Joe Medley: Big 3's big hearts - 'Bama, Auburn and JSU's big competitors
by Joe Medley
jmedley@annistonstar.com
Oct 21, 2012 | 4550 views |  0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jacksonville State's Griffin Thomas (left), Auburn's Philip Lutzenkirchen (center), and Alabama's AJ McCarron. (Anniston Star file photos)
Jacksonville State's Griffin Thomas (left), Auburn's Philip Lutzenkirchen (center), and Alabama's AJ McCarron. (Anniston Star file photos)
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Big 3 team storylines have become predictable, so it’s high time to talk stories within their stories.

No. 1 Alabama keeps dominating and did again Saturday, beating Tennessee 44-13, but how about that signature performance by banged-up quarterback AJ McCarron? His competitiveness shows through with Nick Saban-esque consistency.

We could keep piling on Auburn as it keeps hitting new lows, like its 17-13 loss at Vanderbilt on Saturday, but we’ve learned there’s more to the story of senior tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen’s season-ending injury. Turns out his season really ended in August, and he did his best to play through it.

Jacksonville State has made a pattern of losing then rebounding, and no one player symbolizes that more than hero-goat-hero Griffin Thomas, whose kick decided the Gamecocks’ 31-28 upset of then-unbeaten Tennessee State.

The teams are what they are. They don’t look to surprise us any time soon, so let’s have salutes to three guys who deserve salutes.

Alabama: AJ OK

For all of the attention paid to quarterback McCarron’s right knee since he hurt it against Missouri a week ago, his arm took center stage Saturday. He threw for 306 yards and four touchdowns at Tennessee.

McCarron is a second-year starter who showed his competitiveness in his first year running the Tide’s offense. He showed it by jawing with Florida players, and he showed it by coming through when Alabama’s coaching staff relied on his arm to win that second chance against LSU.

No shock when McCarron went back into the game at Missouri, after a Mizzou defender slid into his knee.

No shock that McCarron went to Knoxville on Saturday and showed out when much of the pregame hype pegged Tennessee’s Tyler Bray as the quarterback to watch.

No shock that McCarron is having a better junior season despite a change in his position coach and coordinator.

McCarron has loads of talent around him and plenty of talent in him, but his competitiveness stands out. It has become as reliable as an Alabama blowout.

Auburn: Losing Lutz

Chief among mysteries about this Auburn team is how the Tigers went from a national-title team to a 1-6 team in two falls, and we might never now the full answer.

We do have an answer as to why Lutzenkirchen was having such a disappointing senior season before it officially ended Saturday. Turns out, his season never really started.

“Hip’s been bothering me since fall camp, and it’s to the point where I was hurting the team for me to not play at 100 percent,” he tweeted Saturday, after Auburn lost at Vandy and Auburn coach Gene Chizik announced that Lutzenkirchen had a season-ending injury. “Gave it all I had. Sorry.”

Lutzenkirchen had just 15 catches for 139 yards through six games this season, much less than expected and Auburn needed. It seemed Auburn struggled to find ways to get him the ball.

His physical struggles don’t fully explain Auburn’s struggles on offense, but Auburn clearly needed everything he could give.

Lutzenkirchen was an excellent college player. Too bad we in college football’s heartland didn’t get to see him at his best during his senior year.

JSU: He who kicks last

Thomas gave it his all in the Gamecocks’ loss at Eastern Illinois a week ago. Two misses and a block left him feeling sorry.

Given another chance Saturday, he ended the game with a field goal for the second time this season, making him a symbol of JSU’s season to date.

Three times this season, JSU has lost. Three times, JSU has won the following week, and they did it to previously unbeaten Tennessee State on Saturday.

The Gamecocks opened with a loss at Arkansas then beat Chattanooga on a Thomas field goal.

JSU suffered 51-21 embarrassment at Eastern Kentucky then beat Tennessee Tech, rallying from behind.

The Gamecocks lost 31-28 to EIU then beat No. 17 TSU by the same score, in overtime and on a Thomas kick. They did it despite injuries to quarterback Marques Ivory and running back Troymaine Pope.

“I’m becoming increasingly more impressed with the players I’m coaching,” JSU coach Jack Crowe said.

Not the least of which is the kicker.

Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.

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