TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama has itself a quarterback controversy.
Making his first career start in the absence of injured junior Tua Tagovailoa, redshirt sophomore Mac Jones completed 18 of 22 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns as the top-ranked Crimson Tide demolished hapless Arkansas 48-7 Saturday night in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Jones wound up with a Tagovailoa-like efficiency rating of 216.5.
"You might as well make it fun. That's why we play sports," Jones said. "There were some nerves at the start, but that's part of the game. I felt really prepared, and I know that we were prepared.
"It's football. I've been playing since I was 5."
Freshman Taulia Tagovailoa, Tua's younger brother, replaced Jones at the 10:56 mark of the third quarter with the Tide up 48-0.
Jones was high-fiving teammates on the sideline moments before the game, obviously sensing the talent advantage Alabama was about to display on a program that has lost 16 consecutive Southeastern Conference contests. The Tide are now 13-for-13 against Arkansas under coach Nick Saban.
"Mac did a really good job of executing the offense," Saban said. "He was very efficient and effective in the passing game, and he did a nice job on third down, because he kept a lot of drives going."
Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian made things simple for Jones out of the gate, as a flip pass from the shotgun to Jerry Jeudy coming across the field resulted in a 14-yard gain on Alabama's second play. Najee Harris had five rushes on Alabama's opening possession, which covered 69 yards in 14 plays and ended with a 31-yard Joseph Bulovas field goal.
"I think it's always the plan with your quarterback if you can give him some easy completions early in the game," Saban said. "It's always helpful confidence-wise, and we even do that with Tua when he plays. We weren't afraid to throw the ball down the field, and we weren't afraid to do anything with Mac that we don't normally do.
"He played within himself and made really good decisions."
Alabama's defense made things easier for Jones as well, with freshman inside linebacker Christian Harris mishandling a shotgun snap by the Razorbacks near midfield and racing 37 yards to the Tide 14. On the next play, Jones found Henry Ruggs III in the back of the end zone for the touchdown.
The pass actually was intended for DeVonta Smith but was high and sailed right to Ruggs.
"If it works, it works," right tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. said with a smile. "We scored."
A deflected pass by Alabama safety Xavier McKinney on the next Arkansas possession resulted in an interception by outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings at the Razorbacks' 48, and Jones capped a five-play, 48-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Jeudy with 34 seconds left in the opening quarter and a 17-0 cushion.
"That's the great thing about football. It's a team sport," Jones said. "The defense is going to step up and make plays, and we had to make plays, too. We had to work together."
Jones was 8-of-10 for 74 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter, and his first attempt of the second quarter was a 47-yard strike to Smith to the Arkansas 16 that helped set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Harris that made it 24-0 with 12:25 before halftime.
Alabama (8-0, 5-0) dominated every notable statistic, compiling 459 yards while holding Arkansas to 213. The Tide completed 24 of their 30 passes, while the Razorbacks (2-6, 0-5) were just 11-of-26 with three interceptions.
The Tide have an open date before hosting No. 2 LSU on Nov. 9.
"This was a game that if we had taken any rat poison, we wouldn't have been focused on this game at all," Saban said, a reference to his past description of the media writing about how talented the Tide are. "Based on everybody else in the community and the media and the questions I get asked on the radio show — I was getting asked about the next game, and we had this game.
"I was very pleased with how the players stayed focused on what they had to do in this game."
Tua Tagovailoa is expected to return to practice by midweek. Najee Harris (twisted ankle) and Smith (bruised shoulder) suffered injuries Saturday night but will be fine, said Saban, who added Smith will be out for a few days. Linebacker Ale Kaho has a fractured hand but will play in a cast. Jeudy had two touchdown receptions to give him 24 for his career, while Ruggs notched one for his 23rd. Saturday marked Alabama's 89th consecutive win over an unranked opponent and its 17th straight homecoming triumph.