Stats & Info: A.J. McCarron

Alabama looks to add to first-round legacy

March, 12, 2014
Alabama leads all schools in total players selected in the NFL draft since 2010 and its 13 1st-round picks over that span are seven more than any other school. The Crimson Tide, who host their Pro Day today, will likely add to that total this season.

What key players will look to show off their skills?

Quarterback, AJ McCarron
McCarron is Alabama’s all-time leader in career completions, passing yards, touchdown passes, and wins as a starting quarterback. His 36 wins trail only David Greene (42) and Peyton Manning (39) for the most in SEC history.

McCarron was 36-4 as a starter at Alabama with all four of his losses coming against opponents ranked in the top 15 of the BCS standings, including two opponents in the top four.

He posted an above-average Total QBR in 37 of 40 career starts, including all 17 of his starts against top-25 opponents.

McCarron will likely show off his nice touch on the deep ball.

Over the last two seasons, McCarron completed 55 percent of his passes thrown 25 yards or longer, the highest completion percentage among quarterbacks from automatic-qualifying conferences. His 53 attempts resulted in 17 touchdowns and no interceptions.

Linebacker, C.J. Mosley
Mosley became the third Alabama player to win the Dick Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker. Each of the previous Tide players to win the award (Derrick Thomas and Rolando McClain) would become first-round NFL draft picks.

Mosley led Alabama in tackles each of the last two seasons. Since 2008, each of the three previous players to lead the Tide in tackles (McClain, Mark Barron and Dont'a Hightower) went on to become first-round NFL draft picks.

Mosley recorded at least 100 tackles in each of the last two seasons, leading the Crimson Tide in tackles in eight of 13 games.

Left Tackle, Cyrus Kouandjio
Kouandjio started all 27 games at left tackle for Alabama the last two seasons. He is the sixth offensive lineman under Nick Saban to be named at least a consensus All-American at Alabama. Each of the five previous players were drafted including first-round picks Andre Smith (Bengals in 2009) and Chance Warmack (Titans in 2013).

The Crimson averaged 6.8 yards per rush when running left last season, including 4.6 yards before contact (they averaged 3.4 yards before contact when running up the middle and 4.0 yards before contact when running right).

Free Safety, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
Clinton-Dix was a consensus All-American and first-team All-SEC for Alabama in 2013.

He looks to become the fifth Alabama defensive back selected in the first round under Nick Saban and the second safety, joining Barron who was taken seventh overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012.

According to Stats Ice, Alabama’s opponents completed 6-of-23 passes (26 percent) when targeting Clinton–Dix this season, the lowest completion percentage against any AQ player with at least 20 targets.

Did You Know?
Alabama has had 3 players selected in the first round in three straight drafts (only USC 1980-83 and Miami 2001-04 have done that).

CFB week in review: Marshall, Stanford best

November, 12, 2013
Week 11 featured an impressive defensive performance by Florida State, an efficient rushing game by Stanford and a dominant second half by Alabama.

With the help of ESPN’s new college football metrics (see explanations here), ESPN Stats & Information takes a look back at the best individual and team performances of Week 11 and ahead to next week’s matchup between Stanford and USC.

Best Individual Performances

Nick Marshall posted a 99.6 opponent-adjusted QBR in Auburn’s 55-23 win at Tennessee despite throwing only seven passes.

It was the highest opponent-adjusted QBR in a game this season. Marshall rushed for a career-high 214 yards and averaged 15.3 yards per carry.

Overall, Marshall gained a first down on 10 of 14 rushing plays and rushed for two touchdowns when the score was within one possession.

Kevin Hogan had a 99.0 opponent-adjusted QBR in Stanford’s dominant 26-20 win against Oregon. He converted 4 of 5 third-down chances, including all three of his rushing attempts. Hogan ran for 57 yards on eight carries and added a career-high 4.4 clutch-weighted expected points on running plays.

AJ McCarron had an 87.6 opponent-adjusted QBR in Alabama’s win against LSU. In his last three games against ranked opponents dating back to the BCS National Championship, McCarron has a 94.1 opponent-adjusted QBR and has thrown for 11 touchdowns and no interceptions.

Best Team Performances

Offense – Stanford added 14.4 expected points on offense, but when adjusted for the strength of Oregon’s defense, the Cardinal had the third-highest adjusted offensive EPA of Week 11.

The Cardinal running game added 10.3 expected points, the most that Oregon has allowed in a game in the last eight seasons.

Defense - Florida State added 54 expected points on defense, the highest defensive EPA in a game in the last 10 seasons.

The Seminoles held Wake Forest’s three quarterbacks to a combined 0.001 Total QBR. That's the lowest Total QBR for a team in any game in the last 10 seasons.

Special teams – USC added 13.8 expected points to their net scoring margin via special teams.

Nelson Agholor had two punt return touchdowns and the Trojans also returned a blocked punt for a touchdown. It was the eighth time an FBS team returned three punts for scores and the first time since Oklahoma did so against UCLA in 2003.

Looking ahead to Stanford vs USC

No. 4 Stanford heads to USC (8 ET, ABC) in a matchup of teams that have each won three-straight games.

USC has improved on offense with Ed Orgeron as its interim head coach. The key has been quarterback play. USC’s quarterbacks have had a 66.1 opponent-adjusted QBR in their past five games after posting a 35.8 opponent-adjusted QBR in their first five games under Lane Kiffin.

USC’s quarterbacks will be challenged on Saturday against Stanford’s stout defense. The Cardinal rank seventh in adjusted defensive efficiency and are coming off of a game in which they held Heisman-favorite Marcus Mariota to a season-low 46.5 Total QBR.

Inside McCarron's memorable month

November, 5, 2013

Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAJ McCarron is playing mistake-free football for Alabama.
AJ McCarron quietly had the best statistical month of his career.

He completed nearly 71 percent of his passes during October and had 10 touchdowns and no interceptions in 99 attempts.

It was the fourth-highest touchdown percentage for any FBS player with at least 70 attempts and tied for McCarron’s most touchdowns in any four-game stretch during his career.

McCarron has been playing virtually mistake-free football. Since Oct. 1, he is the only FBS quarterback with at least three starts who has not been sacked, and he is one of five such quarterbacks who have no turnovers. McCarron and Middle Tennessee’s Logan Kilgore are the only players in the last three seasons to throw 75 passes in a month without being sacked or intercepted. Kilgore did it last November.

Staying positive
Arguably the most important thing McCarron has done was keep Alabama out of negative plays.

The Tide have an FBS-low nine plays that lost yards since Oct. 1. McCarron was under center for only one of those plays, a screen pass for -2 yards to Amari Cooper against Tennessee.

Super-strong starts
McCarron has started games strong during this stretch. His five first-quarter touchdowns since Oct. 1 are tied for the fourth most in the FBS.

If he continued his first-quarter pace for a full game, he would average 369 passing yards and five touchdowns. His best performance came in his last game, when he completed 9-of-12 attempts in the first quarter for 131 yards and two touchdowns against Tennessee.

Key to winning: Third-down effectiveness
The key to McCarron’s recent success has been improved play on third down. His 98.5 third-down Total QBR since Oct. 1 ranks second in the FBS behind Winston.

During that stretch, he has completed 76.5 percent of his third-down passes and converted a first down on 65 percent of his third-down passing plays (sacks plus pass attempts). Both stats ranked in the top 3 of the FBS.

In his first four games of the season, McCarron completed 70.6 percent of his third-down passes, but only converted a first down on 33 percent of his third-down passing plays, tied for 76th best in the nation. His third-down Total QBR (56.9) was two points below the FBS average.

Best in the game?
If you put it all together, the result is an FBS-high 92.5 Total QBR for McCarron since Oct. 1. He posted a Total QBR of at least 85 in each of his four games during that stretch.

Florida State’s Jameis Winston is the only FBS player with a longer such streak this season (5 games).

To be fair, McCarron has not faced a defense ranked in the top 50 of the FBS in points per game since Week 1 against Virginia Tech. In that game, he posted a season-low 23.4 Total QBR. McCarron will get his second crack at a top 50 defense Saturday with No. 13 LSU coming to Tuscaloosa.

If McCarron can continue his excellent play of late, he might start to make some noise in the Heisman race.

How can Vols cause trouble for Alabama?

October, 25, 2013
Tennessee’s improved pass defense has helped lead a turnaround in Knoxville.

Last season Tennessee became the first SEC team to allow 38 points in seven consecutive games, finishing last in the conference in points and yards allowed.

Though Tennessee’s run defense could get exposed against Alabama, its pass defense could cause issues for quarterback AJ McCarron. Tennessee has allowed the 19th-lowest opponent-adjusted QBR (31).

Last year Tennessee finished last in the SEC, allowing an adjusted QBR of 66, including a 90 to McCarron in a 44-13 loss.

For Tennessee to pull the upset, it must force turnovers and prevent big plays in the passing game. It has done both of those this season.

Forcing Turnovers
The Volunteers have already matched their turnover total from last season (17), and it has had a direct impact on their record.

Tennessee is 4-0 when finishing with a turnover margin of even or better and 0-3 with a negative differential.

Winning that battle is paramount this week as Alabama has won 43 consecutive games with a positive turnover margin.

McCarron rarely turns the ball over, with the second-best career interception percentage (1.3 percent) among active quarterbacks.

One way Tennessee could try to force him to make mistakes is by playing more coverage.

When Tennessee sends four or fewer pass rushers, it has 12 interceptions and has allowed six touchdowns. However, when it sends five-or-more rushers, it has allowed four touchdowns without an interception.

McCarron has been efficient when facing five-or-more rushers this season, throwing for an SEC-high nine pass touchdowns and one interception in those situations.

Limiting Completion Percentage and Deep Passes
Tennessee has also been very good at forcing incomplete passes. Quarterbacks have completed only 52 percent of passes against Tennessee this season, the third-lowest percentage in the SEC. Last week Tennessee held South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw to a career-low completion percentage of 33 percent (7-for-21).

McCarron has the sixth-best completion percentage (67 percent) among active FBS quarterbacks.

He is especially good at completing long passes. McCarron has thrown 66 passes of 20 yards or longer without an interception since the start of last season, 24 more than any other player from an automatic-qualifier conference.

His 56 percent completion rate on such passes is fourth among AQ quarterbacks in that span (minimum 30 attempts).

For the most part, Tennessee has been strong at preventing long passes. Tennessee has held FBS opponents to a 29 percent completion rate on deep throws.

Last year, McCarron burned the Tennessee defense throwing to Amari Cooper. Cooper caught all three of his deep targets, scoring two long touchdowns. Cooper ended up with seven catches on eight targets for a career-high 162 yards.

However, McCarron has struggled to find Cooper this season. He has completed only 15 of 32 pass attempts when targeting Cooper (47 percent).

For Tennessee to have a chance to shock Alabama, limiting McCarron’s efficiency will be vital. When McCarron posts an adjusted-QBR of 65 or better, Alabama is 28-0.

Aggies have shut down Tide offense before

September, 13, 2013

AP Photo/Dave MartinThe Texas A&M defense caused trouble for Alabama a year ago.
Texas A&M hosts Alabama Saturday in arguably the most anticipated game of the season. While Johnny Manziel has garnered much of the attention, the ability of Texas A&M’s defense to slow down Alabama’s offense will play a significant role in determining the outcome.

Looking Back to Last Year
The Aggies’ defense, especially early in the game, was a key factor in last year’s upset. Texas A&M jumped out to a 20-0 first quarter lead, as the Aggies held Alabama to a single first down and a season-low 34 yards in the first 15 minutes.

AJ McCarron completed 1-of-5 passes for five yards with an interception, posting a QBR of 0.2 in the opening quarter. That was the worst of any quarter in his career (minimum four action plays).

McCarron bounced back to throw for a career-high 309 yards, including 201 yards in the fourth quarter. But he uncharacteristically struggled in the red zone, sealing A&M’s win with an interception on fourth-and-goal with 1:36 remaining.

Alabama’s running game also did not perform up to its usual standards. Last season, Alabama led the SEC in yards after contact (1,394 yards) and broken tackles (35).

Yet Texas A&M held Alabama to a season-low 42 yards after contact and didn’t allow them to break a single tackle in last year’s meeting. It was the only SEC game last year the Tide didn’t have a single run of 20 or more yards.

Looking Ahead to Saturday
Texas A&M’s defense enters Saturday struggling mightily against the run. Both Rice and Sam Houston State rushed for at least 240 yards in A&M's first two games this season, more than the Aggies allowed in any game last season.

Tackling has been a major issue for the Aggies. They’ve missed 18 tackles and had nine tackle attempts broken, tied for the most among SEC teams.

Alabama had its own problems offensively in its season opener, as the rebuilt offensive line struggled to contain Virginia Tech’s front seven.

Alabama was held to 96 yards rushing, its lowest total since its 2011 loss to LSU. Including sacks, Tide players were hit behind the line of scrimmage on half of their rushes against the Hokies. Last year Alabama players were hit in the backfield only 15 percent of the time.

McCarron, who finished with the second-worst QBR of his career (23.4), took four sacks and was hurried or knocked down on six of his 23 pass attempts (26 percent). Last year McCarron was hurried or knocked down on fewer than eight percent of pass attempts.

Texas A&M, however, has struggled to get to the quarterback in its first two games. The Aggies have only 10 total pressures this season, tied for the fewest in the SEC.

McCarron also needs to re-connect with his main passing target, Amari Cooper, who caught just four of 10 targets for 38 yards against Virginia Tech. In 2012 McCarron completed 77 percent of his passes to Cooper, his highest rate to any wide receiver.

Last year the Aggies couldn’t contain Cooper, who caught six of nine targets for 136 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown that cut Alabama’s deficit to five points in the fourth quarter.

Alabama dominant in every aspect

January, 8, 2013
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAJ McCarron had plenty to celebrate on Monday night.

Dominate on the ground, dominate in the air, dominate with defense.

Alabama left no doubt as to its status as the nation's best team with a 42-14 romp over Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship.

Alabama became the first school to win back-to-back BCS championships and won its 34th bowl game, the most of any team. It succeeded where three other teams trying to win back-to-back BCS Championships failed.

Let’s take a look at the other notes that go with this decisive triumph.

The History
Alabama has won 10 national championships in the “poll era,” since 1936, the most of any team. The SEC has now won seven straight BCS title games.

The Crimson Tide are the third school to win back-to-back consensus national titles since 1950 (the first year of the coaches' poll).

Alabama has won six straight bowl games when ranked No. 1 or No. 2.

Nick Saban now has four national titles as a head coach, tied with John McKay and Frank Leahy for the second-most by any coach in the poll era. The only coach with more is legendary former Alabama coach Bear Bryant, with six.

This was the fourth straight championship for teams from the state of Alabama. Auburn has one of them. Alabama has the other three.

Notre Dame set a school record for points allowed in a bowl game. It fell to 0-4 in BCS bowl games, 5-1-1 all-time as the AP No. 1 team against AP No. 2 teams, and 6-2 all-time vs Alabama.

McCarron and Cooper have record days
AJ McCarron became the first starting quarterback to win two BCS titles, let alone two in a row. He threw for four touchdowns and set the school record for career touchdown passes (49), breaking the mark set by John Parker Wilson.

McCarron had excelled in play action all season, and Monday was no different. He was 10-for-14 for 146 yards and two touchdowns (one to Amari Cooper, one to Michael Williams) on play-action throws.

McCarron finished the season with a 70 percent completion rate on play action, with 13 touchdowns and no interceptions.

McCarron was also able to pick apart Notre Dame with deep throws, going 6-for-9 for 161 yards and two touchdowns on passes that traveled at least 15 yards in the air.

Cooper broke the school record for touchdown receptions in a single season, topping the mark of 10 previously set by Al Lary in 1950. Cooper also broke the school record for most receiving yards by a freshman.
Entering the game, Notre Dame had allowed only two players to rush for 100 yards against them this season.

Eddie Lacy rushed for 140 yards, six shy of the BCS championship record for most by a running back (146, set by Beanie Wells of Ohio State). T.J. Yeldon added 108 yards on the ground on 21 carries.

Alabama dominated running in two-tight-end sets, with 194 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries in that alignment.

Alabama outrushed Notre Dame 265-32 for the game. The Tide had a season-high 125 rush yards after contact. That was the most allowed by Notre Dame this season.

The Irish entered the game allowing 63.3 yards after contact per game this season. Yeldon (71) and Lacy (46) both had more yards after contact than Notre Dame had total rushing yards.

The defense was pretty good, too
Alabama shut down Notre Dame in the first half. To put that in perspective, consider this stat: Alabama scored four first-half touchdowns. Notre Dame ran four plays in Alabama territory in the first half.

Saban's Alabama teams have not allowed a touchdown in the first half of their three BCS Championship appearances.

Stat of the Game
Notre Dame had not allowed a touchdown drive longer than 75 yards all season. It allowed four in the BCS championship game.

AJ McCarron mesmerizing in play-action

January, 4, 2013

Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsIt was appropriate that this throw was the decisive one for Alabama in its SEC-title win.
AJ McCarron and his Alabama Crimson Tide teammates broke the huddle with a fresh set of downs after T.J. Yeldon's 5-yard run on third-and-5 kept the drive alive against the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Championship.

With 3:40 remaining and facing a 3-point deficit, Alabama lined up at Georgia's 45 with two tight ends on the line and two wide receivers set to the same side. It was the same formation the Crimson Tide had used on 20 of their 22 plays after Georgia took an 11-point lead with 6:31 remaining in the third quarter.

Twenty of those 22 plays were runs that gained 167 yards and two touchdowns, including Yeldon's drive-sustaining run.

Georgia lined up defensively with one deep safety on this play, leaving one-on-one coverage on the outside for Amari Cooper.

When McCarron took the snap, he faked a handoff to Yeldon, looked left and threw the ball 43 yards in the air to Cooper, who went untouched into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.

It was McCarron’s 11th touchdown pass off play-action this season and his ninth such touchdown on first down. In 2011, McCarron had a total of five touchdowns off play-action.

Alabama's running game has set up McCarron all season. He leads FBS in pass efficiency (173.1), and play action has been the key.

McCarron completes nearly 70 percent of his passes thrown after a run fake and is averaging an SEC-best 11.9 yards per attempt. He has not thrown an interception off play-action in 130 attempts, with his last one coming in last season's loss to LSU.

McCarron's average throw after a run fake travels 11.7 yards downfield, and he completes 76 percent of his deep throws that are set up by play-action. On such passes, he has eight touchdowns and no interceptions in 21 attempts.

As he was against Georgia, Cooper has been McCarron’s favorite target on those downfield throws, catching 11 of 14 passes thrown 20 yards or longer when he was the target. Eight of those receptions were off play-action, including four touchdowns.

McCarron will face a Notre Dame Fighting Irish team in the BCS Championship Game that leads the nation in scoring defense (10.3 PPG).

The Irish have given up two touchdown passes on play-action all season, tied for third fewest against an AQ team, and one touchdown on a pass thrown 20 yards or more.

On paper, it will be the biggest test that McCarron has faced this season. A passing grade could give McCarron his second straight BCS Championship, something no quarterback has accomplished.

Alabama powers its way to SEC title

December, 1, 2012

John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsEddie Lacy ran for 181 yards for Alabama.
Alabama won its first SEC Championship since 2009, handing Georgia an SEC Championship game loss for the second straight season.

The Tide got it done on the ground. They ran for 350 rushing yards, the most in SEC Championship game history.

Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon became the first teammates to each run for 100 yards in SEC Championship game history. Lacy’s 181 rushing yards are the third-most in the history of the SEC title game.

The Tide were committed to the run, as they ran the ball 51 times, two shy of the SEC Championship Game record of 53.

Two tight ends, too much

Alabama ran 36 times for a season-high 298 yards with two or more tight ends in the formation. The Tide ran out of this personnel package on 26 of their 34 second-half plays, gaining 199 yards and two touchdowns. Alabama averaged a season-high 5.5 yards before contact out of this formation.

AJ McCarron completed eight of nine passes for 114 yards and a touchdown with two or more tight ends in the formation.

Getting it done inside the tackles

Alabama outrushed Georgia 304-72 inside the tackles. The Tide averaged 8.0 yards per carry on such runs, including a season-high 13 that gained 10 yards or more. Lacy (172) and Yeldon (125) led the way for Alabama, with both running backs gaining over 100 yards inside the tackles for the second time this season. They also did it against Missouri.

Strong run game leads to play action

McCarron completed five of seven passes off play action for 116 yards and a touchdown. McCarron has 11 touchdown passes off a run fake this season, six more than he had all of last season. Eight of the 11 touchdowns have been on passes thrown 20 yards or longer, including Cooper’s 45-yard touchdown against Georgia.

Georgia’s defense allowed a season-high 512 total yards, just the second time the Bulldogs allowed 500 yards in the last seven seasons. For the first time since at least 2000, they’ve allowed 300 rushing yards in three straight games.

Alabama will most assuredly face Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game on January 7, as the SEC goes for its seventh straight BCS National Championship.

Manziel scrambles his way to upset victory

November, 10, 2012
John David Mercer/US PresswireJohnny Manziel and the Aggies defeated the AP No. 1 team for the first time since 2002.
For the first time since 2002 and the second time in program history, Texas A&M has defeated the No. 1 team in the country.

What went right for Texas A&M?

It all starts with Johnny Manziel, who had 345 total yards of offense and two touchdown passes.

Alabama’s defense was not susceptible to deep passes over its first nine games. The Tide had held opposing quarterbacks to a 22.0 completion percentage and just one touchdown on throws of at least 20 yards downfield.

Alabama had allowed just nine completions on 41 pass attempts thrown 20 yards or longer downfield entering the game and had not allowed an opposing quarterback to complete four such passes in a game since the start of the 2009 season.

But Manziel excelled with the deep ball, completing 4-of-5 passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield, including a 24-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Malcolme Kennedy which proved to be the difference.

Manziel especially made his mark outside the pocket. The Aggies quarterback was 6-for-6 on passes outside the pocket. He totaled 172 yards on those plays, including 94 scramble yards.

Manziel’s 345 total yards are the most by a quarterback against Alabama since Arkansas’s Ryan Mallett had 350 in 2010.

What went wrong for Alabama?

After entering the game with zero interceptions this season, A.J. McCarron was intercepted twice. Alabama turned the ball over three times for the first time since its 2011 season opener against Kent State.

The 29 points allowed are the most Alabama has allowed at home since 2007.

Alabama’s National Championship chances may not be depleted. The Tide are the first AP No. 1 to lose in November since 2007, when Ohio State lost to Illinois and LSU fell to Arkansas. Despite the losses, Ohio State and LSU ended up meeting in the BCS National Championship Game.

Bulldogs must ground Tide to spring upset

October, 25, 2012
This weekend’s slate of college football games features a matchup of undefeateds that hardly anyone would have predicted before the season.

The Mississippi State Bulldogs, picked sixth out of seven teams in the SEC West in the media preseason poll, travel to Tuscaloosa to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday night.

To beat the nation’s number one team, Mississippi State will need to play a near-flawless game. Let’s take a look at two keys to the game for the Bulldogs in order to spring the upset and remain undefeated.

Win the turnover battle
Alabama is tied for third in the nation in turnover margin and leads FBS in points off turnovers this season. But its opponent is perhaps the one team that can compete with the Tide in this part of the game.

Mississippi State leads the nation in turnover margin this season, having forced three or more turnovers in all but one game.

Their strength is in the secondary, where Darius Slay and Johnthan Banks are one of three pairs of cornerbacks in FBS with at least four interceptions each this season.

Alabama quarterback A.J McCarron is one of two FBS quarterbacks with 10 or more touchdowns and no interceptions this season. However, his last interception came on November 12 of last season when Mississippi State linebacker Cameron Lawrence picked him off.

Run the ball, stop the run
Dating back to 2010, Mississippi State is 20-1 when averaging at least four yards per carry (3-9 in all other games). However, the Bulldogs face perhaps their biggest challenge to reach that threshold this weekend.

No FBS team has averaged at least four yards per rush against the Crimson Tide since the start of the 2011 season.

Last year against Alabama, Mississippi State managed just 12 yards on 29 carries, the fewest rushing yards for the school since the 2008 season.

On the other side of the ball, Alabama leads the SEC in rush yards per game (236.3) and yards per rush (5.5) in conference games. Since the start of the 2008 season, the Crimson Tide are 44-0 when running for at least 150 yards.

This season, Mississippi State has allowed 3.6 yards per rush in SEC play, the fifth-lowest average in the SEC. No team has allowed fewer rushing touchdowns or fewer rushing first downs in conference games than the Bulldogs this season.

Last year Mississippi State thought it had contained the Tide’s ground game, holding Alabama to 94 yards on 27 carries (3.5 yards per rush) through the first three quarters. But, in the fourth quarter, Alabama erupted for 132 yards on 17 carries (7.6 yards per rush) in their 24-7 win.

The Bulldogs also must stop the run in order to slow the Tide’s potent play-action passing game. McCarron already has seven touchdown passes off play action passes, more than he had all last season.

Alabama's offense designed to run wild

October, 19, 2012
(The Tennessee Volunteers host No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday at 7 ET on ESPN.)

The Alabama Crimson Tide are 43-0 since the start of the 2008 season when they run for at least 150 yards in a game. On Saturday, the Crimson Tide will play the Tennessee Volunteers, who rank last in the SEC in rushing.

This season, Alabama is averaging 6.2 yards per carry on designed run plays. That happens to be the same amount the Tennessee Volunteers allow per carry, which ranks last in the SEC.

Why is Alabama averaging so many yards per carry? On those designed run plays the Tide average 4.6 yards before contact with a defender. They have made it at least five yards past the line of scrimmage without being touched on 38.8 percent of their designed runs, including on 20-of-42 runs last week against Missouri.

When head coach Nick Saban’s team isn’t gaining yards by the bunches on the ground, quarterback A.J. McCarron is more than holding his own under center.

McCarron ranks fourth in FBS in third-down passing efficiency this season (minimum 20 attempts). One reason for McCarron’s success is his improvement when opponents send five or more pass rushers. He’s completing 70.6 percent of his passes against the blitz on third down this season, up from 46.7 in 2011.

When Alabama sends five or more pass rushers, opponents are completing 42.9 percent of their passes with more combined sacks and interceptions (13) than first downs (12). On Saturday, Missouri completed 1-of-9 passes and was sacked twice when Alabama blitzed, the third time in the last four games that Alabama had more sacks than its opponent had completions.

Tennessee QB Tyler Bray this season has completed a similar number of attempts when being blitzed by SEC opponents (43.3 percent). While Bray put up good numbers in non-conference play, he’s been average at best in Tennessee’s three SEC games, all losses. He’s completed just over 52.2 percent of his passes and has thrown just as many touchdowns as interceptions (6) in losses to Florida, Georgia and Mississippi State.

Lettermen and concerns return for Tide

April, 13, 2012

Derick E. Hingle/US Presswire
Quarterback A.J. McCarron is one of eight offensive starters returning in 2012.
Spring is a time for renewal. In college football, spring is also the time to look ahead to fall and the upcoming season. Saturday, Alabama holds its annual Golden Flake A-Day Game (ESPN3, 3 ET), which will give its fans a first look at the defending national champions.

Alabama captured its record-breaking ninth national championship of the major poll era in January. Once again, the Crimson Tide are expected to be one of the best teams in the country in 2012. But the Tide have been here before. Will history repeat?

In 2010, Alabama was preseason No. 1 in both The Associated Press and Coaches polls with 11 combined offensive and defensive starters returning from the team that had won the 2009 national title. The problem was the retention breakdown. Bama lost eight starters from a defense that allowed the second-fewest yards (244.1) and points (11.7) per game in the bowl subdivision. With QB Greg McElroy, the RB tandem of Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson and WR Julio Jones, the belief was that the Tide would score points and win games through their offense while buying enough time for their defense to jell.

However, all did not go as planned. The defense allowed slightly more PPG than in 2009 (13.5 in 2010, 11.7 in 2009). The Tide allowed more plays of 20-plus yards (13) in 2010 than it did in 2009 (7). They also blew a 24-point lead in a loss to archrival and eventual national champion Auburn in the regular-season finale, the biggest collapse in Alabama’s storied history. That was one of three losses for the Tide that season.

Like in 2010, this Alabama team has a quarterback returning for his second season as a starter (A.J. McCarron), along with a strong running back (Eddie Lacy). Also like the 2010 team, the Tide will lose several starters on defense including four likely first-round picks (CB Dre Kirkpatrick, OLB/DE Courtney Upshaw, LB Dont’a Hightower, S Mark Barron).

So how good will Alabama be in 2012? History suggests the Tide will be one of the best teams in college football, but not good enough to win a second straight national championship. Just like 2010.

Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
Alabama won its ninth national title in the poll era (since 1936), the most among teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

The No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide shut out the No. 1 LSU Tigers in the BCS Championship Game, the first shutout in BCS bowl history. LSU gained just 92 yards, the second-fewest in a BCS title game or in any BCS bowl game; only Ohio State (82 yards against Florida in the BCS Championship Game following the 2006 season) gained fewer.

The last team to be No. 1 in the poll prior to a bowl game and be shut out was the 1953 Maryland Terrapins, who were shut out by Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, 7-0. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that was also the last time an undefeated and untied college football team was shut out in a major bowl game.

Alabama is the first team since the 1991 Miami Hurricanes to win the national championship with a shutout, and are the first team to shut out the Tigers since, well, Alabama did it back in 2002.

The Tide's defense led the FBS in PPG, Rush YPG, Pass YPG and Total YPG. They were just the second team to lead the country in all four categories.

Alabama allowed nearly 78 fewer yards per game than LSU, the largest gap between the top two teams in total defense since those records were kept beginning in 1937.

LSU didn't cross midfield until its next-to-last possession of the game, reaching only as far as the Alabama 40-yard line. LSU ran only four plays on Alabama's side of the field, its fewest plays in opponent’s territory in a single game since the start of the 2004 season.

Alabama forced LSU into 11 negative plays, tied for the most negative plays by an LSU offense since Sept. 10, 2005 (lost yards on 12 plays against Arizona State).

The key for Alabama was play-calling on first down. A.J. McCarron attempted 20 first-down passes, completing 14 of them for 165 yards. Alabama had attempted just 14 passes in its previous two games and 28 in its previous three games combined on first down.

The Tide called pass plays on 63 percent of their first-down plays on Monday; they entered the game passing on just 39 percent of first-down plays this season.

That enabled McCarron to use play-action effectively; he went 5-for-8 for 80 yards using play-action on first down. He also exploited LSU’s defense down the field, completing five of his nine passes that traveled 15 yards or farther in the air.

The five completions tied his career high. Entering the game, LSU had allowed only 12 such completions this season and no team had completed more than 40 percent of such passes.

Alabama finished the season without trailing for one second after the first quarter. The next team on that list is Boise State, which trailed for nearly 27 minutes from the second quarter on.

Oklahoma tops CFB Live Preseason Poll

April, 22, 2011
All week on College Football Live, we’ve been unveiling our Preseason Top 25. A 38-person panel consisting of our analysts, studio hosts, play-by-play announcers, bloggers, researchers and production team members submitted their votes and here’s our in-depth Top 5.

1. Oklahoma Sooners
With nine starters back on offense including quarterback Landry Jones and AP First-Team All-American receiver Ryan Broyles, simply put, the Sooners are loaded on that side of the ball. Last season, Jones led the Big 12 in passing yards (4,278) and touchdown passes (38). He also holds seven school records. Speaking of school records, Broyles owns 10 Oklahoma receiving marks, setting nine of them last season. With seven starters returning on defense including linebacker Travis Lewis, the Sooners are the early favorite to win not only the Big 12 title but the BCS championship, as well.

2. Alabama Crimson Tide
Even with the departure of quarterback Greg McElroy, 2009 Heisman winner Mark Ingram, receiver Julio Jones and defensive lineman Marcell Dareus, the Crimson Tide should contend for the national championship once again. Junior running back Trent Richardson returns, which is key since Bama will be breaking in a new quarterback in either third-year sophomore A.J. McCarron or redshirt freshman Phillip Sims. Nine starters are back on defense including linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Mark Barron.

3. Oregon Ducks
Seven offensive starters are back for the Ducks including quarterback Darron Thomas and Heisman finalist running back LaMichael James. That backfield duo served as the key cog to the Oregon offensive machine that led the bowl subdivision in scoring, averaging 47 points per game last season. The defense loses six starters, among them First-Team All-Pac-10 linebacker Casey Matthews. However, the Ducks should have enough to contend for their third straight conference title in the new Pac-12.

4. LSU Tigers
With nine starters returning on offense and seven on defense, the Tigers look poised for another run at the SEC and national championships. Senior quarterback Jordan Jefferson returns for his third full season as the starter. He’ll need to be more productive than last year when he passed for 1,411 yards, seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions. To help Jefferson infuse life into an offense that finished 11th in the 12-team SEC, LSU hired former Louisville head coach Steve Kragthorpe as its new offensive coordinator. Even with the loss of Thorpe Award-winning cornerback Patrick Peterson, the LSU defense should still give opposing offenses nightmares.

5. Boise State Broncos
The Broncos' offense and defense each have seven starters returning and none bigger than quarterback and 2010 Heisman Trophy finalist Kellen Moore. With the departure of offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin (Texas) and dynamic receivers Austin Pettis and Titus Young, the senior will be relied upon even more to keep the offense in sync. Senior running back Doug Martin, who rushed for 1,260 yards and 12 TDs last season, also returns. Boise State is making the jump from the WAC to the Mountain West this season.

The rest of the top 25:

6. Florida State
7. Stanford
8. South Carolina
9. Oklahoma State
10. Ohio State
11. Texas A&M
12. Arkansas
13. Nebraska
14. Wisconsin
15. TCU
16. Michigan State
17. Notre Dame
18. Florida
19. Virginia Tech
20. Texas
21. Mississippi State
22. Auburn
23. Missouri
24. West Virginia
25. Arizona State