Blistering Beginning

While currently lacking the recognition of wide receiver Julio Jones or linebacker Rolando McClain, junior Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy has certainly won his share of headlines early in the college football season.

In his first five games as the Crimson Tide's starting quarterback, McElroy is completing 65.5 percent of his passes for 1,086 yards and nine touchdowns.

Even better, after tossing his lone interception in the first half of the team's season opener against No. 7 Virginia Tech, McElroy has completed 73-of-101 passes for a 72.3 completion average.

"I really didn't know what to expect from him (entering the season)," said Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt. "I thought there'd be more learning curve. He's got a supporting cast, but don't take anything away from what he's done. He's been highly efficient. He doesn't make mistakes. He takes care of the ball."

Supported by a talented stable of running backs led by sophomore Mark Ingram and a defense ranked ninth nationally in yards surrendered per game (157.8), McElroy has flourished.

In the second week of the season against FIU, he set a new Alabama record for consecutive completions with 14. The following week in a matchup with North Texas, McElroy tied a school mark for highest completion percentage on 13-of-15 passing.

Not bad for a quarterback who hadn't seen live game action in his first three years in Tuscaloosa.

"His best friends are his defense and turning around to hand the ball to those running backs," said Nutt. "Then he's got (sophomore wide receiver) Julio Jones. When he's asked to make a throw, he's highly efficient. But again, he has good special teams play and an excellent defense. His supporting cast is awesome. I didn't know what to expect entering the year from him. I didn't know much about him."

"He hasn't had a lot of pressure because (his offensive line) does a great job of protection and understands the importance of not letting their quarterback get hit," defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix added. "He also understands when to get rid of the football. Our goal is to stop the run and hope we can get them into some passing situations where we can force some punts. But they're a good football team. Really good."

In 107 pass attempts dating back to the first half versus the Hokies, McElroy has failed to throw an interception. The streak ranks fourth in the Alabama record book, behind Brodie Croyle, Jay Barker and Freddie Kitchens.

Even more impressive, facing Arkansas in the team's conference opener, the junior totaled a career-high in passing yards with 291. Against Kentucky a week later, McElroy overcame a slow first quarter to finish with 148 yards and two touchdowns on 15-of-26 passing.

"I'm not surprised McElroy knows where to go with the ball even though this is his first year starting. They do such a great job of coaching over there and he's a product of their system," said Nix. "He's learned a lot just being in the system. Sometimes playing in games may be overrated. What matters is how you learn and apply what you learned when you get your opportunity. He's done well."

Following previous seasons mired in inconsistency at the position, the emergence of McElroy is a breath of fresh air for Alabama.

Though leading the Tide to a 12-2 record and Sugar Bowl appearance in his final year, now-Atlanta Falcon John Parker Wilson was nothing short of a game manager as a three-year starter under center.

Wilson heads every significant passing record in school history. However, the Hoover, Ala. product became somewhat known for turnovers in his career, logging at least 10 interceptions in both his sophomore and junior seasons.

Further, despite tossing nine touchdowns as a senior, Wilson produced seven interceptions and the fewest passing yards in his starting career with 2,243.

"He's young, but has gotten better every day," junior linebacker Allen Walker said of McElroy. "I think, for the most part, he's better than the quarterback they had last year (John Parker Wilson). He makes good decisions.

"But we can still force him to make poor decisions because he's inexperienced. They have a few guys they've had to replace on the offensive line. But like I said, they're getting better with each game and play sound football. We just have to tackle and know where our help is. We've got to play our game. We've got to force some mistakes."

Unlike his predecessor, a mixture of manager and gun-slinger has been bred in McElroy, allowing Alabama head coach Nick Saban to expand an already dangerous offense even more.

"I think we've had good balance offensively and have been efficient in throwing the ball," said Saban. "We have been effective enough running it and I think the balance that we've created has probably been the key to our success.

"If we can do both things equally well it will keep people off-balance and we have a multiple number of guys that are contributing to do that and making plays. We have several backs that have done a really good job. Greg (McElroy) has done a really good job. Our skill players have done a good job and our offensive line has given them all a chance to do a good job. I think it's really a team thing and everybody is involved in it."

While the torrid start by McElroy has raised the eyebrows of most outside observers, Walker refuses to get caught up in the hype.

Instead, focus for this 6-foot-1, 225 pounder is simply on limiting mistakes and playing sound defense against one of the country's best all-around offenses.

"This is the SEC. We're all on scholarship and are expected to do certain things. He's a guy that's expected to do his job," he said. "He's an exceptional quarterback for it being his first year. We're not going in to be timid, but are focused on not making mistakes. Alabama is the kind of team that will capitalize on your mistakes."


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