AJ McCarron has a long way to go before he can win the big games. On Saturday night, with opportunities abound, AJ fell short in his biggest test of the year, the biggest test of his life and the crowd of better than 150,000 on the campus of the University of Alabama knew in their heart of hearts that in the Game of the Century, LSU deserved to win.
The Tigers deserved to win because they withstood the onslaught of trial after trial brought on by game situations and the Alabama Crimson Tide. Offensively and defensively, they were tested by the No. 2 team in the nation, and they held their ground as the best in college football.
With exception to the cowardly act by Tyrann Mathieu of pulling Dre Kirkpatrick down by the neck from behind, a foul resulting in a concussion suffered by the Alabama special teams gunner and All-SEC cornerback, the game was played to an exceptional standard, meeting the expectations of all in attendance and those watching across the nation.
Louisiana State University fans, you have a great team and one to be praised. They took all that Alabama could throw at them, run at them and take away from them by interception, and came from behind in the fourth quarter to tie the game and hold on for an overtime test of wills. In the overtime period, they bested the Crimson Tide and walked away in control of their destiny.
As for the Crimson Tide, there is nothing to be ashamed of in losing to a team of such high quality, particularly when time and time again, you could not make plays to win. Statistically, Alabama had a great night against an excellent opponent.
Trent Richardson played one of his best games and deserves a better fate that what the 2011 season may hold for the future NFL running back. But in football, you likely will not get what you deserve as an individual if your team falls short.
Four second-half plays stand out, aside from the first-half missed kicks, that will likely cost this team a shot at the 2011 national title.
Play One: 10:00 remaining in the third quarter
The interception return by Mark Barron couldn't have come at a better time. The block in the back by Josh Chapman couldn't have come at a worse time in the flow of the game. In fact, if they hadn't called the foul on Chapman, Courtney Upshaw would have given them cause to throw out the yellow laundry as well. With the penalty that ensued, the ball was moved from the three-yard line of LSU, where it would have been 1st-and-goal, and placed on the LSU 35-yard line.
The turnover ultimately resulted in points for Alabama on a 46-yard field goal by Cade Foster, but a touchdown would have been extremely difficult for the LSU offense to overcome.
Play Two: 3:15 left in the third quarter
After moving the ball from a shadow of the Alabama goal line, McCarron threw an interception to Morris Claiborne. McCarron had time and time again made the wrong read and throw, and this one cost Alabama big time. On 1st-and-10 from the Alabama 41-yard line, McCarron lofted a pass to tight end Brad Smelley with no regard, or no knowledge of the cornerback closing in from a perfect angle at high speed. The pass was caught by Claiborne in stride, and he nearly turned it in for a pick-six.
Play Three: 14:13 remaining, fourth quarter
Marquis Maze's pass downfield was intercepted by Eric Reid at the LSU 1-yard line. Michael Williams may have made the catch, but Reid muscled the ball away on the ground and got the call from the official as an interception. No way in hell should a massive tight end have the ball pulled away by a safety. Reid wanted it more and outcompeted WIlliams on the play.
Play Four: 11:07 left in the fourth quarter
After the Alabama defense forced a three and out deep in LSU territory, stopping Michael Ford for four yards on 3rd-and-6, Brad Wing found himself kicking out of his own end zone. Marquis Maze had injured his ankle several plays earlier, and had been out of the game for several plays.
Setting up near the LSU 45-yard line, Maze allowed the punt to sail over his head, adding 25 to 30 yards to the kick, resulting in a 73-yard punt with no return. Maze allowed the ball to sail over his head because he could not back peddle on the injured ankle.
Hubris, outrageous arrogance on the part of Maze is to blame. If the injured Maze had belief in his teammates, he would have taken himself out of the game and allowed a healthier receiver to make a play. Just catching the ball in the air would have placed the Crimson Tide on the 50-yard line to begin a potential game-winning drive. The miscue resulted in a 1st-and-10 from the Alabama 18-yard line.
Apparently no one has learned the lesson that should have been ingrained after the injury to Mark Barron in the Auburn game. If you are injured, take yourself out of the game and let your healthy teammate make a play. You have to trust yourself and then trust your teammates to take over when you are not at your best.
If you are a national title contender as a team, a healthy backup should be better than an injured starter. It may well have cost this team a shot at a national championship.
Alabama fans should be proud of their team. But mistakes and miscues like the four mentioned above are not acceptable in a game of this magnitude. One or two can be overcome, but to pile on mistake after mistake is a recipe for mediocrity.
This season is not over, not by a long shot. But it there is to be another shot a finishing with more than a second place atta-boy, these errs must become teachable moments.