AUBURN — Mac Jones completed two-thirds of his passes in his first road start, which just so happened to come in a must-win rivalry game against the No. 15 team in the nation. He threw four touchdown passes, all four of them either breaking ties or turning University of Alabama deficits into leads.
The two throws that will plague the performance are the two interceptions, both of them returned for touchdowns. In a game when the UA defense allowed 5.3 yards per carry and did not record a sack, defensive scores were ultimately too much to overcome in a 48-45 loss.
But Jones showed some mettle in responding to those interceptions and other crucial moments throughout the game.
“I thought Mac played really well,” UA coach Nick Saban said. “The two picks for touchdowns, those are the kind of plays that you never want to happen, and I’m sure Mac wishes he had those back, but he was actually pressured pretty good on the one down on the goal line and had to get rid of the ball. But I thought overall, he did a really, really good job today.”
The interception Saban is referencing was Jones’ second one, when a throw behind Harris bounced into the hands of Zakoby McClain for a 100-yard touchdown return. Jones agrees that he should have thrown the ball away under that pressure.
But after it, Jones marched UA down the field for a go-ahead touchdown in five plays. The drive included a 24-yard pass to Henry Ruggs III, a 26-yard pass to DeVonta Smith and the 12-yard touchdown pass to Jaylen Waddle, one of his three receiving scores.
The first interception could have been more jarring for Jones, given the nature of it.
“I’ve made that throw 100,000 times since I was 5 years old. I missed the throw to Jerry (Jeudy), they picked me off and scored,” he said. “It was a bad throw and it was my fault.”
After Waddle returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown and Auburn fumbled on its second play, Jones’ first play was a perfectly placed 33-yard pass to Smith. UA scored three plays later.
It’s possible Jones’ biggest moment of the game came on his feet. On the drive that could have tied the game with a field goal, UA faced a fourth-and-7 on the 37-yard line. UA took a timeout to find the right play — one that was quickly wrecked by a collapsing pocket. Jones found a way out, escaping for 18 yards and the first down, keeping both the drive alive and moving UA into field goal position for the potential tie.
“Really it was the other guys around me, they were never down on themselves,” Jones said of his confidence in those moments.
Saban pointed out the problematic nature of gifting a quality team 14 points on the road, but he was also quick to point out that the offense did more than enough to win the game in spite of it.
The Auburn defense entered the game eighth in the nation in allowing 4.48 yards per play; UA averaged 6.7 against the Tigers. The 515 yards UA amassed on the Tigers is the most Auburn has allowed all season and just the second time a team has gone for more than 400. Auburn’s season-high for points allowed was 24; UA had 24 points with four minutes left in the first half.
Saban pointed out the failings in the red zone — one missed field goal and a turnover resulting in scores on three of five trips — but ultimately didn’t feel the need to change the offense for Jones.
“I don’t think a lot,” Saban said. “We’re not going to put the game on Mac in terms of just throwing the ball all over the yard: we wanted to have balance in the offense and I thought (offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian) did a good job of that.”