense on the road, and assuming he continues to mature over the next few weeks, it seems he is definitely the man for the job.

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