Alabama football: Mac Jones vs. Bryce Young is the gift that keeps on giving
Perhaps the single greatest phenomenon this scribe experienced when he was at Ground Zero of the Crimson Nation was the near-constant obsession with Alabama’s backup quarterback.
From Tyler Watts and Andrew Zow traded the starting roles, to when Spencer Pennington backed up Brodie Croyle, to when AJ McCarron was backing up Greg McElroy, to when some kid from Hawaii was backing up the SEC Freshman of the Year, the 2nd-string quarterback wearing a ballcap next to Nick Saban is always oddly very popular.
Oh sure, there are also seasons like 2019, when Mac Jones was so far in Tua Tagovailoa’s rear-view mirror that he could barely even make out the Hawaii license plate on Tua’s bandwagon. But just as often, the fascination of who isn’t under center in Tuscaloosa becomes a hype all its own.
Listen, we aren’t saying that Jones isn’t going to be the starter when the Crimson Tide travel to Columbia to take on Missouri. But just wait until Alabama is up 48-3 on the Tigers at Faurot Field and out trots the newest object of interest…
Perhaps you’ve heard of Young. A January enrollee in Tuscaloosa, Young earned 5-star accolades while at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif. Young threw for 4,528 yards — 348.3 per game — at a 71.9% clip with 58 touchdowns against just 6 interceptions. He also rushed for 357 yards and 10 touchdowns, and is considered a prime dual-threat QB in the vein of a certain former sweet Hawaiian prince.
And while Young hasn’t even been publicly witnessed in a crimson uniform, that hasn’t stopped teammates from talking about him. Receiver DeVonta Smith got a good look at the No. 1 QB recruit from Southern California and loves what he sees.
“He’s going to be a great quarterback,” Smith said via video conference after the Tide’s Monday fall practice. “With him not having a spring and just coming during the summer, he learns quick.”
That didn’t stop Young from working out informally with his new teammates over the summer. And now that practice has officially begun, so too has the Young hype.
“I like what I’m seeing. He’s ready,” Smith said. “Just the way that he approaches the game and handles himself, he’s going to be a great quarterback.”
As for Jones … you know, the great quarterback Alabama already has … he is saying and doing all the right things so far this fall as his 4th season in Tuscaloosa begins.
“For me, it’s just putting my head down and working and trying to lead the team and get everybody ready to play because we really don’t know what’s going to happen this year,” Jones said last week before practice began. “Some people could miss games, but everyone’s got to be ready to roll. I think all of our quarterbacks have done a really good job preparing that way and preparing like the starter. We’re just moving forward.”
Jones actually ascended to the QB1 spot earlier than expected, of course. When Tagovailoa initially was injured during the Tennessee game last season and lined up for his second ankle ligament surgery, Jones stepped in against lightweight Arkansas and completed 18-of-22 attempts for 235 yards and a touchdown. Tagovailoa was back for the LSU game and Jones went back to the bench, but when Tagovailoa injured his hip against Mississippi State, it was Jones’ team the rest of the way.
The sophomore performed well, too, throwing for 275 yards and 3 more scores against Western Carolina before an all-or-nothing game against Auburn. Jones threw for 335 yards and 4 touchdowns at Jordan-Hare Stadium, but 2 costly pick-6s were integral in an Iron Bowl loss. Jones rebounded from that loss to perform well against Michigan in the Citrus Bowl, throwing for 327 yards and 3 more scores to end the 2019 season on a high note.
Look, no one on this end of the keyboard is proclaiming that Bryce Young should be under center for the opening play of the Missouri game. Only programs that don’t have the layers of insanely talented players like Alabama has make that attempt.
But just like the Ballad of Blake Barnett back in 2016, Saban owns a hook worthy of The Gong Show. Surely you remember Barnett. Prototypical drop-back quarterback who led the Crimson Tide in the 2016 season-opener against Southern Cal. Tide might have won that game with Barnett at the controls, but he didn’t even make it out of the 1st quarter. By Week 2 against Western Kentucky, a certain true freshman named Jalen Hurts was the man — and was all the way to a last-second national title game loss to Clemson.
Long story short: Mac Jones is the Alabama starting quarterback. Mac Jones will start against Missouri on Sept. 26. Mac Jones is the man.
Bryce Young? He’s just the next most popular player in town, waiting in the wings for Jones to mess up.
Cover photo via Twitter @PatrickBrickman