TUSCALOOSA, Ala. >> Tua Tagovailoa watched from a cart as his Alabama teammates treated him to a dominant performance against a badly outclassed opponent.
Mac Jones passed for 275 yards and three touchdowns in little more than a half and No. 5 Alabama began life without Tagovailoa with a 66-3 romp Saturday over Western Carolina of the Football Championship Subdivision.
With Tagovailoa watching much of the game from behind the bench, the Crimson Tide (10-1) put on a one-sided show against the Catamounts (3-9). The star quarterback, who had hip surgery on Monday, was cheered as he was driven toward the sideline before the game. He didn’t have to give much of a pep talk.
“Just his presence,” Tide wide receiver Jaylen Waddle said. “Just knowing what he meant to the team. That was enough. He didn’t have to say much.”
Alabama is fifth in the College Football Playoff rankings and hoping to somehow make the field despite failing to win the SEC West — and losing its biggest star.
But this one was about taking care of business after an emotional week, not impressing the selection committee.
“It’s not easy to overcome something like that, losing a great leader,” said Jones, who completed 10 of 12 passes in his second career start. “But I think we’re built for that. We train every day for the whole year mentally and physically. It’s really mental toughness and learning how to rebound and respond to adversity.”
Alabama forced five turnovers, including Xavier McKinney’s 81-yard interception return for a touchdown, and got big plays from Jones and wide receivers DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle.
Jones only threw one pass after halftime. Smith had four catches for 94 yards and two touchdowns, including a 57-yarder when he juked a defender before sprinting to the end zone. Waddle produced 101 yards and took a screen 54 yards for a touchdown, then returned a punt 49 yards to near the goal line on his next touch.
Tagovailoa’s absence gave his younger brother, Taulia, a chance for his most extended action. The freshman who played at Kapolei came into the game with 12:12 left in the third quarter and threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Smith on his first attempt. He completed two of three passes for 35 yards. Alabama scrapped plans to redshirt the four-star recruit, who already had played in four games.
Alabama ends the regular season at No. 16 Auburn in its final chance to make a statement for the playoffs.