Rapid Reaction: So far, so good as Mac Jones, Alabama cruise in Iron Bowl tune-up
After a full dress rehearsal a month ago against Arkansas and a sudden second-half appearance last week against Mississippi State, the Mac Jones Era officially began Saturday for the No. 5-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.
So far, so good.
Jones appeared every bit the game manager he is destined to be for the remainder of his reign, and Alabama’s defense swarmed from start to finish en route to a 66-3 victory at a rain-soaked, half-empty Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Important disclaimer: Alabama’s opponent Saturday was 3-8 Western Carolina. No one was about to confuse the Catamounts with Auburn, next week’s win-or-bust opponent, or even Ole Miss. Looking up at all but East Tennessee State in the FCS’ Southern Conference, Western Carolina was in Tuscaloosa to serve as live bodies for a 60-minute scrimmage and a healthy paycheck.
Tua Tagovailoa, the electrifying Tide quarterback who dislocated his hip last week against the Bulldogs, was on the Bryant-Denny sidelines for Senior Day and was cheered wildly by the home crowd when shown on the big screens. Tagovailoa, still a junior, is expected to head to the NFL as a potential 1st-round draft pick in the spring and made his final home appearance as a collegian while sitting in a utility cart and under a blanket following hip surgery in Houston earlier this week.
Eleven straight Alabama schedules have included an NCAA FCS opponent. Each of the FCS teams served as the opponent in Alabama’s game before the Iron Bowl.
In addition to a rectangular piece of paper with a lot of zeros, Alabama also gave Western Carolina a tidy whipping on both sides of the ball. Jones went a crisp 10-of-12 for 275 passing yards and 3 TDs, and the Tide defense did the rest.
The Tide began the day in an efficient fashion, moving 46 yards via a tandem of Jones short passes and Najee Harris rushes into the Catamounts red zone. Although the drive stalled at the WCU 11, Joseph Bulovas was true on a 29-yarder to make it 3-0.
That ended up being as close as Western Carolina would be all day.
Only four plays into the Catamounts’ opening possession, Xavier McKinney began his huge day by picking off WCU quarterback Tyrie Adams at the Tide 24.
Alabama didn’t need long from there. After a deep incompletion, Harris ripped off a 22-yard run before Jones found DeVonta Smith on a 57-yard TD pass for a 10-0 advantage.
McKinney struck again on Western Carolina’s ensuing drive, intercepting Adams at the Tide 19 and tip-toeing down the Catamounts sideline for an 81-yard touchdown and a 17-0 lead.
Not content with 2 turnovers, McKinney again tormented Adams on Western Carolina’s first drive of the second quarter — punching the ball out of Adams’ hand during an 18-yard scramble, a fumble that Patrick Surtain fell on for the Tide’s third turnover of the first half.
From there, Jones and Alabama engineered a 6-play, 63-yard drive to further dominate WCU — as Brian Robinson Jr. danced in for a 5-yard TD that made it 24-0.
The insane second quarter continued unabated on the Tide’s next possession, as Jones hit Smith for 14, Jaylen Waddle for 37 to set up a 12-yard TD pass to Harris and a 31-0 lead. And the next possession? Jones found Waddle on a screen pass that Waddle turned into a 54-yard touchdown and a 38-0 lead.
Jones finished the first half 9-of-11 for 253 yards and 3 TDs. Alabama’s defense made four sacks, forced Adams briefly out of the game in favor of WCU backup QB Will Jones, and allowed just 97 first-half yards.
The beating continued unabated in the second half on the very first play of the third quarter, as Jared Mayden stepped in front of Adams’ pass across the middle at the WCU 27. Just 3 plays later, including a 22-yard dart to Jeudy, Harris darted in for a 5-yard score.
That was enough for Jones, who ceded to Taulia Tagovailoa, the younger brother of Tua and Alabama’s youngest sweet Hawaiian prince. Following another interception by Mayden (Adams’ 4th of the game against 7 completions to his own team), the freshman made his fifth appearance of the season — evaporating his chances of redshirting 2019. 4 plays later, Taulia hit Smith on a 15-yard TD for is his first collegiate scoring pass.
Western Carolina is 0-57 all-time against NCAA FBS opponents. The Catamounts are 0-16 against SEC opponents.
Alabama has now beaten 35 consecutive nonconference opponents at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Crimson Tide’s most recent loss to a nonconference opponent at home is a 21-14 defeat by Louisiana-Monroe in 2007.
The Tide also now have 91 consecutive victories over unranked teams — the longest such streak (by 13 games) in NCAA FBS history since the AP poll began in 1936.