TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- AJ McCarron took it on himself. The perfectionist in him wouldn't allow the blame to lie elsewhere.
But when the junior quarterback for the Alabama Crimson Tide was lying on his back in Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday afternoon, the fault wasn't his alone. The vaunted Alabama offensive line, a fivesome with more acclaim than a late-1990s boy band, was anything but special, allowing Western Kentucky to get in their quarterback's face early and often.
Barrett Jones, Alabama's defending Outland Trophy winner and starting center, was downtrodden after the game. The score -- a 35-0 blowout -- was made irrelevant by his comments.
"I thought we had a rough day," he said with some distress, outlining the missed assignments and poor execution that led to six sacks and eight tackles for loss.
Guard Chance Warmack, who started on the Alabama line that did not allow a single game of more than four sacks last season and averaged just 5.46 tackles for loss per game, said the communication against WKU was poor, as was the technique.
"You can't be sloppy in your technique," Warmack said. "Sometimes, depending on who you play, you sometimes think you can take plays off and you can't do that."
The usually upbeat senior was sour on the line's performance. He said he took the six sacks personally and warned against a similar result when the Crimson Tide travel to Fayetteville, Ark., to face the Razorbacks Saturday.
"We have to improve on pass protection," he said. "We're playing a very skilled opponent."
Asked whether the line played up to its standard, Warmack said simply, "We didn't."
"We all feel the same way about how we played on Saturday," he said. "We can be better as a group collectively. We take it upon ourselves to do that."
Like Jones and Warmack, right tackle D.J. Fluker said Saturday's 35-0 win left a bad taste in his mouth. He said the line has come back with a renewed focus in time to start SEC play.
"It is more of a disappointment because we could have played a lot better as an offensive unit," he said. "We can do better than that. You can't go into a game like that with a messed-up mindset, not real focused.
"We have to come back, make corrections, and get better from it."
The 6-foot-6, 335-pound road grader had trouble in pass protection against the Hilltoppers, letting defenders whirl by him and get to McCarron. The junior said it was a result of mental errors and refused to blame any instance of the quarterback holding onto the ball too long.
"We're taught to play until the whistle blows," he said.
McCarron had a bit of a limp when he spoke with the media on Tuesday night, banged up from what turned out to be a bruising game against WKU. Like the rest of the team, he said he expected better from himself despite tying a career high with four touchdown passes and no interceptions. He could have easily put the six sacks on his line, but instead, he didn't allow his own perfectionist attitude to apply to the men tasked with keeping him upright.
"Everything's not always going to be perfect," he said. "I know that's what people want, but that's just not going to happen. I mean, that's what coach always talks about. It's a little adversity that hits you. You've got to find a way to fight through it and still be successful at the end of the day. And we did that.
"We had some adversity hit us, they beat us a couple times, and a couple times, I'll put it on me. I should have got rid of the ball. But at the end of the day we came out with a W and that's all you can ask."
That's all you can ask for in the moment, but against Arkansas the coaching staff will be asking for much more. The same mistakes the line had against Western Kentucky won't stand against an SEC opponent eager to fight its way back on top.
"It's something that we've got to get corrected," Alabama coach Nick Saban said on Monday. "Our guys have to pay attention to detail, focus on doing the little things right. We don't get re-dos. When the quarterback gets hit, that's not ever good."