TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — John Parker Wilson scrambled to his right late in the first half of Saturday’s Alabama spring football game, leading a chasing Brandon Fanney into Alabama coach Nick Saban.
Wearing a brown jacket and crimson tie as he stood behind the offense, Saban absorbed a soft hit from Fanney, stayed on his feet and gestured toward the defensive lineman. The estimated crowd of 78,200 — the second-largest in college football history to see a spring game, next to last year’s capacity A-Day audience — roared their approval.
“I think John Parker was running a pick off of me,” Saban cracked after the Crimson team’s 24-14 win over the White on a sunny but windy day at Bryant-Denny Stadium. “I’ll wear a black shirt next year so there’s no contact on the coach.
The Associated Press -- Alabama coach Nick Saban gets caught up in the play and almost tackled by Brandon Fanney (98) as quarterback John Parker Wilson, far left, scrambles in the A-Day game.
“But the athleticism is still there. I’ve still got it. I’ve got quick enough feet not to get run over. But John Parker did that on purpose, I promise you.”
Wilson claims he didn’t attempt to get his coach decked, and believing him is easy. He wouldn’t want Saban to miss his performance Saturday.
Wilson, much maligned during Alabama’s 7-6 season a year ago, exemplified his improvement on one fourth-quarter play when he couldn’t find open receivers downfield.
He didn’t force a pass into coverage, which cost Alabama against Mississippi State last year. He didn’t cling to the ball in hopes a receiver would establish separation, which cost the Crimson Tide against LSU on a Wilson fumble.
Wilson simply dumped the ball off to running back Terry Grant — the last option on the play — and watched him scamper past linebacker Jennings Hester and sprint 75 yards for a touchdown.
Saban said the offense under new coordinator Jim McElwain is more “quarterback friendly” than last year. Wilson maintains he’s never been more comfortable in an offense.
After a first quarter plagued by dropped passes and throwaways, Wilson completed 16 of 27 passes for 258 yards and three touchdowns to help Crimson win the game and earn the opportunity to eat steaks Tuesday. As the losing team, members of the White squad will eat beans and franks.
“We do some things different that, I think, allows for easier completions,” Wilson said. “We’re not taking shots down field. We’ve got some stuff underneath that helps you get on a roll. When you get going, you get going. When there’s an opportunity, take it. When there’s not, based on down and distance, read the defense and take the easy stuff.”
Wilson impressed Saban despite throwing to a young group of receivers, particularly with Nikita Stover out with a hamstring injury. Mike McCoy caught six passes for 101 yards, and sophomore Earl Alexander caught a touchdown pass over Kareem Jackson.
For the White team, redshirt freshman Darius Hanks caught four passes for 102 yards and a touchdown.
“John Parker is a very emotional guy, but sometimes you’ve got to throttle that a little bit when you’re playing quarterback so you’re always making the best decisions for your team,” Saban said. “He’s shown some maturity in that. The offense we have is a little bit more quarterback friendly. He feels more comfortable with what we’re doing, and he’s very confident.”
The difference, according to senior offensive lineman Antoine Caldwell, is forcing Wilson to throw the ball quickly. Given extra time, Wilson will often scramble recklessly or throw a wild pass when the pressure comes.
“We do a lot of things to get the ball out of his hand quick,” Caldwell said. “There’s not a lot of thinking involved in it. It’s two-, three- or four-step drops and it’s out. John Parker thrives in that.”
Aside from the new offense, the other focus entering Saturday’s A-Day game was the crowd. Alabama made national news by drawing 92,138 — and turning several more thousand away — at last season’s scrimmage. Saban said on national signing day two months ago that the crowd helped Alabama sign the nation’s top recruiting class.
Alabama fans filled the entire lower bowl and most of the upper deck for Saturday’s practice.
“We’ve got fans like no other,” McCoy said. “They treat us like rock stars around here.”
The Crimson players will feel like stars again Tuesday. Caldwell said he wanted his steak medium well. And with 139 days until Alabama opens with Clemson at the Georgia Dome, Parker is exuding the confidence of a quarterback who will be adored by all Alabama fans next season.
Now that would be rare.