Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron has always been a player who prefers that wins, not stats, be the ultimate measure of what defines his success.
As the Tide enter the meat of their SEC schedule, beginning with this weekend’s game against Arkansas, McCarron will be counted on to guide his team in the stretch run toward its third consecutive national title.
With the Tide 6-0 and still standing atop the rankings as the nation’s No. 1 team, McCarron, who has struggled at times this season, finally broke out with a big game, passing for a career-high 359 yards in last week’s win over Kentucky.
Could McCarron’s breakthrough last week be a sign of things to come?
While McCarron appears to be hitting his stride, the Razorbacks defense is heading in the opposite direction.
|Arkansas Pass Defense Last Four Games|
|Opponent||Completions/Attempts||Completion Percentage||Pass Yards Allowed||TD:INT Ratio|
|data courtesy of cfbstats.com|
Through its last four games, the Razorbacks pass defense has surrendered an average of 277 yards per game through the air. Additionally, opposing quarterbacks have completed 65 percent of their passes and threw 12 touchdowns to only one interception in that span.
There are also a few reasons to believe McCarron can keep elevating his production.
First, the Tide’s much-maligned offensive line has improved as the season has progressed. McCarron has been sacked seven times this season, but none have come in the last two weeks.
In turn, the ground game has gotten cranked up, averaging nearly 245 yards per game in the last three weeks.
The receiver unit has thrived despite limited contributions from star sophomore Amari Cooper—who, as Andrew Gribble of AL.com points out, is getting closer to being healthy after being bothered by a toe injury since fall camp.
The trio of Christion Jones, DeAndrew White and Kevin Norwood, who have combined to record 58 receptions for 773 yards and seven scores, have stepped up in Cooper’s absence. Additionally, freshman O.J. Howard (nine receptions for 156 yards) is also emerging as a force at tight end.
Last weekend’s 668 yards of total offense against the Wildcats was an indication of what the Tide’s offense is capable of moving forward. With every game’s importance building over the second half of the season, the Tide will be tough to beat if the offense keeps clicking in similar fashion.
That process starts with the play of McCarron.
However, Arkansas does pose a significant threat to the Tide’s passing game, mainly in the form of a defensive line spearheaded by defensive ends Chris Smith and Trey Flowers.
Smith and Flowers have combined to record 10 of the Razorbacks’ SEC-leading 20 sacks this season.
While the Razorbacks have a formidable pass rush, Alabama’s ability to remain balanced will be the key to keeping McCarron upright.
If the Tide’s offensive line can stifle the likes of Flowers and Smith, McCarron should have a field day—perhaps enough to better last weekend's career-best outing.