Playing under new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier could very well help, and so could Nick Saban’s stated desire for a more “explosive” passing game.
Also, that great game McCarron had against LSU in last season’s national championship game could very well prove to be a catalyst. Without a doubt, his performance in that game did more than any other to turn perceptions among many Alabama fans.
There’s a sense that McCarron could become far more than the dreaded “game manager” of an offense loaded with top running backs, but one thing is certain about his pending junior season. It will answer a burning question.
Was his performance against LSU a matter of talent finally realized or one-game tactics maximized?
If it was more tactics than talent, then McCarron is set up to become more a Twitter warrior than Alabama’s next Joe Namath, and say this much about that Twitter war with now-former-LSU Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu ...
McCarron has clearly had the better of the dismissed “Honey Badger” since Jan. 9, and McCarron suddenly has the far better chance to be a Heisman finalist this season.
But we interrupt snark and snickers to deal with a nagging question about the performance that launched suddenly great expectations for McCarron.
Going into that championship game in New Orleans, Alabama was a team built around running back Trent Richardson, and McCarron had done little to suggest what was to come.
Alabama lost to LSU during the regular season largely because it couldn’t turn drives into touchdowns against a great LSU defense, and a 5-foot-something wide receiver threw the Crimson Tide’s most consequential pass in the first meeting.
So, imagine the shock of LSU’s defense when Alabama and McCarron entered the title game with a mandate to throw on first down.
A run-first team all season, Alabama passed on 20 of 30 first-down plays, when LSU was most expecting Alabama’s run tendencies. McCarron did most of his damage on first down, completing 14 of 20 passes for 165 yards on those plays.
For the game, he went 23-for-34 for 234 yards, his best performance against a top defense. Had Brandon Gibson not dropped a perfect McCarron throw at the goal line, it would have looked even better.
Then, at least, McCarron might have had a touchdown pass. Richardson scored the game’s lone touchdown on a 34-yard run.
As it was, McCarron majored in short- and medium-range — read “safe” — throws. He threw to seven different receivers but hit on 11 passes to tight ends Brad Smelley, Michael Williams and Chris Underwood.
After the game, Saban let it be known what he didn’t expect of McCarron in that game.
“I told him when we were riding on the bus the other day,” Saban said, “‘You know, that first LSU game was not one of your best games, but you really don’t have to win this game. You’ve just got to play your game.’”
Great coaching, great gameplan and great execution by McCarron, but how does it translate into the present?
Sure, McCarron will go into the season with more confidence than he had a year ago. Quarterbacking a team to a national title as a first-year starter will do that, though Greg McElroy couldn’t match that in his second year.
McCarron will have a historically more pass-friendly coordinator and a head coach who wants more risk taking on offense.
McCarron will play behind a great offensive line. When he drops back, he should have lots of time.
But Alabama’s top four receivers from last season have moved on.
At running back, Eddie Lacy looks good, but he’s not Richardson, the rock and third-leading receiver on Alabama’s offense a year ago.
And how will McCarron execute when good SEC defenses expect him to pass?
McCarron will get his chance to answer all of those questions this season. When he does, he will answer the overarching question about the game that got him to his new esteem — was it tactics or talent?