By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
There is some Heisman Trophy buzz building around Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, and for good reason.
He’s the most efficient quarterback in the country, completing 68.8 percent of his passes for 1,476 yards, 16 touchdowns and zero interceptions. So No. 13 Mississippi State (7-0, 3-0 SEC) has the unenviable task on Saturday of trying to find a flaw in McCarron’s armor.
The No. 1 -ranked Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0) has an efficient offense because of McCarron, a junior who’s in his second season as a starter.
“He’s a very efficient manager, and they punish mistakes,” MSU cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith said. “They punish. They’re not easy on mistakes; they punish mistakes.”
Smith used the phrase “punish mistakes” in some form 11 times during an interview earlier this week. He also pulled out a Peyton Manning comparison when talking about McCarron.
“I remember (former NFL linebacker) Tedy Bruschi said this about Peyton Manning, he said, ‘If you’re out of position, Peyton Manning is going to make you pay,’ and that’s the way I see this kid,” Smith said. “If you’re out of position, he’s going to take advantage of it.”
MSU, with its deep and experienced secondary, has been strong against the pass. It ranks 12th in the nation in pass efficiency defense and has recorded 12 interceptions – corners Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay have four apiece.
Two weeks ago, State held Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray to a season-low 148 yards. Five of MSU’s opponents, including the last three, have been held below 200 yards passing.
“I think we’re getting better chemistry, we’re getting used to each other. It’s kind of coming together,” Smith said.
How will MSU try to handle McCarron? By doing what it’s done to every other QB.
“We’re going to disguise, we’re going to play around with it,” middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney said. “I know our D-linemen, they’re great pass rushers, so I know they’re going to get a lot of pressure on him.”
MSU’s pass rush has actually been modest at best. The Bulldogs have recorded 11 sacks, an average of 1.57 per game. That’s tied for 82nd nationally.
“He’s sitting behind that big offensive line. We’ve got to get to him,” Bulldogs defensive end Denico Autry said of McCarron.
The last time McCarron threw an interception was Nov. 12, 2011 – against Mississippi State. Linebacker Cam Lawrence picked him off, and he said it was just a matter of being in position and not making mistakes.
“That’s kind of what I was doing last year; happened to be in the right place at the right time,” Lawrence said. “I was just doing my job, and a good thing happened.”