TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- AJ McCarron was visibly upset. Alabama's senior quarterback knew the question was coming, and when it did, he had to take a second to compose himself before answering. He'd listened for more than a week about how his offensive line struggled in the season opener, and frankly he was tired of hearing it.
"It kind of ticks me off that everyone blames them," he told reporters on Monday, putting his hands out in stopping motion. "Put the blame on me for not helping us out.
"Like I told them, quit worrying about what everyone else thinks, what the media is saying. I don't pay attention to it and neither should they."
That's easier said than done, though. McCarron may not want to hear it, but his offensive line did play poorly against Virginia Tech. Accepting the blame is admirable, but it doesn't change the fact that Alabama gave up four sacks and 12 tackles for loss.
The running game, which finished No. 4 in the country in percentage of rushes for zero or negative yards last season, had 42.1 percent of its attempts stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage by the Hokies, a number that ranks dead last in the FBS today. And as a result, the passing game suffered, too. McCarron threw for a paltry 110 yards, one touchdown and one interception, his worst offensive output since becoming the starter in 2011.
"They're playing with a chip on their shoulder," McCarron said. "Everybody hears everybody talking. We don't need to pay attention to it, but you're still going to hear it. I feel like they came out this past week and really improved, did a great job communicating, letting everybody else on the field know what we have. They've done a really job of progressing, so hopefully we can keep building."
Said veteran guard Anthony Steen: "After Virginia Tech everybody is talking about being disappointed in us, and we’ve got a chip on our shoulder like AJ said and we’re ready to get out there and try to prove something."
To be fair, Virginia Tech's defense played much better than anyone expected. Bud Foster's front seven was disruptive, getting into the backfield and finishing plays. As McCarron explained, "Everybody's acting like Virginia Tech's not a good team just 'cause they're not ranked. They had an unbelievable defense."
"I just think that when they got out there in the real game, playing against a good front seven, they probably didn't communicate and play together and trust together like we needed to," UA coach Nick Saban said last week. "And technically there were some things that we could do better for them. I think a combination of those things, there's a lot of things a lot of people have the opportunity to learn and grow from."
Texas A&M's front seven doesn't have quite the same reputation as Virginia Tech's -- last Saturday the Aggies gave up 28 points and 240 yards rushing to lowly Sam Houston State -- but it's still an SEC defense. When Alabama travels to College Station, Texas, on Saturday, the offensive line must improve to have a chance of winning.
With a bye week to prepare, Steen believes the line is in better shape than it was to start the season. The extra practice gave the line a chance to gel and work on returning to fundamentals. After all, chemistry takes time. With three new starters and a new position coach, growing pains might have been expected.
"It's been good for us to focus on our little things, our footwork and our chemistry with each other," he said. "Overall, I think we got better last week."
Against the Aggies, Steen expects more physical play. And he expects his line to be ready for the challenge.
"We have something to prove, I'm not going to say we don't," he said. " If we have a good game up front, we will overall as a team. It all starts up front."