Alabama football: This is, without question, Mac Jones' team ... and that's a very good thing
No position in football, at any level, is scrutinized more than quarterback.
Win or lose, the game flows through the person at the helm of the offense. Other than the center, the QB touches the ball on every offensive play (yes, we know the Wildcat exists …) and is the single player more responsible for a team’s fortunes than any other. Because you gotta score to win, right (yes, we know field-goal kickers exist …)?
At Alabama, perhaps more than any other institution of higher learning, the quarterback of the Crimson Tide is at the apex not only of the offense but the entire team. As it was with Namath and Stabler, McElroy and McCarron, Hurts and a certain sweet Hawaiian prince, when you take snaps from center at Alabama, you’re unquestionably “The Man.”
Until Saturday, it never quite felt like Mac Jones was quite cut out for “The Man” status. When Jones was thrust into focus during Tua Tagovailoa’s injury-plagued final season in 2019, the Crimson Tide always felt like Tua’s Team. Jones might have been 4-1 as a starter heading into Saturday’s home tilt against No. 13 Texas A&M, but up until the ball left the tee Saturday afternoon in front of a quarter-full Bryant-Denny Stadium, somehow the Crimson Tide felt like dad’s suit jacket you tried on as a teenager — just didn’t quite fit right.
Sixty minutes of spirited amateur intercollegiate tackle football later, well, there is no debate: This 2020 Alabama Crimson Tide team belongs to Mac Jones.
The numbers are both staggering and still didn’t quite tell the entire story. Jones completed 20-of-27 pass attempts for 435 yards and 4 touchdowns against 1 interception.
Jones’ 435 passing yards were the 4th-most by any Alabama quarterback in a single game. Tagovailoa threw for 444 last year at South Carolina while Scott Hunter’s 484 yards in the 1969 Iron Bowl remain the record. Saturday’s total also demolished Jones’ previous career-high of 335 yards set last November in a star-crossed Iron Bowl.
That’s headline-stealing stuff, to be sure. But how Jones racked up that career-high passing yardage total in just 20 completions is even more impressive. Jones distributed the ball to 5 Tide receivers, with sophomore John Metchie the biggest recipient — catching 5 of 6 targets for 181 yards and 2 touchdowns. Junior Jaylen Waddle hauled in 5 of 6 targets for 142 yards and a touchdown, and senior DeVonta Smith caught a team-high 6 of 8 passes thrown his way for 63 yards and a score. Senior running back Najee Harris caught both Jones passes thrown his way for 23 yards, and senior tight end Miller Forristall caught 2 of 3 targets for 23 yards.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is a lethal combination of game management and ball distribution. Even Jones’ lone interception, a pick by DeMarvin Leal that got returned 43 yards as part of a 2-touchdown Aggies flurry that briefly tied the game at 14, wasn’t totally the quarterback’s fault.
“The way they played us, we have to utilize the skill guys that we have and take shots (down the field),” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “They were up there stopping the run. Their safeties were very aggressive. I thought we did a good job of adjusting to that and making some big plays.”
Truth be told, we should have seen this coming from Jones. It wasn’t like he was a scrub in 2019 — finishing with 1,503 yards and 14 touchdowns. With Saturday’s eye-popping performance, Jones now has 684 passing yards while completing 38-of 51 passes (74.5 percent) with 6 touchdowns in 2020. Jones uncorked touchdown tosses of 77, 87 and 63 yards against Texas A&M, but was more miffed about a deep ball to Metchie that he missed than eager to talk about the long ones he completed.
Then again, Jones has been carrying a sizable chip on his shoulder since last season, as evidenced by a clip Alabama’s social media accounts distributed pregame that was simply Jones walking through the new tunnel into Bryant-Denny Stadium’s locker room with sports talk sound bites as the only audio — including the voice of ESPN pundit Stephen A. Smith offering this:
“With all due respect, I don’t want to see Mac Jones playing for a national championship,” Smith intoned. “But he’s no Tua. Mac Jones?”
Mr. Jones, were you perhaps motivated by the doubters far and wide?
“Yeah, a little bit,” Jones said postgame. “Everyone wants to talk and say Alabama’s not back and I think we’ve proved the first two games we’re improving and we just have to continue to do that.”
A couple of minutes later, Jones even sounded like Saban when talking about emotion interfering with performance.
“You can’t go in there and be emotional and stuff,” Jones said. “Just do your job. That’s what I tell everybody. And I think the defense would say the same. Just do your job every play and don’t make it emotional. Just play with emotion, but don’t be emotional.”
Saban recognizes that, even with an open desire for balance on offense, giving Jones the ability to utilize the Tide’s wealth of talent on offense is bound to pay dividends.
“We expect Mac to develop maturity and confidence,” Saban said. “He’s very smart. He’s bright. He’s accurate with the ball and we have got some good skill guys. The strength of our team is to be able to utilize those guys. … When teams play us to stop the run, then we have to try and make big plays. Mac is certainly doing a good job of that. Mac is playing very well.”
Yes, very well indeed. With Ole Miss and their porous pass defense up next, it is hard to believe Jones won’t continue to blossom before our very eyes.