He heard them.
The naysayers. The critics. The so-called analysts who had been loudly cawing throughout the offseason in predictably annoying fashion.
Mac Jones isn't dynamic, they pontificated. Mac Jones isn't exciting. Mac Jones isn't Tua Tagovailoa ...
He's Mac Jones.
And the player with the nickname Joker is already having the last laugh.
Saturday afternoon, reporters weren't allowed into the locker rooms at Bryant-Denny Stadium, as the only postgame interviews continue to be done remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic. Despite that, one can be certain that no one was enjoying themselves on the visitor's side, or while subsequently packing up in the appropriately named Fail Room.
No. 13 Texas A&M dialed up a game plan to try and exploit where it thought Alabama would be most vulnerable, and that meant Jones. The Aggies cheated in the safeties and dared the quarterback to try and beat them over the top.
Did he ever.
The redshirt junior finished 20 of 27 for 435 yards and four scores as Alabama destroyed the Aggies 52-24.
"Pretty good," was junior wide receiver Jaylen Waddle's effort at an obvious understatement.
How about borderline great?
Not to get ahead of ourselves in praise, the borderline stems from the couple of blatant miscues Jones made. Among them, the interception came on a ball that was batted up by a lineman and then grabbed to set up one of the Texas A&M scores.
He also missed a couple of glaring opportunities, whether not making the right read or not hitting an open man downfield.
"I missed some big-time throws," he said. "Obviously everyone did their job except for me on some throws."
In the bigger picture that's nitpicking considering everything else. So was that Waddle had to slow up a bit for the ball on his 87-yard touchdown off a double move with a safety in coverage. He still caught it in stride and turned on the burners enough to go untouched into the end zone.
"Nah, it was on the money," Waddle said with a laugh.
The Joker had struck again.
To be fair to Texas A&M, one can understand the thinking behind the defensive game plan. Considering Alabama's offensive line and playmakers, it only made sense for an early opponent to dare the Crimson Tide to try and beat it deep.
It also fit within the Aggies personnel strengths. This was supposed to be a veteran, proven team ready to challenge the Crimson Tide across the board. Texas A&M had a freshman at cornerback in Jaylon Jones, and backup nickel Clifford Chattman recently opted out, but the Aggies still had five returning players with at least five starts in the secondary.
Alabama made them all look silly.
The first strong sign that the game plan was kaput occurred on Alabama's third snap. Right after Texas A&M drove most of the field only to see a missed field goal, Jones connected with sophomore John Metchie III for a 78-yard touchdown.
One could almost feel the rest of college football go, "Oh man, they have yet another one?"
They could have been saying it about the quarterback. The first incompletion by Jones was his eighth pass, a ball he widely threw into the dirt.
Remember, this is his fourth year at Alabama (Jones redshirted in 2017), and he's working with the same offensive coordinator and coaching staff for the second straight season.
With six starts overall, his last four have been against Auburn, Michigan, Missouri and Texas A&M.
Jones is 80 of 115, 69.6 percent, 1,346 yards, 13 touchdowns and three interceptions in those games. Even with the gaffes it adds up to a 199.96 passer rating, which is basically what Tagovailoa did over his career while setting the NCAA record.
That's a pretty good sample size against quality opponents.
"I think the experience that he got last year was invaluable," Nick Saban said. "I thought he played fairly well when he played last year, the mistakes were just costly, but he learned from them.
"We expect Mac to develop maturity and confidence. He’s very smart, he’s bright. He’s accurate with the ball, and we have got some good skill guys. The strength of our team is to be able to utilize those [playmakers]. ... Mac is playing very well, but that’s really what we expect him to do, and I think his poise has been really good so far this year as well.”
Last week against Missouri, which was No. 15 in total defense in 2019, Jones was 18 of 24 for 249 yards and two touchdowns and avoided being sacked. He posted a 95.2 Total Quarterback Rating (QBR), the highest of any signal-caller during Week 3.
In terms of passer rating, which the NCAA uses to determine its annual passing champion, he scored 189.65.
Jones topped that at 250.9 against Texas A&M.
Tagovailoa's best passer rating against an SEC opponent last season was 233.19, ironically during the game he got hurt at at Mississippi State. His rating against the Aggies last year was 167.1.
Different quarterbacks. Different teams. Different times (especially since 2020 has been so unique). Yet for a comparison, consider Texas A&M senior Kellen Mond, who like usual had a good game against Alabama, but not great. He dropped to 0-4 in the matchup.
2017: 19-29, 65.5 percent, 237 yards, 1 TD, 1 int. 138.6 rating; 14 carries, 14 yards, 1 TD
2018: 16-33, 48.5 percent, 196 yards, 1 TD, 2 int. 96.3 rating; 18 carries, 98 yards, 1 TD
2019: 24-42, 57.1 percent, 264 yards, 2 TD, 0 int. 125.7 rating; 16 carries, 90 yards, 1 TD
2020: 25-44, 56.8 percent, 318 yards, 3 TD, 1 int. 135.5 ratting; 8 carries, 19 yards, 0 TD
Jones had more talent around him, and he took advantage of it. Nevertheless, the difference in the passing games was directly reflected on the scoreboard.
Few thought the Crimson Tide offense could be this good without Tagovailoa. They thought freshman Bryce Young winning the starting job was much more likely.
They overlooked Jones, who simply kept working and let his play do his talking. Not having the spring made the speculation grow louder, and more off the mark, while only motivating him more.
"A little bit," Jones admitted. "Everyone wants to talk and say that Alabama's not back. I think we proved through the first two games that we're improving. You can't go in there and be emotional and stuff, everyone has to do their job. I think the defense would say the same thing, just do your job on every play.
"Don't make it emotional. Play with emotion, but don't be emotional."
That's what makes the Joker so scary moving into the rest of October and beyond. He's still a work in progress and Jones knows it.
Christopher Walsh's column regularly appears on BamaCentral.