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            Why Alabama passing game started slow, blew things open in win over Mississippi State

            A week after completing his first 13 throws, Mac Jones came out relatively flat Saturday night.

            The buzz from the last Bryant-Denny Stadium night game with Georgia was missing with struggling Mississippi State in town and the Tide offense didn’t have that juice early on. Of course, he hit his groove in a 41-0 rout of the offensively challenged Bulldogs. A late defensive touchdown pushed the streak of 35-point Alabama scoring games to 19.

            A 4-for-8 start for Jones, however, wasn’t quite the standard he set in recent games. A few overthrows and a near interception frustrated the 19,000 on hand for the third home game of the season.

            Something clicked after the eighth throw sailed over DeVonta Smith’s head.

            Jones completed his next eight passes including two long touchdowns to Smith as the Crimson Tide (6-0) blew this one open before MSU gained its initial first down.

            Jones finished the night 24-for-31 with 291 yards -- his fewest since a 249-yard season opener at Missouri.

            “This is a good defensive team and you can ask Mac but he’d probably say this wasn’t his best games but he played well enough for us to win and score enough points to do that,”. I’m not disappointed in him at all but there are things he could have done better."

            Jones said the Bulldogs (1-4) showed a few different defensive looks that took some time for adjustments.

            “I’ve never really played against anything like that,” Jones said.

            There was a healthy dose of soft zone, Saban said, which meant more of the short passes were available than the deep balls that had become his calling card. It was going to be a “check-down game,” Saban said but there were still a few deep shots open for the two biggest names in the Alabama passing game.

            The Jones-to-Smith pairing accounted for four touchdowns Saturday night as Smith tied Amari Cooper’s career record with his 31st early in the fourth quarter. Smith finished the night with 11 catches and 203 yards -- 10 more than Mississippi State’s total offensive output good for the ninth most receiving yards for an Alabama receiver in a game. He was also two catches short of tying the single-game school mark.

            And Smith became the first SEC receiver to catch four or more touchdowns in multiple games after he set the school record with five last year against Ole Miss.

            The hot streak began innocently enough for Jones. He hit running back Najee Harris for a 10-yard screen before Smith converted a third down with a 14-yarder. Jones then hit Smith in stride down the sideline for the 35-yard touchdown pass that’s now the junior quarterback’s signature throw.

            A 53-yard touchdown to Smith capped the next drive and it was suddenly 17-0 with the visitors still without a first down that didn’t come until the second quarter.

            Jones would complete another six straight later in a streak that included an 11-yard touchdown to Smith. And his final throw of the night was, yes, another touchdown to Smith. The 10-yarder made it 34-0 and was Bryce Young’s cue to warm up.

            The presence of injured receiver Jaylen Waddle was missed as the balance Alabama passing game balance was a little off. After Smith, Najee Harris -- whose streak of 12 straight games with a rushing touchdown ended -- was the top receiver with six catches and 36 yards. John Metchie had a season-low 18 receiving yards on three catches while Slade Bolden added three catches for 20 yards.

            “Smitty, man, he’s always open,” Jones said. “When he’s not, throw it up to him … if it’s one-on-one, I trust Smitty and I trust Metchie, Slade and Miller (Forristall). At the end of the day, it’s a game of numbers and if they’re going to put one guy on Smitty, you just have to take advantage of it.”

            Michael Casagrande is a reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @ByCasagrande or on Facebook.

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