Quarterback A.J. McCarron faced a media blitz on Tuesday where he dodged a rush of questions about his return to Alabama when the Battlehawks (5-1) travel to Birmingham (6-0) Saturday for a highly anticipated clash of the UFL’s top teams.

“Listen, it’s just another game. I mean, that’s all I want it to be,” McCarron – a Mobile, AL native and two-time BCS National Championship winner at the University of Alabama – said to a Zoom call packed with Alabama media.

The last football game McCarron played in the “Heart of Dixie” is a college football classic that A.J. would love to forget.

McCarron’s Crimson Tide attempted a long field goal to break a 28-28 tie on the final play of the 78th Iron Bowl game against in-state rival Auburn, but Tigers’ speedster Chris Davis caught the missed field goal in the endzone and returned it 109 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

That heartbreaker at Jordan-Hare Stadium, dubbed the “Kick Six” game, is more than a decade past. But McCarron’s legendary career remains fresh for Crimson Tide faithful.

ST LOUIS, MISSOURI – APRIL 20: AJ McCarron #10 of the St. Louis Battlehawks throws the ball during the first half against the Memphis Showboats at The Dome at America’s Center on April 20, 2024 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/UFL/Getty Images)

 

The Battlehawks boast the top scoring offense in the UFL and McCarron will be tested by the league’s top scoring defense. Birmingham yields just 14.8 points-per-game, and the Stallions lead the UFL with 21 sacks and six interceptions. The Stallions won the USFL last spring and are 23-3 over the past two seasons.

“I’m excited for A.J. – you know, A.J.’s been on the biggest stage his whole career. Honestly that’s when A.J. rises the most to the occasion is when his back is against the wall, when a big play needs to be made,” St. Louis offensive coordinator Bruce Gradowski said.

“These are the matchups, I think, he lives for. He might make it a headache of a week for me, but he just wants to get right and be prepared. I say that playfully because he’s dialed in. He’s a competitor. These moments are going to be fun – I would love to see this stadium packed because A.J.’s basically going home.”

McCarron’s family is coordinating logistics for a large contingent of A.J.’s family and friends that will be in attendance.

“I just know a bunch of people are coming, I don’t know who – I don’t pay attention to it,” McCarron said. “If anybody hits me up, they get ignored, to be honest with you. During the season I don’t reach out, I try to limit who I talk to, just so I can stay focused.”

Gradowski expects Birmingham will focus on Battlehawks’ wide receiver Hakeem Butler, who leads the UFL with 478 yards and five touchdown catches. Stallions’ cornerback Daniel Isom (SLUH) is a St. Louis native; he’s appeared in all six games and recorded eight tackles and an interception.

“You see what the guy does, he’s a monster on the field. He’s all of six-foot-6 and he’s a playmaker, so I expect they are watching the same film I’m watching – that’s who they’re going to key on,” Gradkowski said.

 

The Battlehawks defense is no slouch either; St. Louis has the top total defense in the league. Stallions’ quarterback Adrian Martinez is a dual threat that ranks fourth in the UFL with 971 passing yards and seven touchdowns. Martinez averages 54.5 yards rushing per game.

“I talk about in our meetings, he’s an escape artist,” Battlehawks defensive coordinator Donnie Abraham said. “He looks like he’s in trouble, he gets out of it. You watch film, watch tape, there’s free rushers in his face, he somehow finds a way to get outside the pocket.”

“We definitely have our work cut out for us this week.”

Kickoff from Protective Field in Birmingham is at 3 p.m. on Fox.

 

 

Andy Carroll

Andy Carroll

Andy Carroll is a freelance sports writer living in the Ozarks with his wife and four great kids. He loves St. Louis, toasted ravioli and minor league baseball. You can follow him on Twitter @carroll_sgf and Instagram @andycarroll505