TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- AJ McCarron showed it in the first half against Michigan, a willingness to set his feet, find a receiver and deliver the ball with authority. He showed he could control the offense under center.
A week later, against an unranked Western Kentucky team looking for a payday in Tuscaloosa, McCarron continued to take ownership of the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide, carving up the defense with big play after big play. The junior quarterback tied a career high with four touchdowns in a 35-0 rout of the Hilltoppers.
McCarron was brutally effective in Alabama's home debut at Bryant-Denny Stadium, completing 14 of 19 passes for 219 yards. His 240 passing effeciency rating was the highest of his career, and nearly double that of his 234-yard performance against LSU in the BCS National Championship Game.
"When we executed properly, I thought we did a pretty good job, put some drives together and made some big plays," said Alabama coach Nick Saban. "We were fortunate to hit a couple big plays today and [McCarron] threw it to the right guy and read the coverage correctly."
McCarron found seven different receivers on the day, with junior Kevin Norwood leading the way with three receptions for 92 yards and two touchdowns.
Norwood said he's noticed a change in his quarterback this season, noting that McCarron is more assertive in his actions and knows what to expect from the receivers.
"His confidence level is up, his leadership is up," Norwood explained.
McCarron had 10 completions of 10-plus yards against Western Kentucky, including three deep passes that went for 20 or more yards. Christion Jones, the Tide's speedy slot receiver caught three passes from McCarron with all three going for first downs.
Like Norwood, Jones said he's seen a new, more confident quarterback under center. What began in New Orleans against LSU has carried over to the following season.
"AJ has really stepped up," Jones said. "He's really picked up where he left off at the national championship game. He's overall conquered a lot of things with the passing game, with timing."
McCarron didn't just hit on the big play Saturday afternoon. In the face of heavy pressure from WKU, he found his check down option as often as he went deep. He dropped the ball off to true freshman tailback T.J. Yeldon four times, gaining 47 yards in all.
Alabama center Barrett Jones said that if not for the line's problems in pass protection, McCarron might have put up even better numbers.
"If we can protect him better, he could have had a career day," Jones said.
Said Saban: "We need to do a better job in the passing game. AJ is a guy that is very capable of making a lot of good plays, a lot of good throws. We had a couple drops today. Not perfect passes but passes that should be caught.
"We just need to get in sync in terms of what we're doing."
When Alabama faces Arkansas next Saturday, the Tide might need even more from McCarron. As Norwood noted, 35-0 isn't the best this offense can do.
"We can't play like we played today," Norwood said. "35-0 might seem good for the fans, but deep down inside we know we didn't do our best.
"We have to go back Monday and work on corrections and just prepare harder."