When it comes to the Heisman Trophy, if you want statistics, look someplace else. But if you want a football player that means the most to his team, literally the heart of his team, look no further than the quarterback in Tuscaloosa.
By now, you have seen the Saturday stat line for Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron in the first 58 minutes and 30 seconds against the LSU Tigers. There is no denying 10-22 for 93 yards and no touchdowns is not pretty. However, nothing was more beautiful than the way he orchestrated the final drive, cool under the pressure of 90,000 screams raining down on him.
In that moment he stared into the face of collapse, SEC and national championship hopes hanging on the ropes with a look in his eyes that said “I’ve done this before.”
But he hadn’t. At least not in a game. Not under the lights of Death Valley in front of a national audience that was waiting for him to slip, waiting for this Crimson Tide team to trip up on their hopes to repeat as national champions. But there he stood with one chance to save the season, looking more comfortable than he had all game, showing the confidence his teammates needed to see in their leader.
Then it happened: 18 yards to Kevin Norwood, 15 yards, then 11 more on three consecutive passes. Boom. Boom. Boom.
Just like that the Tide were back in business at the LSU 28 yard line. After missing Norwood deep, the pressure was turned up, but McCarron hoped for pressure. Offensive Coordinator Doug Nussmeier sensed the Tigers would try to come after his junior quarterback, trusting the Mobile native to make the right play. As expected the pressure came and after a quick flick of the wrist, freshman tailback TJ Yeldon had the ball in the flat and took care of the rest.
The final drive: 4-5, 72 yards, and the game winning touchdown.There was your Heisman moment.
McCarron, overcome with emotion came to the sidelines as he took his place on the bench and began to tear up; the season that had been lost was saved, and he was the one who saved it. While the performance on the field made everyone take notice, his performance in the post game interviews in front of network cameras got everyone’s attention.
It was that moment we saw the kid from Mobile who dreamed as a youth of making game winning plays for the Crimson Tide. We saw the look of a player who poured his heart into the game for 60 minutes, but wanted to take none of the credit-spreading it to his coaching staff and his teammates. Then when the media obligations were complete we saw him sprint with the same speed he used to score his first rushing touchdown of the season to embrace his parents waiting in the corner of the endzone.
Saturday night the Crimson Tide not only escaped Death Valley with a win. It was the night AJ McCarron jumped to the front of the Heisman Trophy race.