- Associated Press - Thursday, January 5, 2012

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - AJ McCarron tried it Nick Saban’s way. He really did.

The quarterback for No. 2 Alabama curbed his emotions for the Crimson Tide’s first game with No. 1 LSU this season, did his best to be the calm, steady leader his coach wanted. McCarron didn’t make a lot of noise, didn’t go after any opposing defensive linemen.

He didn’t produce any touchdowns, either, and the Tide lost 9-6 in overtime. So much for cool and collected.

“I’ve got to play with emotion,” McCarron said Thursday in a rare visit with reporters ahead of Monday’s BCS title game with the Tigers. “Last game, I just tried to stay calm the whole game. I think, in the end, I wasn’t playing my game. After the Florida game, we had a talk and (Saban) was like, `Just slow your emotions down.’

“After the LSU game, we had another talk and he said, `All right, I want you to play with your emotions again.’ He knows how I play the game.”

The McCarron-and-Saban dynamic has been anything but calm during the redshirt sophomore’s first three seasons.

There’s been a sideline spank, and tirades captured on TV. But there also have been good moments, like when Saban said before the 2009 championship game that if starter Greg McElroy was hurt, forget the redshirt. McCarron would be his guy.

The on-field relationship, and McCarron’s play and leadership, have certainly evolved. There’s no doubt he is Saban’s starter now.

“I think our team is very confident in AJ,” Saban said. “He does have leadership qualities and he does affect other people with his positive energy and attitude.”

His play hasn’t been bad, either.

McCarron, whose fight for the starting spot with Phillip Sims carried over into the season, has completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 2,216 yards with 16 touchdowns against five interceptions. Only LSU’s ex-starter Jarrett Lee has a higher efficiency rating among Southeastern Conference quarterbacks.

“He’s become a whole lot better since that (first) game,” LSU safety Brandon Taylor said. “He led his team to the national championship so he’s doing the right thing.”

McCarron has only spoken to the media three times this season, all after games. He said that was by mutual agreement with Saban so he could “focus on my game and let the guys know that I’m here to play and here to win.”

He seemed confident and comfortable before the cameras, tape recorders and microphones of the national media Thursday. Off the field, calm works for him. On the field, it’s just not AJ.

“If you ever see him in a game, he’s probably jumping up,” tailback Trent Richardson said. “If somebody scores a touchdown, he’s probably running down to the end zone to meet us and bumping heads with us and chest-bumping. He’s got a lot of emotion into the game.”

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