Tide's McCarron gains confidence

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The conversation happened sometime during Alabama's short drive to a children's hospital in New Orleans, a few days before the Crimson Tide played their rematch against LSU in the Jan. 9 Allstate BCS National Championship Game.

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban could sense quarterback AJ McCarron was beating himself up over his poor performance in Alabama's 9-6 overtime loss to LSU at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala. While there was plenty of blame to go around -- the Tide's kickers missed four field goals, and a botched trick play led to an interception at the LSU 1 -- Saban knew McCarron was carrying a heavy burden only a few days before the biggest game of his life.

"Look, man, you don't need to be anything but yourself and you don't need to do anything but take what the defense gives you," Saban told McCarron. "You don't have to try to be somebody else."

After Alabama was given a second chance at beating No. 1 LSU last season, Saban knew McCarron would have to be at his best to lead his team to its second BCS national championship in three seasons.

"I thought he was concerned because he got a little criticism for the way he played in the first game," Saban said. "I told him, 'Don't put that s--- on yourself; just do what you do and make good choices and decisions.'"

That's exactly what McCarron did in leading the Crimson Tide to a 21-0 victory over the Tigers at the Superdome. He completed 23 of 34 passes for 234 yards and didn't turn the ball over against LSU's menacing defense. While Alabama's defense smothered the Tigers, allowing only 92 yards of offense, McCarron set the tone, attacking LSU's vaunted secondary early and often.

"He had such a good game when there was so much pressure on him that I think he felt comfortable in that approach," Saban said. "I think he really kind of learned that this is the best way to play. When you're forcing it and trying to make big plays, the risk-reward is not worth it. He's done a really good job and has a really good understanding of what we're doing."

When No. 1 Alabama plays No. 5 LSU in Saturday night's SEC West showdown at Tiger Stadium, the Tigers will face a much more confident quarterback. McCarron, a junior from Mobile, Ala., leads the country in passing efficiency with a 182.4 rating. He has passed for 1,684 yards with 18 touchdowns and hasn't thrown an interception in 177 pass attempts this season.

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