Hello! I'm Right Here, Says McElroy
"What about Mallett's arm? He can make throws most guys can't, can't he?"
Greg McElroy stayed cool, calm, and collected. It is not an unusual situation for Alabama's senior quarterback to be considered second banana to the opposing quarterback. This week McElroy gets second billing in Fayetteville, Ark., where the number one ranked Crimson Tide goes to take on 10th ranked Arkansas. Kickoff Saturday is at 2:30 p.m. CDT with television coverage by CBS.
The quarterback for the Razorbacks is Ryan Mallett, the 6-6, 238-pound junior. Like McElroy, he is a Texan. He transferred to Arkansas after a coaching change at Michigan. He is leading the Southeastern Conference in passing (360.3 yards per game) and total offense (359.3 yards per game) and last year engineered a dramatic victory over Georgia in Athens.
Mallett has had almost all good games at Arkansas. Save one. Last year in a 35-7 loss to Alabama, Mallett completed 12 of 35 passes for 160 yards and was sacked three times. Meanwhile, McElroy completed 17 of 24 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
But McElroy answered the question.
"People always say, ‘He can make all the throws,' but you wouldn't be playing quarterback at this level if you couldn't make all the throws," McElroy said. "His arm is quite impressive. He's got a real compact motion for the most part; he ‘s a real long guy, and for a guy 6-7 and as long as he is, he's got a real compact motion and gets out pretty quick. I've seen him in person throw a few times and it's pretty impressive; he can definitely whip it, that's for sure. But to say he can make all the throws, of course he can; he's a starting quarterback in the SEC. He does it with some style."
For McElroy, it may seem like a "been there, done that" situation. Prior to last year's game, the talk was about Mallett. Did it frustrate McElroy, who now has a 17-0 record as quarterback at Alabama?
"Yeah, last year I was playing the whole season with a chip on my shoulder," McElroy said. "The fact that Ryan had garnered so much respect, and he and I had started the same number of games in the SEC at that point. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. Obviously he's a great player and he's done great things for Arkansas, and all the respect he's garnered from the media and the players and his peers are well deserved. Hopefully our defense has a great week in order to contain him."
Arkansas has gone 3-0 with Mallett completing 70 of 100 passes for 1,081 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions. McElroy has led Bama to a 3-0 record with 43-60 completions for 705 yards with six touchdowns and one interception.
Asked to compare himself to Mallett, McElroy put it in a team perspective. "I think Ryan is asked to do a little bit more," McElroy said. "He throws the ball 45 or 50 times a game. He puts up huge numbers. Fortunately for me, I have a lot of weapons at my disposal. the fact that we do have such a capable running game means I am not as to do as much. He is a great player and has had a lot of success. He has had a great year up to this point."
Alabama is doing well this year, a 62-13 win over Duke last week having helped the Tide to an SEC-leading 44.7 points per game average and a league-best 542 yards per game average.
So the Tide is more explosive?
McElroy said, "Obviously, statistics can be a little bit misleading. Being explosive...we've had more explosive plays; I can't say we've been more explosive, because we have definitely missed on a few explosive plays, too. I think we're a more productive offense in the sense that people have stepped up and hopefully we'll continue to have people do that."
McElroy seemed genuinely surprised to learn he is the number one ranked quarterback in the nation in passing efficiency. ("That's pretty cool," he said.) He was asked if he understood the complicated formula that determines the ranking. McElroy has a rating of 200. By comparison, Mallett is at 186.5.
"I don't know how it's computed," he said. "I know my goal each week is to be above 145. Thus far this season I'm three for three, so as long as I continue to keep that going for the team. I know that's a team goal – I know a lot of people look at it as a quarterback barometer, but really if the wide receivers aren't getting open, if the offensive line isn't protecting me and makes me throw balls away and force throws, my QB efficiency will decrease dramatically, so it's a team goal. I think I've been given a lot of opportunities to make plays because of the guys around me. Hopefully we'll continue to do that and keep that QB efficiency pretty high."
McElroy reminded reporters that "I told you guys in pre-season I really wanted to focus on having a high completion percentage, and we've been able to execute that pretty well. That's something we need to continue to do. Through SEC play, it's going to be more difficult, of course, but I feel we've got the capabilities, we've made the adjustments necessary to be able to continue that, and that's a big reason the efficiency has been as high as it is."
McElroy has completed 71.7 per cent of his passes this season.
McElroy is also a realist.
"We've done a good job, " he said. "We've put up a lot of points. I hate to say this with all due respect to our other opponents, it's a whole different ball game now. We're playing SEC opponents now. We're playing great defenses with great secondaries and great defensive fronts week-in and week-out. Seven straight SEC opponents now for us, I believe. It's going to be very, very difficult for us.
"Yeah, we've done well, but we haven't played anyone who really challenges what we do. Penn State is a great team, they really are. Extremely well coached. But they're not really built to face a team and have a lot of success against a team like us. They are built to expose a power running game, and they did that. We didn't run the power real well, didn't run inside real well, but we were able to beat them around the edge, beat them with speed. We were able to break some tackles which led to explosive plays. This team (Arkansas) is built to face teams like us. So it's going to be a little more difficult. Hopefully our success will continue."
Reminded of Arkansas's 2009 plan to "load the box," putting extra defenders up close to the line of scrimmage, to stop the running game, McElroy said, "The beauty of our offense is we have a ‘Pick your poison' mentality. If you want to stuff the box, we're going to exploit you with the pass, and if you want to drop back in coverage, we're going to try to burn you with the run. That's the great thing about having talented players all around me. We're able to use whatever is necessary to be successful. Hopefully we'll continue to do that all season, and this Saturday particularly."
McElroy also thinks Alabama's head coach, Nick Saban, being a stickler for defense helps the Tide offense. Bama's plan includes weekly practice of "best against best," first offense vs. first defense. "I think it upsets him sometimes when we're going against the first defense and do well," McElroy said. "It does help us out. I think the fact he is so defensive-minded and puts such emphasis on defense is a big reason we have been so successful on offense. We have to face such a difficult defense day-in and day-out and that gives us a lot of confidence going into Saturdays because we're going to see the looks we've seen all week, and they'll be a little easier."
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