Mac Jones maturing as Alabama football's quarterback
The same attribute that drove Mac Jones to Alabama became an obstacle when he won the Crimson Tide’s starting job: the nature of perfectionists to obsess over their mistakes.
“Since he was a young child, he’s been kind of a perfectionist,” Gordon Jones, Mac’s father, said. “He hasn’t needed a lot of outside discipline, supervision, going over plays, anything like that. He’s such a student of the game, he knows when he’s done something wrong.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban has consistently emphasized Jones’ development in that regard, his ability to let bad plays go and execute the next play: he mentioned it three times in the final 10 days before the season. Jones did it in UA’s win over Texas A&M, responding to a second-quarter interception by completing five of his next six passes for 74 yards. His development there is crucial both for his growth into the starting role and for UA’s offense.
“When he stays focused on the play, doesn’t get upset about what happened on the play before, he’s very, very effective,” Saban said on Sept. 16.
Saban added on Monday: “Well, Mac’s matured, and I think there’s a lot more confidence now. I think he knows what he has to do is stay focused and play the next play. He’s played within himself very well in the first two games and that’s something we want him to continue to do.”
The interception he threw against Texas A&M was one a previous version of Mac Jones would have taken differently.
The play was ruined by an edge blitz coming in the path of his check down option. Jones could have thrown it at the defender’s feet, or possibly evaded the rush long enough for a drag route in front of him to create separation.
Jones watched as the Aggies scored on a 17-yard touchdown pass on the next play. His lone throw on UA’s ensuing three-and-out was an incompletion on third-and-2.
At the start of the next possession, Jones stepped up in the pocket to avoid a perimeter pass rush and calmly delivered a ball over the middle to Jaylen Waddle for a 17-yard gain. He worked his reads on the next play, finding Smith on the right sideline for a 20-yard gain. After moving the chains and getting into the red zone on a third-down quarterback sneak, Jones saw an opening for running back Najee Harris on a wheel route out of the backfield and let it go before the defense could react, moving UA to the 2-yard line and scoring on the next play.
In doing so, Jones led a seven-play, 66-yard touchdown drive all of three minutes of game time after throwing a costly interception.
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Gordon Jones cited last year’s Iron Bowl as further proof of that development. After the first interception of that game, returned for a touchdown in the second quarter, Mac Jones completed his next pass attempt for 33 yards and threw a touchdown pass three plays later. On the possession after his third quarter interception, also returned for a touchdown, Jones completed four of his five passes for 63 yards and once again tossed a touchdown.
Gordon Jones doesn’t think that would’ve happened earlier in Mac’s career. He first noticed the difference in an A-Day game in which Mac threw an early interception, then led his team to a win and won the game’s MVP award.
That tendency to dwell on mistakes is rooted in a competitive nature that stands out even in an athletically gifted family: Gordon played tennis at Florida State, Mac’s brother Will played soccer for Mercer and his sister Sarah Jane played tennis for College of Charleston. But Mac’s was different, and was from an early age: Gordon would receive calls from the elementary school about Mac’s competitive nature in athletic activities. Gordon’s response: do what you have to do to make him behave, but try not to kill his competitive spirit.
“He wants everything to be perfect, that’s what he strives for,” Gordon Jones said. “That’s the cool thing about working with Coach Saban, Coach Saban and Mac are very similar in terms of personality style.”
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson