CECIL HURT: The only Alabama quarterback battle seems to be everyone against a memory
In the real world, Alabama comes off a 38-19 win over Missouri with no quarterback controversy at all. Mac Jones is the clear-cut starter, with freshman Bryce Young still on what Nick Saban euphemistically described in his Saturday night postgame as a “learning curve.”
Jones, who played only a couple of series after halftime, threw for two touchdowns, both to Jaylen Waddle, and would have had a third had Waddle not been ruled down inside the 1-yard line after touching the pylon with his empty hand rather than the one with a football in it. Jones showed a good touch, good leadership and the ability to take a hit.
“That’s the way Mac’s played (in practice),” Saban said. “He’s done a really good job. I thought he played well tonight. They have a good defensive team. Those guys are physical. They’re tough. They play a lot of close coverage, a lot of man-to-man. and they’re a good front seven. I thought Mac handled the game really well. I thought he made good choices and decisions. He was accurate with the ball. I was very, very pleased with the way Mac played.”
When Young came in, the arm talent was obvious. So was the impact of UA’s off-season schedule disruption due to coronavirus procedures. Young enrolled early, but there was no spring practice. He got some weight room work with the new UA strength and conditioning team, but there were also long stretches where players were sent home to work on their own. The whole point of highly-rated quarterbacks enrolling in December is to have nine months of work: perhaps not a boot camp, but certainly a growing experience. In many ways, it makes a quarterback a collegiate player — a young one with a lot to learn — but bigger, stronger, more schooled in the speed and complexity of SEC defenses.
What Young looked like in Columbia was basically what he looked like in his prep highlight reel. He looked like a high school player — a gifted and promising high school player, for sure, but a high school player nonetheless.
For both quarterbacks, there was also the inevitable comparison. It wasn’t spoken much except in those realms of the social media world where only the foolhardy tread. Neither one was Tua Tagovailoa.
That comparison was especially tough for Young. No one reasonably expected him to look like Tua in Game 1, but reason isn’t always in long supply. After all, the logic went, when Tua came in for mop-up duty against Vanderbilt in a similar situation in September 2017, he had the 360-spin-into-touchdown-pass highlight. Jones is more of a known commodity after years as a backup and, frankly, he didn’t miss too many throws. But when he did, you can almost see the heads nodding and hear the plaintive strumming of a ukulele back in Tuscaloosa.
One thing in which the quarterbacks can find solace: there was also someone somewhere watching Mississippi State’s K.J. Costello shred the LSU secondary for 623 yards and thinking, “Yeah, but if Tua hadda been healthy last year, he woulda thrown for 624.”
Perhaps Alabama fans needed the season to start, to see at least one game before starting to feel some closure and accept that what they have at the position is pretty good and will get better, whether they are generational talents or not.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt