TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Fifth-ranked Alabama lost junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa for the season so sophomore Mac Jones will draw his second career start when the Crimson Tide host FCS foe Western Carolina on Saturday. Tagovailoa underwent season-ending hip surgery earlier this week after being injured in last weekend's win over Mississippi State.
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The loss of Tagovailoa comes at a time when Alabama is on the outside of the College Football Playoff as it sits fifth in the battle for one of the four spots. Jones started against Arkansas on Oct. 26 when Tagovailoa was out with an injured ankle and was 18-of-22 passing for 235 yards and three touchdowns and Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban wants to see him step up his leadership now that he's the starter. "You're not a sparring partner anymore," Saban said he told Jones. "You're the lead dog, so you've got to be in control of what you're doing and have positive body language, not only in terms of what you do but in how you affect other people." Western Carolina played at North Carolina State earlier this season and was outgained 540-106 during a 41-0 loss.
ABOUT WESTERN CAROLINA (3-7)
The Catamounts average 19.5 points and 338.3 yards per game but allow 36.3 and 425, respectively. Sophomore linebacker Jayden Pauling leads the club with 6.5 sacks and five forced fumbles and is coming off a big game in a loss to Samford in which he forced three fumbles and had two sacks. Senior quarterback Tyrie Adams has passed for 1,587 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions and has added 409 yards and five scores on the ground.
ABOUT ALABAMA (9-1)
Junior running back Najee Harris scored four touchdowns (three rushing, one receiving) against Mississippi State and he figures to see his role increase to take pressure off Jones. Harris has rushed for 876 yards and nine touchdowns and added 22 catches for 266 yards and six scores, while Jones knows he can rely on standout junior wideouts Jerry Jeudy (64 for 867, nine TDs) and DeVonta Smith (56 for 1,026, 11 scores). Junior safety Xavier McKinney has recorded a team-best 74 tackles while senior linebacker Anfernee Jennings (second with 64 stops) and junior linebacker Terrell Lewis share the team lead of six sacks.
1. Alabama has won the previous four meetings.
2. Jeudy had 114 receiving yards against Mississippi State for his ninth career 100-yard outing.
3. The Catamounts have allowed more than 30 points seven times, including 60 to Chattanooga and 59 to Wofford.
PREDICTION: Alabama 51, Western Carolina 3