Last year John Parker Wilson
was a rookie starter for Alabama
. As a sophomore quarterback, he was playing behind a rebuilt offensive line with a tailback who had lost some effectiveness and a receiving corps that was a year younger than it is now.
Last year at this time Bama was coming off a disappointing 28-13 loss to Florida
in which Wilson did not play well. On the trip to the state of Florida he completed a lot of passes for a lot of yards – sound familiar? – but suffered three interceptions, one that led to a touchdown and one that was returned 70 yards for a touchdown. (Wilson was 21 of 40 for 240 yards.)
Thus far after five games this year, Wilson has completed 100 of 186 passes, 53.8 per cent, for 1,091 yards and six touchdowns with three interceptions.
Last Saturday in a 21-14 loss to Florida State
he completed 28 of 53 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns. The 28 completions and 53 attempts were both career highs. On September 15 he had set career highs of 24 completions in 45 attempts for a career-best 327 yards and four touchdowns.
Wilson's 53 pass attempts ranks second in all-time Alabama history behind the 55 attempts by Scott Hunter in a 49-26 loss to Auburn
in 1969. The 28 completions is third best in Tide history.
Obviously, if a team can run the ball effectively, it is expected that its passing game will also be more effective. This year Alabama's Terry Grant
is the Tide's leading rusher with 82 rushes for 519 yards. Total Alabama rushing is 188 carries for 910 yards. Last year after five games Kenneth Darby was the leader with 91 carries for 309 yards (over 200 fewer than Grant has) and total Tide rushing was 201 carries for 679 yards (230 fewer than in 2006).
Almost everyone says Bama's offensive line is improved. Well, four of the five starters are back from last year, which means a year of experience and different with Mike McCoy
and Matt Caddell
playing increased roles. The top men are back, though, with D.J. Hall
ahead of last year's pace.
Many seem quick to point the finger at Wilson for decreased productivity. In the most important respect, though, Alabama is doing better than at this time last year. Through five games of 2006, Bama had scored 115 points, 23 per game. This year's Crimson Tide has 154 points, 30.8 per game.
Last year's Tide had 1,847 total yards of offense, 369.4 yards per game. This year Alabama has 2,074 yards, 414.8 yards per game.
This year's team has more first downs (118-105) and similar balance (in 2006 Alabama had 50 rushing first downs, 48 passing first downs, and this year it is 52 rushing and 56 passing).
John Parker Wilson hardly has to defend his work. In his first year as a starter in 2006, he set Alabama records for pass completions (216), attempts (379), yards (2m707), and touchdowns (17). He had the most plays (461) and most yards (2,790) in Alabama football history.
He set Crimson Tide records for most 200-yard passing games (nine) and consecutive games in which he passed for 200 or more yards (seven).
It is not necessary to note that Alabama has had some pretty good quarterbacks over the years whose names are below John Parker Wilson in the record book.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about Alabama's passing game against FSU in Jacksonville was the Tide averaging only 4.5 yards per attempt and only 8.6 yards per completion. Going into the game Bama was averaging 6.5 yards per attempt and 11.6 yards per completion.
In 2006 Wilson averaged 7.3 yards per pass attempt and 12.8 yards per completion. Even after Saturday's poor numbers, he is averaging 5.9 yards per attempt and 10.9 yards per completion.
It should also be remembered that Wilson has been in the clutch, bringing the Tide back to victory over Arkansas
, to a chance at victory in overtime over Georgia
(although that ended up a win for the Bulldogs), and to within striking distance of the Seminoles.
That comeback notwithstanding, many Alabama fans wondered why Alabama did not try a change at the position, bringing in redshirt freshman Greg McElroy
, who has had mop-up duty in one game, completing eight of nine passes for 73 yards against Western Carolina. That sentiment was no doubt fueled in part by FSU's great success in changing quarterbacks, from starter Drew Weatherford
to Xavier Lee
Alabama Coach Nick Saban
saw a different Wilson than many Alabama fans.
"The quarterback got too much pressure, got hit too much," Saban said. "They rushed three guys and put pressure on us and sacked us and covered with eight which makes for a difficult day for any quarterback. John Parker competed his tail off in the game and under some real adverse circumstances he persevered real well. I don't think we played well enough around him in the passing game and our inability to run the ball created a lot of third down situations that aren't favorable to conversion."
Saban added, "I think John Parker has done a lot more good things than bad things, and I think that we would like for him to continue to develop consistency. No one can play perfectly, no one can make every throw an accurate one. We have a couple of situations where we've got to be reading the right things and looking at the right things so we make the right choices and decisions. Those are the kind of things we want to keep making improvement.
"Technically and fundamentally he's gotten better and better. In this last game he got far too much pressure and got hit way too much and showed a lot of mettle and character and competitive spirit in the way he continued to play because we didn't do a good enough job of blocking.
"I'm not going to sit here and blame the quarterback when I think the entire offensive team should assume a better responsibility for being able to execute, especially when they play an outstanding defensive team like Florida State."
Through five games, Alabama is 3-2 overall and quarterback John Parker Wilson has completed 84 of 139 passes, 60.4 per cent, for 1,153 yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions. His long pass play has been for 78 yards. Oh, wait a minute! That was last year.