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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There's a sly arrogance to him, a confidence that borders on cocky and skirts egotism. AJ McCarron isn't full of himself. He's just sure of himself, and of what he and his teammates can do even in the face of their first loss of the season, a blow to Alabama's national title hopes that, for the moment, seems more like a death knell than a mere obstacle.
"You can't worry about what happened in the past," McCarron said. "You can't control that. Gotta move on."
|AJ McCarron threw his first interceptions of the season in Alabama's loss to Texas A&M.|
With a baggy hooded sweatshirt on, a beanie over his head and his legs fanned out underneath a swath of microphones and tape recorders, McCarron appears comfortable. He grins and jokes about his hair being messy, hence the cap staying on throughout the interview.
Do you see any similarities between last year and now, one reporter asked.
"Last year was last year. A whole new year," McCarron said. "Like I said, all we can do is control what we can control and that's the next -- what? -- three, four games that we have on the schedule and then see what happens and go from there."
The last two weeks have been a series of ups and downs for McCarron and the offense. He's fallen out of the thick of the Heisman Trophy race while Alabama's points per game, total yards per game and third-down conversion percentage are all down as well.
So what did you learn that you can take forward this season, another reporter asked McCarron.
"I mean, I don't really know that we learned anything new," McCarron said. The junior from South Alabama entered November as the country's leader in passing efficiency with 18 touchdowns and no interceptions. But after two picks against Texas A&M, a game which Alabama fell behind 20-0, McCarron is now seventh. "We can't get ourselves in a hole like that. I mean, we just dug ourselves in too big of a hole. Fought hard to get back out of it. We had a chance to win it. But, like I said after the game, that's football."
McCarron's answers are dry and listless. It's almost as if he doesn't understand the panic that has come to Tuscaloosa when Alabama fell from No. 1 in the country to fourth in the BCS, behind three non-SEC teams.
"Things always aren't perfect," McCarron said. "Stuff happens."
It was only a year ago that Alabama lost to LSU at home during the regular season. McCarron remembers that well. After Saturday's loss, he stood up and reminded his teammates not to panic.
"We were in that same situation last year," he explained. " There's no reason to worry about what happened in [the A&M] game. Once that clocks ends, it's the same as ones you win. That game was that game. We got other people on our schedule, other opponents, so we're gonna have to prepare week in and week out and, like I said, take care of our business and, you know, that's all we can control."
If confidence trickles from the top, the Tide should be as cool as a cucumber.
Why the trouble in the third quarter, AJ?
"I hadn't really noticed," he said. "Don't know."
But what about third down?
"I mean, we really didn't struggle last game third down," McCarron said. "Our goal is 45 percent, we were 47. So, I mean, I guess it's just different people have different opinions, but I felt we did fine. Had a chance to win the ball game."
McCarron is right. His math is correct. It's the wins and losses that don't add up.
McCarron's yards per game have actually gone up during the two-game stretch against LSU and Texas A&M. Two interceptions aren't what he or his coach had in mind, but the knee-jerk reaction that there's somehow a problem with his play doesn't sit well with Nick Saban.
"As a quarterback, you're always going to get a little more credit than you deserve when things go well, and maybe a little more of the blame when things don't go well," the sixth-year coach of the Crimson Tide said. "But I do think that the kind of competitor AJ is, my expectation would be that he takes the bull by the horns, learns the lessons he's learned in the last two games and tries to work on improving."
Not that McCarron is saying much about what those lessons are, but chances are it's all internalized for him. He's never been one for talking about himself, so it's up to those like Saban to do it for him.
"I don't think there's any reason to say that he's reached a plateau," Saban said. "I think he needs to break through and continue to improve and not be satisfied where he is, and get the players around him to help him do that. That would be my approach with him, relative to what he needs to do to actually play better, take the bull by the horns and say, 'What is this team, what is this offense going to be remembered for in terms of how we play?' "
Looking back at the slim victory over LSU and loss to A&M is fine, but unnecessary. To McCarron, Alabama's offense will be remembered for the final score in the last two regular season games and the likely SEC Championship Game matchup with No. 5 Georgia.
If you're wondering about what's gone wrong for Alabama, he might be the wrong person to ask. If there's a problem, he hasn't noticed.