Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron became a legitimate contender to win the Heisman Trophy and the all-time passing leader in Alabama history, Alabama emphatically justified the No. 1 ranking it has held all year, and the Crimson Tide kept its hope for a three-peat alive on Saturday after Alabama pummeled fierce rival LSU 38-17 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Alabama and LSU have essentially played in the de facto national title game in recent years in what has been the top rivalry in the country. But Alabama’s fiercest contest this year may be against the Crimson Tide’s traditional–and more hated–rival Auburn in the Iron Bowl, which is arguably the best college football rivalry.
Undefeated Alabama (9-0) and one-loss Auburn (LSU defeated Auburn) are on a collision course if Alabama beats Mississippi State and Auburn defeats Georgia next week.
But on this night, though Alabama’s dominant offensive line and ferocious defense that held LSU to 52 yards and three points in the second half were impressive, the unflappable senior leader out of Mobile emerged from the night in possibly a two-man race with Florida State freshman phenom quarterback Jameis Winston for the Heisman Trophy.
To add more juice to that potential battle, should Alabama and Florida State each win out, they will meet for the BCS national title game at the Rose Bowl in the last year of the BCS. McCarron was 14-of-20 for 179 yards but became the all-time career passing leader at Alabama, needing only 110 to get the honor from former Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson.
“All he does is win,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said of McCarron after the game. “I think the guy’s the best quarterback in the country.”
LSU lost an invaluable opportunity to get momentum, get on the board, and shut up rabid, houndstooth-clad hometown crowd on its first drive after forcing an Alabama punt. When it looked like LSU fullback J.C. Copeland was heading in for a touchdown on LSU’s first drive, Alabama’s defense forced a fumble just as LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger was raising his hands thinking Copeland had scored. Alabama’s Landon Collins recovered the fumble, but Alabama could not capitalize on its next offensive drive.
Two possessions later, Alabama took a 3-0 lead on a Cade Foster field goal after LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger and his center had a mix-up that led to a fumbled shotgun snap in Alabama territory. LSU running back Jeremy Hill then gave LSU a 7-3 lead after LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron kept Alabama’s defense on its feet with his play calling. McCarron then hit Alabama tight end O.J. Howard up the middle, and the freshman tight end dashed and outran the LSU defense for a 52-yard touchdown to give Alabama a 10-7 lead. After McCarron hit Kevin Norwood for a touchown to give Alabama a 17-7 lead, LSU scored a touchdown at the end of the first half to make the score 17-14.
LSU kicked a field goal at the beginning of the second half to tie the game.
And then Saban, perhaps putting the season on the line, gambled on a fake punt on a fourth-and-two in his own territory at the Alabama 41-yard line. Alabama converted, and Crimson Tide running back T.J. Yeldon, who had 133 yards and two touchdowns on the night, capped off the drive with a touchdown to put Alabama up 24-17. That drive ended up being 14 plays, went 79 yards and ate nearly eight minutes off of the clock while tiring the LSU defense. Yeldon scored another touchdown on a 10-play drive that went 71 yards to put Alabama up 31-17. After LSU failed to score a touchdown inside the red zone and gave the ball back to Alabama on downs, McCarron capped off another drive with a 3-yard pass to fullback Jalston Fowler to give Alabama the 38-17 lead.
In the second half, Alabama’s defense smothered LSU and pounded Mettenberger relentlessly after Saban’s patented in-game adjustments, particularly in the defensive backfield.
All eyes this season have been on Alabama and its coach, especially with rumors that Saban’s agent engaged in flirtations with Texas. But McCarron, perhaps to his liking because it gives him some extra motivation, has been off the national radar, especially as Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel took up all of the spotlight at the beginning of the season. Florida State’s Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota have gotten buzz every week, though Mariota most likely lost his shot at a Heisman and national title when Stanford pummeled Oregon Thursday at Stanford.
Now, the white-hot national spotlight will be put squarely on McCarron, as his Heisman Trophy bandwagon will start rolling in full force as he tries to lead Alabama back to Pasadena–the place where Alabama in 2010 won its first national title since the 1992 season–for a dynasty-sealing three-peat.