published Monday, October 10th, 2011

Bama passing game improves

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- A scrambling AJ McCarron appeared to have an open path to the goal line but opted to toss the ball toward the back of the end zone and a leaping DeAndrew White.

"Why didn't you run it?" Alabama coach Nick Saban yelled on the sideline, then patted his quarterback on the back.

The play still resulted in a face-saving touchdown, after all.

The second-ranked Crimson Tide has showcased its running game all season, but Saturday night's 34-0 romp over Vanderbilt was more about McCarron spreading the ball around to a variety of receivers.

That play with 21 seconds left in the first half let the Tide (6-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) take a 14-0 lead in an otherwise nondescript 30 minutes for a team that had been rolling along.

McCarron wound up completing 23 of 30 passes for career-highs of 237 yards and four touchdowns. The touchdowns tied him with Mike Shula and John Parker Wilson for the second-most in school history, one behind the five Gary Hollingsworth threw for against Mississippi in 1989.

The game plan against Vandy (3-2, 1-2) allowed Alabama to fine-tune and build confidence in a passing game that has supplied few downfield completions and hasn't really needed them with the nation's top scoring defense and tailbacks Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy.

It might have even sent a message to future opponents that the Tide can win with the pass, letting defenses know that they will put seven or eight defenders near the line of scrimmage at their own peril.

"I definitely think we are an offense that can run and pass at will when we are clicking on all cylinders," said tight end Brad Smelley, who caught his first career touchdown pass. "I think we showed that tonight that if you try to load the box, we can definitely make plays over the top and find the zones and the spaces that are open in there. We are a two-phase team so we can run and pass."

In that order, of course. That's unlikely to change.

McCarron has thrown 127 consecutive passes without an interception since the third quarter of the opener with Kent State.

The final drive before halftime gave McCarron a chance to lead a drive with the clock ticking down. He also managed to spread the ball beyond veterans Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks, who combined for 153 yards on 14 touchdowns.

"It just shows that we have depth at receiver," Hanks said. "A lot of people thinking it's just me and Maze, but it's really not. We've got a lot of great receivers on the team."

Six other players had catches, but White's performance was the most encouraging for the Tide's offense. The redshirt freshman drew consistent praise from Saban and teammates during preseason camp, but had only one catch for 5 yards since the opener.

"We have been waiting for DeAndrew to have the type of game that would help him develop some confidence as a player," Saban said. "He's a very explosive guy and has great speed and certainly would be a good addition to our group of receivers and complement them very well.

"He is a guy that has played really well in practice, that hasn't had any production or opportunities in games. Maybe this game will be something he can build on and develop some confidence."

White flashed his leaping ability by outjumping a defensive back for his first score, and he added a 39-yarder in the third quarter, coming back to get the ball with two defensive backs on him.

Richardson still managed to get his fifth straight 100-yard rushing effort while backup Lacy was out with a foot injury. Alabama got 14 first downs passing and nine on the ground.

All five Alabama touchdowns came on third-down plays, and the Tide converted 12 of 17 attempts. McCarron's only deep ball led to a pass interference call on the touchdown drive just before halftime. Tide receivers had plenty of yards after the catch, though.

"There was a lot of room for our receivers to make plays and they did that," center William Vlachos said.

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