TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Alabama didn’t get caught looking ahead to the massive next game or slow down much even with Tua Tagovailoa stuck watching from the sidelines.
Mac Jones passed for 235 yards and three touchdowns filling in for an injured Tagovailoa and the top-ranked Crimson Tide coasted to a 48-7 victory over Arkansas on Saturday night.
Even without the Heisman Trophy candidate Tagovailoa, the Tide (8-0, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) raced to a 41-0 halftime lead and Jones only played one drive into the second half. The Razorbacks (2-6, 0-5) couldn’t muster much challenge on either side of the ball in what turned into a drama-free tuneup for Alabama’s game in two weeks against No. 2 LSU.
Tide coach Nick Saban didn’t have to gripe about players swallowing the “rat poison” of media and fan hype about the next game.
“This was a game that if we’d taken any rat poison, we wouldn’t have been focused on this game at all, based on everybody else,” Saban said. “The community, the media, the fans and the questions I get asked on the radio show.
“I get asked about the next game and we had this game. I was really pleased with the way they stayed focused on what they had to do in this game.”
Jones completed 18 of 22 passes and finished up with a 40-yarder in the end zone for his second touchdown throw to Jerry Jeudy. Jeudy caught seven passes for 103 yards with Jones & Co. proving they can still deliver some big plays even without Tagovailoa.
“I felt really prepared and we were prepared,” Jones said. “It’s football and I’ve been playing since I was 5 and everybody around me has been playing since they were 5. So no big deal.”
Najee Harris rushed for 86 yards and a pair of 1-yard touchdowns. Cornerback Trevon Diggs scored on an 84-yard interception return in the final seconds before the half, a week after returning a fumble 100 yards for a score against Tennessee.
Nick Starkel returned to the starting role at quarterback for Arkansas after Ben Hicks suffered a left shoulder injury against Auburn. Starkel completed just 5 of 19 passes for 58 yards and was intercepted three times.
“You can’t spot the No. 1 team in the country 24 points (off turnovers) in the first half and expect to come out of that,” Razorbacks coach Chad Morris said.
Redshirt freshman John Stephen Jones got the Razorbacks on the board with a touchdown pass to start the fourth quarter.
Alabama’s win set the stage for a two-week buildup to the latest Game of the Century. LSU did its part by beating No. 9 Auburn 23-20. The big question will be if Tagovailoa can recover in time from a right ankle injury.
In the meantime, he watched from the sideline as his little brother got some playing time. Freshman Taulia Tagovailoa played much of the second half and showed his own scrambling ability.
Arkansas: Has lost 13 straight to Alabama and is 0-13 in SEC games under coach Chad Morris. Jones, grandson of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, was 6 of 7 for 49 yards and a touchdown. Jerry Jones attended the game.
“I thought he gave us a spark and allowed us to get in some of our zone read game and do some really good things,” Morris said of the young QB. “The moment was not too big for him.”
Alabama: Didn’t miss a beat without Tua Tagovailoa, but started out conservatively on offense. The Tide converted four turnovers into 24 points. Taulia was 6 of 8 for 45 yards. Saban expects Tua to return to practice in some capacity by mid-week.
Alabama linebacker Terrell Lewis was credited with six quarterback hurries, helping harass Starkel into mistakes. “I told the DBs they owe me a thank you note,” he joked.
Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith was on the sidelines with a sling on his left shoulder in the second half, which Saban said was just a bruise. He had four catches for 67 yards and Saban.
Arkansas hosts Mississippi State with a more realistic shot of ending its SEC losing streak.
Alabama hosts No. 2 LSU after both teams get an open date.