Alabama QB Mac Jones off to better start than Tua Tagovailoa, recent Heisman winners heading into Georgia game

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

TUSCALOOSA — Tua Tagovailoa left Alabama football with eight of basic passing records, including the top two seasons with 43 and 33 passing touchdowns in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

His presence, immediately following Lane Kiffin’s tenure as offensive coordinator, transformed Alabama’s offensive future.

Mac Jones, through three games as the full-time starter, is putting up numbers comparable to Tagovailoa, and in some cases outdoing those numbers.

Jones enters Saturday’s matchup with Georgia as the national leader in yards per attempt (13.3) and quarterback rating (220.35), and not far from the lead in completion percentage (79.5) and total passing yards (1,101).

“Mac’s doing a good job of taking the spot of 13,” UA running back Najee Harris said, referencing Tagovailoa by his jersey number. “He’s living up to everything. He’s doing a good job in practice, he’s doing the extra things with the receivers, he’s communicating more with us. Mac has done a good job.”

He is the fifth quarterback since 2000 to complete over 78% of his passes, with at least 80 attempts, and throw for at least 1,000 yards, all in the first three games of the season. He is the only one of the five to do it all against FBS competition: Geno Smith (West Virginia, 2012), Phillip Nelson (East Carolina, 2016), Anthony Gordon (Washington State, 2019) and Joe Burrow (LSU, 2019) all had at least one game against FCS competition in their hot starts.

“Just him seeing the right thing,” UA wide receiver DeVonta Smith said of Jones. “Whether it's him seeing the defense do something and he tells us a route to run to adjust to it and sight adjustment things like that, just him being locked in just the things he's seen on film, and it's just putting us in the right position to make plays.”

Jones’ numbers also compare favorably to the starts of the nine quarterbacks to win the Heisman Trophy since 2010. Jones’ 79.5 completion percentage is better than seven of those, his 1,101 yards are better than eight of them and his 13.3 yards per attempt are better than all nine. His eight touchdowns are better than two and tied with four, and his one interception is similarly comparable.

Jones’ 16.1 yards per attempt is something Tagovailoa never accomplished over more than 15 attempts: he threw for 16.0 against Louisiana-Lafayette in 2018. The closest he came to doing it against a Power 5 opponent was 14.2 twice, against Louisville in 2018 and in his final game, against Mississippi State in 2019.

In 2018, Tagovailoa completed 92 passes of 15 yards or more over 15 games; Jones, having completed 28 over the first three games, is on pace to complete 93 in just the 10-game regular season.

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or bhudson@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson