By Carey Phillips
Alabama needed a big win over Western Carolina on Saturday to keep its hopes for the College Football Playoffs alive, and that’s what the Crimson Tide got with a 66-3 victory.
Mac Jones completed 10 of 12 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns in front of 101,821 fans at Bryant-Denny Stadium and a national television audience on ESPN. He was playing in place of All-American quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who is sidelined with a hip injury.
DeVonta Smith caught four passes for 94 yards and two TDs, and Jaylen Waddle had three receptions for 101 yards and a score.
Keilan Robinson paced the Alabama ground game with 92 yards in eight attempts. Najee Harris carried 14 times for 66 yards.
Western Carolina quarterback Tyrie Adams had a tough day with five turnovers (four interceptions and a fumble). He completed 10 of 19 passes for 112 yards.
Owen Cosenke had four catches for 46 yards.
The Catamounts, who ended the season 3-9, were limited to 67 rushing yards. Donnavan Spencer gained 38 yards in 15 carries.
A pass interference penalty and Jones’ 10-yard screen pass to Waddle set up Joseph Bulovas’ 29-yard field goal for a 3-0 Tide lead with 11:44 to go in the first quarter.
Adams’ first turnover came on WCU’s opening possession when Xavier McKinney picked off a pass giving Alabama the ball at its 21. After a 22-yard run by Harris, Jones completed a screen pass to Smith, who turned it into a 57-yard touchdown. Bulovas kicked the first of his nine extra points for a 10-0 lead with nine minutes to play in the opening period.
A few minutes later, McKinney had his second interception, which he returned 81 yards for a 17-0 margin with 5:33 left in the first quarter.
After an exchange of punts, Adams caught his own deflected pass. However, he fumbled with Patrick Surtain recovering at the Tide 37.
Jones completed passes of 44 yards to Jerry Jeudy and 17 yards to John Metchie to overcome a penalty. Brian Robinson capped the six-play drive with a 5-yard run building the lead to 24-0 with 11:29 left in the half.
Alabama went 65 yards in just four plays following a punt. Jones completed passes of 14 yards to Smith and 37 yards to Waddle. The payoff was a 12-yard pass to Harris for a 31-0 advantage with 7:36 on the clock.
On the first play after a punt, Waddle caught a screen pass from Jones that went for 54 yards and a TD upping the lead to 38-0 at the 4:08 mark.
The Tide had a chance to score again after Waddle’s 49-yard punt return to the 3. However, Brian Robinson fumbled on the next play with Western’s Ty Harris recovering in the end zone for a touchback.
Jared Mayden picked off Adams’ pass on the first play of the second half and had a 9-yard return to the Cat 27. Jones completed a 22-yard pass to Jeudy before Harris’ 3-yard TD run made it 45-0 with 13:41 to go in the third stanza.
Mayden picked off Adams’ pass on the next possession and had a 5-yard return to the Western 32. Harris ran for 10 yards before Taulia Tagovailoa, Tua’s younger brother, completed a 15-yard TD pass to Smith for a 52-0 lead with 10:32 remaining in the third period.
Alabama drove 73 yards in five plays following a punt. Taulia Tagovailoa completed a 20-yard pass to Tyrell Shavers. Keilan Robinson’s 46-yard TD run extended the lead to 59-0 with 6:02 left in the third period.
The Cats’ only score was a 38-yard field goal by Julian Pletz leaving the deficit 59-3 with 14:56 to play in the game. It was set up with runs of 20 yards by Adams and 10 yards by Spencer and Adams’ 10-yard pass to Connell Young.
The Tide concluded the scoring on Jerome Ford’s 6-yard run at the 8:13 mark. The 63-yard drive took 10 plays, including Keilan Robinson’s 20-yard run.
Harris had eight tackles for the Cats. Shane Lee led Alabama with seven.