When the No. 1 Notre Dame Fighting Irish square off against the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game on Monday, Jan. 7, there will be plenty of factors playing a role in the outcome of the game.
However, there will be no bigger X-factor than Crimson Tide junior quarterback AJ McCarron.
While McCarron won’t overwhelm any defense with his arm strength or accuracy, his ability to protect the football in all situations and avoid mistakes (just three interceptions all season) has helped the Crimson Tide keep the offense balanced.
With the coaching staff trusting in McCarron enough to call a variety of plays, including screen passes, short routes and an occasional deep pass that can catch the opposition sleeping, defenses have been forced to play honest and pay as much attention to the passing attack as the rushing barrage.
According to John Zenor of the Associated Press, Alabama head coach Nick Saban spoke about how McCarron played last year in the national championship game and how most of the advice the coaches gave him then still applies to the game plan against Notre Dame:
I think probably in the (national title) game last year we put a lot of faith, trust and confidence in him. We knew we were going to have a difficult time running the ball against the team that we played last year and the quarterback was going to have to make plays in the game for us.
We sort of just told him that, "We're trusting in you. We believe in you that you can do this. We just don't want you to force things. Just take what they give you. A lot of the passes that we're going to have are going to be maybe not big plays but they're going to be plays that are 5- and 7-yard gains." He did a tremendous job of executing and made some big plays.
We'd like to think that he would be able to do the same thing in this game. AJ has played extremely well for us all year long.
Some experts have questioned McCarron’s raw talent, but the numbers from 2012 don’t lie: 2,669 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, three interceptions and a completion percentage of 66.8.
While those statistics aren’t overwhelming compared to some of college football's other stars, it is clear that McCarron is doing exactly what the team is asking of him by protecting the football and keeping drives alive.
It doesn’t always have to be pretty; it just has to get the job done.
With a stellar defense ranked second in the nation with just 10.7 points allowed per game and a rushing attack averaging 224.6 yards per game, Alabama doesn’t need McCarron to be anything but consistent and smart with the ball.
However, if Notre Dame's No. 1-ranked scoring defense, led by Manti Te'o, can get to the junior QB early, the Crimson Tide could be in trouble.
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