Quarterbacks are always afraid of labels. Being called a system quarterback or game manager has a negative connotation, and Alabama's AJ McCarron heard that a lot over the past two years. That should change after bringing home another national title.
McCarron, a junior with two straight national championships under his belt, set the tone early on Monday night. He connected on a 29-yard completion to Kevin Norwood on the second play from scrimmage. Three plays later the Crimson Tide were in the end zone, and off to the races.
Early in the third quarter, he led a nearly six-minute touchdown drive, finishing it with a 34-yard touchdown toss to Amari Cooper, to put the Tide up by 35. It eliminated any slim comeback hopes the Fighting Irish had and ensured another Alabama title, its 15th.
McCarron finished the night with 20 completions on 28 attempts, 264 yards and four touchdowns. He carved up a defense that entered the game with a lot of hype thanks to a dominant regular season. More importantly, he showed that a label shouldn't define him.
He's often been overshadowed by the team's terrific defense and powerful rushing attack during his time in Tuscaloosa, but emerged Monday night as a quarterback who can hold his own on the national stage.
The Notre Dame defense was allowing less than 200 passing yards per game. It also had double the amount of interceptions than passing touchdowns allowed during the regular season. And yet, McCarron posted tremendous numbers.
He showed remarkable poise in the pocket, which always hasn't been the case for him in big games, and took advantage of every passing lane available. His decision-making skills have improved exponentially since the beginning of last season.
Unfortunately for McCarron, during that development process he was given one of those dreaded labels. And it's a lot more difficult to shake them than it is to get one, but maybe last night's performance will finally allow the Alabama QB to get viewed in a different light.
He illustrated that he can make all the throws, often with pinpoint accuracy, and understands how to lead a controlled attack in a big game. He knew one key turnover in the first half could have turned the entire game around, and made sure that never happened.
Since McCarron doesn't have one trait that stands out—no gigantic arm or dynamic dual-threat ability—it's easy for him to get lost in the mountain of Tide stars. But he proved the old adage about the whole being more than the sum of its parts on Monday night.
McCarron is a leader. He's also a vastly improved player with a championship pedigree. It's time to start seeing him as something more than a system quarterback. Notre Dame's defense would probably agree.