Saturday, September 26, 2009
McElroy, Tide stake claim to No. 1
By ESPN.com staff ESPN.com
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The NFL scouts were already drooling after watching Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett zip the ball all over the field last week in a record-setting performance against Georgia.
He was the quarterback du jour nationally coming into Saturday’s game. As it turns out, he wasn’t even the best quarterback on the field.
AP Photo/Dave Martin
Greg McElroy threw three touchdown passes in Alabama's win over Arkansas.
That distinction belonged to Alabama’s Greg McElroy, whose efficiency, accuracy and leadership are a big reason the Crimson Tide can make as strong a claim as any four weeks into the season as the No. 1 team in the country.
McElroy threw for a career-high 291 yards and three touchdowns in Alabama’s 35-7 win over Arkansas, further serving notice that the Crimson Tide (4-0) can beat you any way they want.
“If they put eight or nine in the box and try to stop the run, we’ll beat them with the pass. If they put a lot of DBs out there and take some out of the box, we’ll beat them with the run,” said Alabama receiver Julio Jones, who hauled in his first touchdown of the season on a 50-yard pitch-back play to McElroy out of the Wildcat formation.
“The sky’s the limit for this team. We have so much talent, but we just have to keep getting better.”
The big difference between this offense and the one last season is how much more diverse Alabama is and how many more players it's involving in the offense.
Sophomore receiver Marquis Maze said McElroy made it known this offseason that he was going to spread the ball around, which has taken the chemistry on this team to a different level.
“Greg has faith in all of us. He’s a great quarterback,” said Maze, whose 80-yard touchdown catch was one of three scoring plays for the Crimson Tide of 50 yards or longer.
“I knew what kind of quarterback he was going to be. He’s a stand-up guy. He’s probably going to be one of the best quarterbacks to ever play here.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban said there’s no question that the Crimson Tide are more diverse this season on offense, and he likes it that way.
“I don’t think we’re the overpowering team we were a year ago in a lot of ways, and I think that’s good,” Saban said. “You involve more people in the offense. The diversity that we develop in that can make us a better offensive team if we can continue to improve. I like it that way. I like for us to be that way, and hopefully we’ll be able to do that in the future and create the balance, not necessarily in yards, but in runs and passes that will allow us to make more explosive plays.”
McElroy, who was 17-of-24 in the game, has now gone 81 pass attempts without throwing an interception. He doesn’t care what kind of label people put on him as long as Alabama is winning.
And, obviously, winning is something he does pretty well.
He’s won his last 20 starts as a quarterback, going 16-0 as a high school senior and 4-0 for the Crimson Tide this season.
“Being called efficient is the best compliment you can have, in my opinion,” McElroy said. “The more you take what they give you, the more efficient you become. That’s a tribute to your play-calling and your decision-making.”
That said, McElroy thinks Alabama’s group of playmakers can match up with anybody in the country.
“I stood up at the end of our meeting [Friday] night and said, ‘You know what? I’m sick and tired of hearing about how Arkansas has such an explosive offense,’” McElroy recounted. “We can beat those guys.
“It’s one of those things where we went into the game with a chip on our shoulder, and the guys made plays.”
There doesn’t appear to be many weaknesses in this Alabama team. The defense was already playing at a championship level, and now it’s a different guy every week breaking loose on offense.
The rock has been McElroy.
Albeit unwittingly, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino paid the Crimson Tide the ultimate compliment following Saturday’s romp when he unloaded on his team.
Petrino said the Hogs came into the game not really believing they could win.
That says something about where the Hogs are as a football team, but it says a lot more about where the Crimson Tide are.
A month into the season, they’re sitting at the top of the college football world and looking down at everybody else.