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With Mac Jones, Alabama’s offense still deep trouble for rest of SEC

One of the big questions about Alabama heading into the 2020 season was whether Mac Jones could be the same game-changer at quarterback as the Crimson Tide’s last two starters.

Jones doesn’t have Tua Tagovailoa’s flash in the passing game; he doesn’t have Jalen Hurts’ dash in the running game. Jones, however, can do what his predecessors did the last four seasons at Alabama: He can throw a first-half knockout punch.

He hit 20 of 27 passes for a career-high 435 yards and four touchdowns on Saturday, and No. 2 Alabama routed No. 13 Texas A&M 52-24 in the process. Alabama coach Nick Saban has the right quarterback to get back to the College Football Playoff.

Jones put up the fourth-highest single-game passing total in Alabama history: one that sits between Hurts’ best game (447 yards against Mississippi State in 2016) and Tagovailoa’s (432 yards against South Carolina in 2019). Jones did most of that damage in the first half.

It’s the second straight week where Jones staked the Crimson Tide out to a big lead: He hit 16 of 20 passes for 273 yards and three scores in the first half, the lone mistake an interception off a pass batted up at the line of scrimmage. The Crimson Tide outscored Missouri and Texas A&M 63-17 in the first half in their first two games, with Jones completing 33 of 43 passes for 512 yards and five scores.

Moreover, he threw the same knockout with equal distribution to his top three receivers.

Saban left Jones in a little longer against the Aggies to leave no doubt. A 78-yard touchdown pass to John Metchie III opened the scoring. A 2-yard red-zone touchdown to DeVonta Smith closed the first half with a 35-17 lead. An 87-yard touchdown to Jaylen Waddle in the third quarter ignited the blowout. One last touchdown pass — again to Metchie, this one in the fourth quarter for 63 yards — made one of those Heisman Trophy statements.

Alabama’s vertical passing game with offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is as effective as ever. Jones isn’t just a game manager. He’s another weapon in an offense full of game-changers. It doesn’t look all that different than the fun-filled Alabama offense with Tagovailoa: Jones averaged 21.8 yards per completion against Texas A&M, after all.

Metchie (five catches, 181 yards, two touchdowns), Waddle (five catches, 142 yards, one touchdown) and Smith (six catches, 63 yards, one touchdown) are arguably the best receiving trio in college football, and they are flanked by running back Najee Harris (69 total yards, two touchdowns). In two weeks, Jones quashed talk about whether five-star freshman quarterback Bryce Young could win the starting job.

In fact, Jones’ six-game sample as a starter stacks up with just about anybody. Since that first start against Arkansas last season, Jones has averaged 309.3 passing yards per game with 19 touchdowns and three interceptions. He has hit a 72.5 completion percentage and averages 17.2 yards per completion. But the Iron Bowl. …

That is the only loss, and that was last year. Jones will have several chances to prove it over the next several weeks, starting with next week’s matchup against Ole Miss and former Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. The Crimson Tide have six ranked opponents on the schedule after that, including revenge games against LSU and Auburn, a rivalry game against Tennessee and a fun cross-division matchup against Georgia. Of course, Jones will have to match Mississippi State’s “Air Raid,” too. Perhaps the end of the SEC road will lead to a showdown with Florida and Heisman Trophy candidate Kyle Trask.

In that regard, Jones is right on track.

Hurts started in a CFP championship game, but Tagovailoa had to finish it against Georgia in 2017. Tagovailoa and Hurts took turns finishing second in the Heisman Trophy running the last two seasons.

It’s time to stop worrying about what Jones can’t do.

He has proven what he can do and — as far as Alabama is concerned — that is more than enough.

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