Jones pioneers efficient attack against Razorbacks


CW / Hannah Saad

Alabama’s increasingly resurgent running game was right there for Mac Jones when he needed it.

Except he didn’t need it very often.

The Crimson Tide’s redshirt sophomore quarterback was efficient in his first career start, completing 18 of 22 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns in a 48-7 win over Arkansas on Saturday.

Jones’ first two passes of the game were short pitches to motioning receivers, but he looked sharp as the playbook expanded. His only incompletion on the opening drive was a drop.

“If you can give them some easy completions early in the game, it’s always helpful confidence-wise. We do that even with Tua [Tagovailoa] when he plays,” coach Nick Saban said. “We weren’t afraid to throw the ball down the field and we weren’t afraid to do anything that we normally would do.”

Jones admitted he was nervous at the start, before the comfort of having the full week of first-team reps set in. Then he was his normal self, later celebrating a touchdown by chest-bumping receivers and excitedly kicking his legs.

“He was good,” junior right tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. said with a chuckle. “He had a whole lot of energy for us, which was a positive.”

The rushing attack made Jones’ life easier, not recording a negative play until the middle of the third quarter. Six of 15 runs in the first half resulted in a first down or touchdown, excluding a Jones scramble and a backward pass.

Junior running back Najee Harris continued to receive a heavier workload, carrying the ball 13 times for 86 yards and two 1-yard touchdowns after 20 and 21 carries in the previous two games.

Fellow junior Brian Robinson Jr. also had 13 carries, tying his career high, and his 67 yards set a new career high.

“Everybody else on offense needs to play well around [Jones] so that it’s gonna be an easier game for him,” Saban said. “I thought we did a pretty good job of that in our ability to create balance, run the ball effectively and we threw it effectively as well.”

Junior receiver Jerry Jeudy had his best statistical game since Week Two against New Mexico State, catching seven passes for 103 yards and two touchdowns. He had recorded seven receptions for 91 yards in his previous two games.

Jeudy’s second score, a 40-yard deep ball from Jones down the right sideline, was Jones’ third touchdown of the game.

“I just saw Jeudy beat his guy and I just kinda let it rip,” Jones said. “Don’t overthink it, just throw the ball.”

The team’s first touchdown was its only play of its second drive. After an Arkansas fumble was returned to the Hogs’ 14-yard line, Jones rolled to his right and threw to junior receiver DeVonta Smith in the end zone.

It was caught not by Smith, but by junior receiver Henry Ruggs III.

“I kinda just threw it toward Smitty and I thought he was gonna make the play,” Jones said. “But it ended up going to Ruggs, so it is what it is. It’s football.”

The offense made seven trips inside Arkansas’ 20-yard line, scoring four touchdowns and two field goals. The only failure to score was late in the game with the score out of reach.

Freshman quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, the younger brother of injured starter Tua, entered the game in the third quarter and completed six of his eight passes.

With the win, it became virtually certain that the Crimson Tide’s next game against LSU on Nov. 9 will be a matchup between the top two teams in the country. 

Players said they weren’t thinking about LSU — redshirt senior outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings hadn’t heard that the No. 2-ranked Tigers beat No. 9 Auburn earlier in the day — and Saban praised his players’ concentration.

“This was a game that, if we would’ve taken any rat poison, we wouldn’t have been focused on this game at all… I get asked about the next game,” Saban said. “I was really pleased with the way our players stayed focused on what they had to do in this game so that we could improve as a team.”