TUSCALOOSA — Alabama’s AJ McCarron tossed four touchdown passes in Saturday’s 35-0 win over Western Kentucky, which shows he can be awfully good when the Crimson Tide can keep him upright.
Through Alabama’s two blowout victories, that’s turned into an unanticipated problem for the Tide.
Despite having an offensive line with three preseason All-SEC players, McCarron has gone down eight times through sacks, including six by WKU. Of the 120 teams in the NCAA’s FBS division, only three teams have allowed more sacks: Florida (nine), Tulane (nine) and New Mexico State (10).
Most everything else is working just fine, which is why The Associated Press and USA Today coaches polls both tabbed Alabama as a solid No. 1 in Sunday’s rankings. The Tide got 48 of 60 first-place votes in the AP rankings, and in the coaches poll, 42 of 59 ballots had Alabama in the top spot.
“I don’t think it was effort,” Tide starting center Barrett Jones said. “The effort was good. We had a lot of missed assignments, poor technique — but I don’t think it was effort.”
The pass protection was a common theme for Alabama head coach Nick Saban in his postgame news conference Saturday. When asked about anything to do with the passing game, he mentioned McCarron, receivers Kevin Norwood and Christion Jones, and the inability to avoid sacks.
“Three or four of those were just that guys got beat,” Saban said. “A couple of them were pressures that we didn’t pick up properly, so that’s something we definitely need to get better on.”
And Saban added that it’s not a case of hammering away on what the offensive linemen did. While they’ll get their share of correction this week, so will the rest of the offense.
For the Tide coach, the timing needs to be better.
“A couple of times, we probably held the ball — the last one we held the ball, no one was really open,” Saban said. “We just need to do a better job all the way around, in pass protection, in our ability to throw the ball with consistency, the balance and identity that we create on offense, in terms of what we do. I think it’s real important.”
As for the Western Kentucky defense, Saban added, “They played us like I thought they would.”
As part of Saban’s celebrated and mostly successful “Process,” he likes having concrete things to correct without having to pay for them with a loss. For him, this gives his offense a point of emphasis that it otherwise wouldn’t have had if McCarron hadn’t gotten sacked at all.
“When we executed properly, I thought we did a pretty good job, put some good drives together and made some big plays, but that is something that we definitely need to get corrected,” he said.
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