Second-string QB McCarron throws 39-yard TD to Gibson
By Michael Casagrande
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The clock hit zero, score knotted at 17, but there would be no ties Saturday.
Not even in an exhibition. There was, after all, a steak dinner on the line.
So, on the first play of what Alabama football coach Nick Saban termed sudden death, second-string quarterback AJ McCarron hit receiver Brandon Gibson in stride in the end zone to give the White team the 23-17 win over the Crimson before a crowd of 91,312 on A-Day.
The 39-yard pass fell right between heralded freshman cornerback DeMarcus Milliner and Wesley Neighbors, setting off a wild celebration in the corner of the end zone.
To the victors go the steak dinners, but there will be no protesting by the losing team’s quarterback.
“I’ll eat beans with a smile on my face,” starter Greg McElroy said. “We get our (national championship) rings on the same day so at least I have something to look forward to.”
That final, bonus play capped what appeared to be an evenly matched scrimmage and the 15-date spring practice schedule. The offense and defense had shining moments while the special teams showed the most room for improvement.
After two closed-door scrimmages with big passing numbers, the first-team posted more pedestrian ones Saturday. Running back Mark Ingram caught the most passes with four for 31 yards on a day Julio Jones dropped three passes. The star receiver, who had monster numbers in the first two scrimmages, caught just three balls for 15 yards as the rebuilt defense put more pressure on McElroy.
Saban was disappointed in how fast the pocket disappeared, especially because the defense used a simplified scheme. McElroy, who wasn’t to be tackled, was tagged six times behind the line by six defenders. The fifth-year senior finished 12-for-22 with 142 yards, an interception and a questionable touchdown.
On the Crimson team’s first offensive play after a Dre Kirkpatrick interception, it went with a flea-flicker that saw Eddie Lacy toss a handoff back to McElroy who hit a diving Marquis Maze in the end zone. Replays, though, clearly showed Maze was on the sideline when possession was gained, but teammate Ingram wasn’t worried about the details.
“It was a great effort catch, so I think they should have gave it to him,” he said.
The much talked-about defense and its nine lost starters came up big in the first few possessions. Only one first down came out of the opening three drives including the first by the first-teamers. Ingram, who finished with 90 yards on nine carries, was thrown for a loss on a third-and-1 play that served notice that this defense wasn’t ready to lose its dominant reputation.
Then, on the next drive for the No. 1 offense, it failed in a situation McElroy had mentioned as a real priority this spring. A few big plays left them with 1st-and-goal from the nine, but two Ingram runs and a McElroy scramble left them short of the goal line, bringing on the kicking unit.
They fared better on the first drive of the second half after a 60-yard Ingram sprint down the sideline to the 5. Backup Eddie Lacy did the rest by running it in on the next play to give the Crimson a 17-7 advantage.
First-line defensive end Robert Lester, who teamed up with Marcell Dareus to stop Ingram behind the line on the first series, led the White team in tackles with eight. Safety B.J. Scott, who was run over by Ingram on a swing pass two plays earlier, came up with five tackles and a pass-breakup.
The second-string offense, playing for the White team, piled on big numbers toward the end of the game. Punctuated by the 39-yard touchdown on the final play, Gibson’s 142 yards on eight receptions made him a runaway winner for catches and yards. In his first public outing as an Alabama quarterback, McCarron put up respectable numbers, was 12-of-28 passing for 196 yards and two touchdowns.