As Alabama prepares for its biggest test of the regular season, the Crimson Tide can be confident in their defense and running game. But it's going to take more than those two things to defeat LSU. AJ McCarron must continue to shine as well.
While it's hard to categorize a quarterback with McCarron's numbers as an unsung hero, the number of other superstars Alabama has on both sides of the ball often leads to him getting overlooked. That will change on Saturday when he won't be able to escape the spotlight.
Luckily for Alabama, the junior QB has been on point all season. Through eight games, he's completed 69 percent of his passes for nearly 1,700 yards and 18 touchdowns. More impressively, he hasn't thrown a single interception.
Those decision-making skills are what have made McCarron stand out since he took his first snap for the Tide. He understands his role as a game manager and doesn't take any unnecessary risks, opting instead for the safe options.
And thanks to Alabama's stalwart offensive line, he's usually given plenty of time to stand tall in the pocket and deliver a strike. It's the perfect situation for a pocket passer like him.
His role on Saturday will remain the same. The Tide will rely heavily on the rushing duo of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon to carry the offense, but will look the McCarron to make key plays to keep drives alive.
What will be different is the level of defense he'll face. The Tigers are once again ranked inside the top 10 in scoring defense at just over 14 points per game.
In the two meetings with LSU last season, McCarron threw no touchdowns and one interception. Alabama went 1-1 in those games, including the national title game victory, of course.
Quite simply, the Tide were able to remain competitive and ultimately reach their goal despite his lackluster showings. They probably won't be as fortunate this season if McCarron isn't able to keep his hot streak alive in the week's marquee game.
That's why it's important for Alabama to call a couple of extra pass plays early, especially on downs that would normally be run calls. The team needs McCarron to get involved early so he'll be prepared when he's needed later on.
So while the conversation leading up to the clash will certainly be focused around the two defenses, it's McCarron who holds the key to success for the Tide. If he continues to deliver key completions, LSU won't be able to stop Alabama.
That's a lot of pressure, but McCarron has risen to the occasion each and every time this season. Nobody should be shocked if he does it again.