No. 16 Auburn upends No. 5 Alabama’s playoff hopes, 48-45

Alabama quarterback Mac Jones (10) and tight end Kendall Randolph (85) celebrate a touchdown during the first half against Auburn. [VASHA HUNT/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS]

TUSCALOOSA — The outpouring of support flowed across Mac Jones’ Twitter timeline almost as quickly as the Auburn fans descended on Pat Dye Field after Alabama’s 48-45 loss Saturday night.

“So Proud of you @MacJones_10,” tweeted former Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, a backup with the NFL's Houston Texans. “Hold your head high brother. One hell of a game! Super proud that you’re rocking that 10 for the BEST damn school in the Nation. #RTR4LIFE”

Added former Alabama quarterback Jake Coker: “Proud of you @MacJones_10, you played your (butt) off tonight and made a lot of people proud! Looking forward to watching you over the next couple of years buddy! Keep it up!”

As costly as his two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns in Alabama's loss — “Those two turnovers ended up being pretty big, and that’s on me,” Jones admitted after the game — neither overshadowed the overall positive perception of his Iron Bowl performance.

In his first road start and just third career start overall, Jones answered a lot of questions and might have positioned himself well heading into the offseason competition to be the starter next season.

Since taking over for an injured Tua Tagovailoa, whom many expect to declare for the NFL draft, Jones has been a model of efficiency. He's thrown for 845 yards and 10 touchdowns with two interceptions while completing 74 percent of his passes. 

And while Jones’ stats against a stout Auburn defense were impressive — a career-high 335 yards and four touchdowns — it was his ability to lead a two touchdown drives after each of his interceptions that turned heads Saturday.

“I thought Mac played really well,” head coach Nick Saban said Saturday. “We had (515) yards of offense, the offensive line did a great job of blocking, we had great balance, we were able to run the ball effectively in the game. (Jones) threw it and made some big plays. We struggled in the red zone a bit, and I think that was the difference in the game. But the two picks for touchdowns, those are the kind of plays you never want to happen and I’m sure Mac wishes he had those back. … But I thought overall he did a really, really good job in the game.”

After his first pick-six, Jones capitalized off a fumble recovery to lead the Tide offense on a four-play, 37-yard scoring drive that was started by a 33-yard strike to DeVonta Smith. Three plays later, Jones avoided heavy pressure by stepping up in the pocket and found Henry Ruggs III in the back of the end zone to retake the lead 24-17 less than a minute and a half later (1:24).

“That’s just who Mac is,” Jaylen Waddle. “Maybe the media or outside people don’t know that, but that’s the kind of character he has. Like at practice, he’s got poise. That’s him.”

Perhaps the biggest development was Jones’ connection with Waddle, who is expected to be Alabama’s top receiver next season after the projected junior class exodus to the NFL. The two showed great timing and on-field familiarity, hooking up four times for 98 yards and three touchdowns, including an over-the-shoulder catch on Jones’ 28-yard scoring strike early in the fourth quarter.

Trailing again 48-45 with 8:03 remaining, Jones once again led a drive starting with a 28-yard pass to Ruggs. Jones also scrambled for a pair of first downs, the first going for 18 yards on fourth-and-7 to get into the red zone. The drive stalled after his third-and-goal pass was batted down at the line of scrimmage before a 30-yard field goal try clanked off the left upright for no points.

Jones showed flashes of star potential not many expected from the former three-star product when he signed with Alabama in the same class as Tua Tagovailoa.

Jones' biggest competition for the starter's job next season could be from a five-start incoming freshman.

Highly-touted California product Bryce Young, rated the nation’s No. 6 overall player according to 247Sports.com’s composite rankings, is viewed by many as the next Tagovailoa given his undersized 5-foot-11 frame and elite-level arm talent that has drawn early comparisons to Russell Wilson or Kyler Murray. Leading one of the nation’s premier programs, Young has combined for 62 total touchdowns and more than 4,500 total yards this season for Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, California — including 4,123 passing yards and 52 scores while completing 73-percent of his passes.

The Tide also has two talented true freshmen that will likely factor into next season’s quarterback race in Taulia Tagovailoa and legacy Paul Tyson, the great-grandson of legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.

But while the field to be next year's starter at quarterback will be crowded, Jones has the ability to separate himself with another good outing in Alabama's bowl game..

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