Tua Tagovailoa made an emotional return to Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday, just days after season-ending hip surgery. He sat in a heavily protected cart on the sidelines and acknowledged the roar of the crowd when he appeared on the Jumbotron.
He did not, however, intercept a pass. His teammates handled that.
The No. 5 Alabama Crimson Tide forced five turnovers and played as much of its roster as possible in an easy 66-3 win over an overmatched Western Carolina. Xavier McKinney and Jared Mayden each had two interceptions for UA — McKinney returned one 81 yards for a touchdown — and Mac Jones, now the starting quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa’s place, had a nearly flawless performance.
Jones completed 10 of 12 passes for a career high 275 yards and three touchdowns (a quarterback rating of 358.3) before leaving the game in the early third quarter. Taulia Tagovailoa came on and threw his first career touchdown pass and freshman Paul Tyson, the great-grandson of legendary UA head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, finished the game in his first appearance in a Crimson Tide uniform.
“Our guys executed pretty well today, played pretty well,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “It’s all about what we need to do in the future so hopefully some of the things we did today will help us next week.
“I think (Jones) did a pretty good job. I think he learned some things today and we’ll learn some things about him as well.”
Jones’ touchdown passes covered 57 yards to DeVonta Smith, 12 yards to Najee Harris and 54 yards to Jaylen Waddle. Harris also added a 5-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
Waddle had 188 all-purpose yards (101 on pass receptions and 87 on kick returns.)
After the reserves came on, Mayden capped a memorable senior day with two interceptions. Taulia Tagovailoa threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Smith and freshman Keilan Robinson scored on a 46-yard run.
The Alabama defense allowed 179 yards to the Catamounts.
The 66 points against FCS Western Carolina were the most by Alabama this season and the 63-point margin was the largest since a 2017 victory over Ole Miss, also by a 66-3 margin. It also assured a 12th consecutive 10-win season for the Crimson Tide.
Alabama (10-1) closes its regular season next Saturday at No. 15 Auburn.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt