TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — In Mac we trust.
That's the theme for the revamped Alabama football team. While it used numerous players and dominated both sides of the ball for a 66-3 victory over Western Carolina during the last game of the regular season at Bryant-Denny Stadium, the Crimson Tide affirmed its faith in its new starting quarterback on Saturday.
The redshirt sophomore who has taken over for injured Tagovailoa went 10-for-12 with 275 yards passing and three touchdowns.
The vast majority of those yards came in the first half, as Tagovailoa’s younger brother, freshman Taulia Tagovailoa, replaced Jones after the first drive of the second half.
“I think we played a pretty good game,” Jones said. “Efficient game. That’s what we wanted to do was be efficient in the passing game and the running game and move the ball like we’re supposed to so we’ll fix the little things but I don’t think there’s anything too crazy that we missed.”
While Tua Tagovailoa watched most of the game on a cart after having season-ending hip surgery, Jones didn't seem to be phased, even when his predecessor's face was put up on the corner Jumbotrons.
While Tua Tagovailoa’s injury might have certainly hampered this offense to an extent, Jones says that his injury has not been a distraction from the team’s goal.
“It’s not easy to overcome something like that,” Jones said. “Losing a great leader and stuff but I think—you know—we’re built for that. We train every day for the whole year mentally and physically so it’s really mental toughness and learning how to rebound and respond to adversity.”
Junior running back Najee Harris had another banner day for the Crimson Tide, scoring both a receiving and rushing touchdown. With the two scores, Harris now has multiple touchdowns in five consecutive games.
Harris wasn’t the only running back used for the Crimson Tide, though. Freshman Keilan Robinson led the team with 92 yards and his own personal touchdown. Redshirt-freshman Jerome Ford also registered a rushing touchdown for Alabama. In total, the Crimson Tide utilized six running backs against the Catamounts, flexing its depth and wearing out WCU’s defense.
In total, the combination of the Crimson Tide passing and rushing attacks earned a sum of 541 total offensive yards.
“I thought Mac was pretty efficient,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “[He] made a lot of explosive plays you know on offense. He didn’t throw it maybe as much but made a lot of explosive plays and I was pretty pleased with the all-around performance.”
On the defensive side, Alabama was stifling. The Crimson Tide held the Catamounts to just 179 yards on offense and forced five turnovers.
Two Alabama defensive backs had two interceptions each. Junior Xavier McKinney has the game of his life with an interception, an 81-yard pick six, and a forced fumble while senior Jared Mayden nabbed two interceptions in the second half.
Maybe the new motto should be changed to ‘In Mac we trust, as well as the defense and running game.’
Oddly enough, Alabama started the game slowly on offense. On its first drive, the Crimson Tide was unable to find its way into the end zone and settled for three points from redshirt-sophomore placekicker Joseph Bulovas.
On WCU’s third play from scrimmage, redshirt-senior quarterback Tyrie Adams had his first pass picked off, by McKinney. The ensuing drive for Alabama resulted in a screen pass from Jones to junior wide receiver DeVonta Smith for a 57-yard touchdown.
It was all downhill from there for the Catamounts (3-9).
McKinney acquired his second interception on the subsequent possession, but this time returned it for an 81-yard touchdown.
“Obviously any time you score on defense that’s a big thing,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “We practice that a lot. Intercept the ball, go down the numbers, everybody blocks and I thought there were some guys that got some great blocks on that and [McKinney] did a great job on that carrying it in but he had two picks and Jared [Mayden] had two picks and I think that turnovers led to like 35 points in the game so the offense converted on them. That’s really good.”
The Crimson Tide led 38-0 at halftime.
The third quarter saw only more of the same, only with Mayden making the interceptions -— again on consecutive possessions.
In the third quarter, Saban began to start rotating out playing beginning with Jones being replaced with Taulia Tagovailoa to get in some work with the first-team offense.
Taulia Tagovailoa later threw his first touchdown pass, a 15-yard catch-and-run to Smith.
On the running backs’ side of things, Saban took out Harris and replaced him with Brian Robinson and then Keilan Robinson, along with Ford.
While they continued to wear down the Western Carolina defense, the Catamounts scored their only points with a field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter. It only made the score 59-3.
Over the final minutes, Alabama not only used reserves, but walk-on players who had been with the program for years, giving them a chance in the spotlight. For example, at running back redshirt senior DeMarquise Lockridge and redshirt-sophomore Chadarius Townsend helped milk the clock for the final 66-3 score.
Overall, Saban said he was pleased with the team's performance, beginning with Jones. While the opponent was Western Carolina, he made numerous smart throws and remained calm under pressure — which will be crucial at Auburn next week and should Alabama make the College Football Playoff.
Meanwhile, the defense reminded stout despite senior Raekwon Davis, redshirt-sophomore Phidarian Mathis and D.J. Dale all being sidelined with injuries.
Two of the replacements were freshman Byron Young and redshirt-freshman Christian Barmore. Barmore finished second on the team in tackles with six, while Young was tied for third with five. The line provided consistent pressure, resulting in the four interceptions and four sacks.
Nevertheless, McKinney said that there's still a lot that the defense needs to clean up going into next week's Iron Bowl.
"[We need to clean up] run gaps," McKinney said. "Knocking the running back. That's kind of like a big thing for us. We just gotta make sure we do that. Make sure there's more defensive guys getting to the ball faster. You know, clean up tackles so we make sure the ball is going backwards and not forwards."