Upon Further Review: Alabama 66, Western Carolina 3

Alabama Athletics
Christopher Walsh

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Even though he hasn’t faced the toughest opposition yet, maybe Alabama redshirt sophomore Mac Jones is a better quarterback than most people realize.

Against Western Carolina on Saturday, Jones was 10-for-12, 83.3 percent, for 275 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers.

His passer efficiency rating of 358.3 was the second best during the Nick Saban era at Alabama (minimum 10 attempts) – which is really saying something considering some of the quarterbacks who have played for the coach with the Crimson Tide.

It was just Jones’ second start. The first, last month against Arkansas, he was 18-for-22, 81.8 percent, for 235 yards and three touchdowns. That added up to a 216.5 rating.

Although a quarterback’s passer-efficiency rating isn’t considered a perfect performance gauge (for example, it doesn’t include rushing yards), it is a significant barometer.

To add a little perspective, John Parker Wilson’s best performance in terms of yards was the 363 against Tennessee in 2007. In passer-efficiency his 209.5 rating against Georgia in 2008 was his career best.

During that 2008 season, when Alabama finished the regular season undefeated and played in the SEC Championship Game, Wilson didn’t pass for more than 219 yards, which he tallied against Ole Miss. The previous season, when the Crimson Tide barely made a bowl appearance, he passed for 300 yards twice.

In 2012, A.J. McCarron followed suit. While he led the nation in passer efficiency with a 175.28 rating, he only had two 300-yard games, one being the Crimson Tide’s narrow loss to Texas A&M when its comeback attempt fell short.

In 2014, Blake Sims had a record-setting performance with 445 passing yards against Florida. It’s not in the top 10. Jake Coker’s best rating was 235.5 against Charleston Southern in 2015. Jalen Hurts hit 232.0 against Colorado State in 2017.

Best game passing efficiency (10 attempts minimum)

  • Name, Opponent, Season, C-A-I, Percent, Yards, TDs, Rating
  • Tua Tagovailoa, at Arkansas, 2018, 10-13-0, 76.9, 4, 394.3
  • Mac Jones, Western Carolina 2019, 10-12-0, 83.3, 3, 358.3
  • Tua Tagovailoa, Southern Miss, 2019, 17-21-0, 81.0, 5, 276.7
  • Blake Sims, Florida Atlantic 2014, 12-14-0, 85.7, 2, 269.7
  • AJ McCarron, Georgia State 2013, 15-16-0, 93.8, 166, 4, 263.4
  • Tua Tagovailoa, Citadel, 2018, 18-22-0, 81.8, 340, 3, 256.6
  • AJ McCarron, Tennessee, 2012, 17-22-0, 77.3, 306, 4, 254.1
  • Greg McElroy, Georgia State, 2010, 12-13-0, 92.3, 159, 2, 245.8
  • AJ McCarron, Western Kentucky, 2012, 14-19-0, 73.7, 219, 4, 240.0
  • Tua Tagovailoa, Arkansas State, 2019, 13-19-0, 68.4, 4, 238.7

Coming in at No. 11 was Tagovailoa’s performance against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl semifinal last season. He was 24-for-27, 88.9 percent, with 318 yards, four touchdowns and a 236.7 rating.

Play of the game: The pick-six wasn’t just a case of Xavier McKinney making a play. Senior linebacker Anfernee Jennings had the pressure, senior defensive back Shyheim Carter tipped the pass. Senior cornerback Trevon Diggs made the hit as the ball arrived, and then freshman linebacker Shane Lee, Carter and Jennings all had key blocks on the 81-yard return for the touchdown.

Player of the game: McKinney gets the nod after making two interceptions and forcing the fumble that was recovered by sophomore cornerback Patrick Surtain II. It came on a play he batted a pass back to the quarterback, who then tried to run with the ball.

Statistic of the game: Western Carolina had more turnovers, five, then points scored. Also, the Catamounts are 0-57 against teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, 0-20 against Southeastern Conference opponents and 0-5 against ranked teams.

Here are 10 things you may not have noticed during Alabama’s 66-3 victory:

1] More on Jones: The two incompletions were on consecutive attempts. He missed redshirt sophomore tight end Major Tennison on third-and-7 in the red zone (his only third-down attempt), and junior wide receiver Jerry Jeudy on a 50-plus yard throw downfield. There was also a deep attempt down the left sideline to junior wide receiver DeVonta Smith, off a pump-fake, that resulted in a pass-interference penalty. Jones completed his last eight attempts.

2] Deep ball: One of the more impressive aspects of Jones completing 83.3 percent of his passes was that only five were short throws, including the game-opening shovel pass. Granted, all three touchdowns were to someone behind the line of scrimmage, but he completed three that were 17, 37 and 40 yards downfield for gains of 22, 37 and 44 yards, respectively.

3] Who was thrown at: Western Carolina only completed 10 passes, but five were targeted at the interior linebackers, with another two to someone out of the backfield. The Catamounts only completed one pass on a cornerback, reserve Josh Jobe, for an 11-yard gain.

4] Who played: You might have noticed the cheering section for walk-on wide receiver Mac Hereford. Many were wearing No. 36 jerseys and they were very vocal when he got into the game. Also playing were senior tight end Daniel Powell and senior running back De’Marquise Lockridge. Overall, Alabama used 71 players.

5] Who started: Senior defensive lineman Tevita Musika and redshirt freshman defensive lineman Christian Barmore made their first starts, as did Tennison on offense. True freshman defensive lineman Byron Young made his third start.

6] Yards after the catch: Unofficially, Smith had 94 yards after the catch, giving him 698 on the season. That’s 200 more than what Jerry Jeudy had last year when he won the Biletnikoff Award for best receiver in college football. Alabama had 197 yards for the game and went over 2,000 for the season.

7] Joseph Bulovas: With a 29-yard field goal, Alabama’s redshirt sophomore kicker improved to 7-for-9 on the season and hasn’t had a missed field goal since Tennessee on Oct. 19. He's 48-for-50 on extra points. Western Carolina didn’t attempt to return one of his 11 kickoffs, even though only two were touchbacks.

Alabama kicker Joseph Bulovas
Redshirt sophomore Joseph Bulovas made all nine extra-point attempts and a 29-yard field goal.Alabama Athletics

8] Barmore’s injury: He appeared to take a cut block on the final play of the third quarter, but did eventually walk off the field on his own power. The defensive lineman was second in tackles with six, and was a disruptive force throughout the game.

9] Terrell Lewis: One of the biggest surprises of the game was the redshirt junior outside linebacker wasn’t credited with a single defensive statistic. That’s coming off the Mississippi State game in which he had just three tackles.

10] Waddle: He had a monster game. Not only did the sophomore top 100 receiving yards for the first time this season and fourth time at Alabama, but he returned two punts for 67 yards (nearly scoring on a 49-yard return just before halftime) and a kickoff 20 yards for 188 all-purpose yards. Waddle is averaging 24.9 yards on 19 returns, which not only leads the NCAA but there’s only two players within 10 yards of him (Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk at 16.1, and UCF’s Otis Anderson at 15.0). The Crimson Tide record for punt return average during a season is 23.0 yards for minimum 10 returns (Eddie Jackson in 2016), and 18.1 for 20-plus (Harry Gilmer in 1947).

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