By Michael Southern
Special to The Tuscaloosa News
When Tua Tagovailoa left the field with a season-ending injury last week, redshirt sophomore quarterback Mac Jones inherited the responsibility of maintaining an offense averaging almost 47 points per game.
Instead of being the caretaker of a comfortable second-half lead, Jones became the default leader for the remainder of a season that still held national-championship aspirations.
Saturday afternoon in a damp and overcast Bryant-Denny Stadium, Jones made his second career start, led an efficient offense that capitalized on mistakes and delivered a knock-out blow by the end of the first half.
In the wake of Alabama’s 66-3 demolition of the Western Carolina Catamounts, the Crimson Tide offense had accounted for 59 points and converted 35 points off five turnovers.
“Turnovers are great,” Jones said. “It’s a team sport. We love the defense and we love when they make plays like that. It makes it a lot easier. That’s why we play football. The whole team plays together and good things happen.”
Fifth-ranked Alabama stormed to a comfortable 38-0 halftime lead and finished with 541 yards of total offense (310 passing, 231 rushing).
Jones completed 10 of 12 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns in just more than two quarters of work.
The Crimson Tide strategy involved some deep passes, but still centered on getting the ball into the hands of its play-making wide receivers as soon as possible.
“You step in there, it’s a new face at quarterback and you just try and be yourself,” Jones said. “Let the guys rally around you like they did. Take the pressure off your shoulders and let the guys make plays like they always do.
“Just do your job and let the guys make plays. Don’t blow anything out of proportion and put too much pressure on yourself.”
Fellow sophomore Jaylen Waddle led the team in yardage with three receptions for 101 yards that included a 54-yard touchdown late in the second quarter.
Waddle took a quick screen and proceeded to embarrass the entire Western Carolina defense with his romp to the end zone.
“When I first got here Mac was my quarterback,” Waddle said. “Me and Mac were always gelling together so that’s good to have right now. I think that comes in handy.
“Mac is always more vocal than anything. It was good to see Mac in a game atmosphere. Obviously we’ve seen him before, but he’s always good in the huddle. I think Mac did well. He was confident out there. I think he progressed a lot.”
DeVonta Smith, forever linked with Tagovailoa on the national-championship winning pass, continued his stellar season and sparked the offensive onslaught with a 57-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter.
Smith finished with four receptions for 94 yards and two touchdowns. His second scoring play occurred in the third quarter when he caught a 15-yard pass from freshman Taulia Tagovailoa.
“I think we played a pretty good game, an efficient game,” Jones said. “That’s what we wanted to do is be efficient in the passing game and run game and move the ball like we’re supposed to.
“We’ll fix the little things, but I don’t think there was anything too crazy we missed.”