Alabama's AJ McCarron threw for a career-high 334 yards and four touchdowns Saturday as the Crimson Tide outlasted Texas A&M 49-42.
He had a lot of fun, too.
The only Alabama starting quarterback to direct two national championships said offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier gave him a lot of freedom against the Aggies. McCarron returned the favor by helping the Tide to 568 total yards as they became the obvious favorite in the Southeastern Conference West Division race.
"Even on the runs, Coach allowed me to check in and out of plays literally the whole game," McCarron told reporters afterward. "He would give me a run call, and I would have certain checks out of it. I think he just kind of left it in my hands to get us in the right play."
McCarron said he got the approval of Nussmeier and head coach Nick Saban on the 5-yard touchdown pass to Jalston Fowler with 2:28 remaining that put Alabama up 49-35. That score, which occurred after a time out, countered the stunning 95-yard touchdown strike from Johnny Manziel to Mike Evans midway through the fourth quarter that revived the Aggies, who had trailed by three touchdowns on two occasions.
"We huddled up, and I told Coach Saban I wanted to run that play," McCarron said. "I just asked him to put the ball in my hands. It's a run or pass option for me, and I felt like they weren't respecting my back side. I felt like I could have run it in if he wasn't wide open, and at a time like that, I want the ball."
The Crimson Tide will play their home opener this Saturday night when the nation's top-ranked team meets Colorado State at 7 EDT on ESPN2. The Rams are coached by Nussmeier's predecessor with the Tide, Jim McElwain.
Saban will likely stress the need to move on following the win at Texas A&M, which was the most watched afternoon college football game on CBS since Miami-Notre Dame in 1990.
"This was a tremendous environment to play a college football game, and I was very, very proud with the way our guys competed," Saban said. "We had a lot of guys get really tired out there. We wanted to improve as a team, and we certainly did that offensively today.
"We did not play as well on defense against a very good player, and when you don't do the things fundamentally the way you're supposed to, you usually pay the price."
Alabama's defense allowed a program-record 628 yards, with Manziel throwing for 464 and rushing for 98. The Tide's previous high for yardage allowed occurred in a 2001 loss to LSU, when Saban's Tigers came to Tuscaloosa and racked up 611.
The 42 points by Manziel and the Aggies were the most ever allowed by Alabama in a victory.
"It was a little sloppy, but we came out of there with a win," Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "We expected him to move around, break the pocket and make plays, and he did. He did what he does."
It was not all bad for the Alabama defense, as safety Vinnie Sunseri returned an interception of Manziel 73 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter that put the Tide up 35-14. Cornerback Cyrus Jones had a key interception in the second quarter, with that coming in the Alabama end zone.
When Sunseri was making his return, he avoided a tackle by a diving Manziel.
"That felt pretty good, but he's a great guy and talked to me after the game," Sunseri said. "As much as everybody talks about him off the field, I think he's a great guy."
Saban said afterward that his team has yet to put all three phases together. McCarron was quick to praise his offensive line, which struggled in the 35-10 opening win over Virginia Tech but kept him upright against the Aggies.
Yet most of the adulation was saved again for McCarron, who has guided the Tide to 35 or more points 20 times in his career.
"Everybody has all the confidence in AJ to go out there and control the game," Sunseri said. "He's almost become a Peyton Manning type -- a guy who can control the game and work it to his advantage. He knows coverages. He knows leverages and what routes are going to be open before they happen. He's a great quarterback."
Alabama has won 15 consecutive games away from Bryant-Denny Stadium. ... Sunseri scored off an interception return for a second straight game, becoming the first Tide player to do so since Antonio Langham against Auburn and Florida in 1992. ... Sophomore tailback T.J. Yeldon, who had 149 yards against the Aggies but lost a key fumble, has at least one rushing touchdown in seven consecutive games dating back to last season.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...