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Alabama Football 2020 Unit Preview: The Quarterbacks

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This one has been anti-climactic since Spring was cancelled. But it may end with fireworks.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Auburn John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Today, we break down our final unit for the 2020 Alabama Crimson Tide Football season, the one that many have been projecting as “a question mark’ for the Tide; an insinuation as frankly lazy as it is clickbaity. That seems a bit harsh, but trust me, there’s a reason for calling out such analytical indolence.

The answer is easy: Jones is the starter for the opening game.
The real question is much harder: Does Jones finish the season as the Tide’s starter?

2019 Review

Let’s start with the returning incumbent (and 2020 QB1), Mac Jones. Frankly, until he had to play, there were times in 2019 where Mac couldn’t hit the Pacific Ocean while floating in it on a life raft. Which Jones would have which type of performance made little sense either. He was competent in mop-up duty against Duke and South Carolina, but he was woeful against Southern Miss and New Mexico State — in fact, remove one decent gainer against the NMSU Aggies, and Mac was just a 50% passer with one INT, no scores, and a 7.1 YPA average.

But, when he was called on for a banged-up Tua against the worst SEC program since the 1992 expansion era, he was every bit as good as you’d want him to be against the scrubby ‘Hogs (18 of 22, 3 scores, 11 YPA, no turnovers.) When he was inserted after the CLANGA Catastrophe, Jones appeared to have the yips against MSU...either that or he was not trusted enough with the full offense in a road SEC game.

Jones did get to run up his stats against Western Carolina the next week, and then posted a ton of career highs in the Iron Bowl the following week: highs in yards, in touchdowns...and in turnovers. The bowl game would see Mac throw for three scores against Michigan too. (And we’re going to have a lot more to say about all of these things below.) For the season, he threw for 1503 yards (68.8% completion percentage, 14 TD, 3 INT, 10.7 YPA).

The other starter from 2019 is one that is simply too painful to contemplate, much less repeat aloud in this optimistic 2020 season preview. Alabama lost a generational talent, and then was saddled with a ton of what-ifs, when Tua went down.

My preferred dreamy backup option, Layne Hatcher, transferred to Arkansas State before the season — where all he did was become an All-SBC quarterback for his banged up Red Wolves squad. Jalen Hurts was getting his legs ran off in Norman and his development as a passer was retarded with two-route plays against Sta-Puft defenses. Tualia Tagovailoa has moved on to a program where he can start immediately (and throw quick slants and 9-routes on every other play). Paul Tyson took a redshirt last season; the spring game showed that he definitely needed some more time in the oven. And Slade Bolden ran the Wild Elephant a few times (but was 1-for-1 on his passing attempt!)

In other words, Mac got the call to the bullpen because Mac had to be ready. No Layne, no Tua, no Jalen, and with Taulia and Tyson clearly not ready — Mac was the only man who could do the job.

How do you grade his emergency 2019 play then, after three years in the program? I’d put the first half of the season at a C-. The latter half? Let’s call it a solid B/B-. It was not awful, but it not stellar; it was good enough to win some games...with the potential lurking to lose some.

I still miss you

2020 Preview

Let’s get this out in the open right now. There may have been a potential quarterback controversy in January of 2020 when Bryce Young stepped on to campus. Alabama lost a generational talent to essentially replace him with a player that I think has even more upside. And if “Tua+” is really Bryce’s ceiling, then Mac is simply never going attain that.

But, when March rolled around, as the world shut down, as Spring camp was shuttered, there had to be just one man on earth happy about it — Mac Jones. No one benefited as much from a cancelled spring as the incumbent entering his fourth season. And no one on this roster was as hurt as much by missing those 15 practices and the live snaps of the A-Day game quite like Bryce Young.

It is fair, however, to take a closer look at what Jones brings to the table.

Look at those stats and completion percentages a bit more carefully.

In the almost-three full games where Jones had to play down the stretch, he completed 2/3rd of his passes exactly one time — against Auburn, in a dink-and-dunk affair that also saw him commit two turnovers (and recover his own fumble), while committing a crippling nearly-inexcusable execution error (Seriously, we’re not going to talk about that second interception in depth. There were several places that ball could have been thrown that result in a touchdown or a harmless incompletion; and, on that hot read, there was just one place where that ball could not be thrown. Wanna guess where it was thrown?) In his other two games, Jones was below 65% as a passer. For all the grief Tua caught about being a gambler, Jones was the real gambler. He hit home run balls, but ran a very pedestrian and shortened offensive scheme marked by a lot of incompletions otherwise.

It is not like Michigan and Auburn’s secondaries were world beaters either. Auburn’s secondary was decent — 47th in passing defense efficiency, 32nd in QBR allowed, 38th in completion percentage allowed. Michigan was 35th in completion percentage allowed, 44th in QBR allowed, and 38th in efficiency. So, yes, we have to address the fly doing the backstroke in our minestrone here: Mac Jones was only pretty good against only pretty good secondaries, while being blessed with Najee Harris, five future NFL offensive linemen, one of the best offensive coordinators and QB coaches at any level of football, and four current and future first-round wide receivers.

College Football Playoff National Championship Presented By AT&T - Alabama v Clemson Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Thus, we enter 2020 after a fall camp that has no initial quarterback controversy. Mac Jones is, and was always going to be your QB1 after March’s ‘Rona explosion. Besides the incumbency working in his favor, Saban has always preferred veterans at the position. And that’s fair — it takes most players plenty of time to adjust to the speed of the game and above all the mental aspect of playing football in the nation’s premiere conference in Sark’s complex pro-spread scheme.

And, I say most for a reason. Bryce Young is not most entering freshman. Wanna’ read a random scouting report on Young? I literally chose the first one on a google search — the rest are very similar.

Has a live arm and is able to throw just as well outside the pocket as he does from inside. His ability to escape pressure and extend plays is as good as you’ll see at the high school level. Will scramble to make a play with his arm more than taking off and running, although he does have the ability to run for plus yards. Almost looks more comfortable when the play breaks down and he can improvise and make a play with his instincts. Plays with a poise and savvy beyond his years. Never looks flustered or nervous in the pocket. Has improved his touch and accuracy on the deep ball, but it’s an area we think he can continue to get better. Has an advanced feel in the pocket and is excellent going through progressions and finding his secondary targets. Has an extremely high football IQ and will have no problem picking up a complex college playbook. Is a natural leader, a winner and the guy you want leading your team on a last-minute drive

Does that “live arm” and “high football IQ” remind you of anyone?

What about whole “pocket breaking down and buying time to make a smart, instinctive play?”

Given those lofty comparisons, and the way the game is played in 2020 — where teams cannot count on a stop, rather they must count on a score — that brings us back to Mac Jones and a more difficult question. In 2020, are “pretty good results against pretty good teams” enough for a finally-healthy, loaded team with championship aspirations?

Josh likes to compare Jones to A.J. McCarron — he’s a game manager with skills that are good enough to win most games for you. In 2020 is Alabama’s supporting cast at the other positions good to hoist the championship trophy? Sure. But, more importantly, can Jones make those handful of special plays that championship teams must have? Can you run a modern offense where games are played in the 30s and 40s, through a quarterback who’s just pretty good? To borrow a meme from our NFL brethren who bag on Joe Flacco, is Jones elite?

I don’t think so.

I have felt, and continue to feel, that there is one person on the roster who can make those special plays. While Jones may begin the season at QB1, there will come a moment in the season where “pretty good” isn’t good enough. And when Young does get that call, and he will, he’s not coming off the mound again for the rest of his Alabama career.

Poll

Who finishes the season as Alabama’s starting quarterback?

This poll is closed

  • 44%
    Mac Jones
    (266 votes)
  • 55%
    Bryce Young
    (337 votes)
603 votes total Vote Now