TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Alabama came out of the locker room with one touchdown drive after another, clearly not too distracted by thoughts of the Iron Bowl.
Jalen Hurts passed for 180 yards and three touchdowns in a little more than a quarter and the top-ranked Crimson Tide beat FCS team Mercer 56-0 on Saturday with a precision performance in an obvious mismatch.
"We just went out and executed what we needed to do and gave the fans a show," safety Hootie Jones said.
Jalen Hurts: 7-7, 180 Pass YDs, 30 Rush YDs, 3 TD
There’s still 12 minutes to play in the 2nd quarter… pic.twitter.com/hB79Toy4Rj
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 18, 2017
With the stands far from full, the Tide (11-0, 7-0 SEC, No. 1 CFP) raced to a 35-0 halftime lead in what amounted to a tuneup for the team's biggest game. Now, Alabama heads to No. 6 Auburn with the winner facing No. 7 Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship game in Atlanta.
The Bears (5-6, 2-4 Southern Conference) also lost to Auburn 24-10 early in the season, when the Tigers committed five turnovers.
"I don't really think Auburn had found themselves yet," Mercer coach Bobby Lamb said. "They were kind of spinning. They didn't know which way they were going. They racked up 500 yards on us, but we got five turnovers. We were able to move the ball a little bit better.
"This team here (Alabama) is really good in all phases of the game and you add their punter who can punt it to the moon and back, it's a very difficult football team."
Hurts led Alabama to touchdowns on each of his four possessions, completing all seven of his attempts and running for 30 yards. He hit a wide-open Calvin Ridley for a 66-yard touchdown, giving Ridley 103 yards on three catches before the half.
Freshman backup quarterback Tua Tagovailoa came in with just under 12 minutes left in the second quarter and exited early in the fourth.
Tagovailoa also threw for three touchdowns, completing 7 of 11 passes for 85 yards.
Alabama outgained Mercer 530-161 in total yards. The Tide has outscored opponents 253-43 collectively in the first half.
It was an FBS record 73rd consecutive win against unranked teams. Now, it's OK to look ahead just a bit.
"I think everybody understands the challenges we have ahead of us and the importance of all those games," Tide coach Nick Saban said.
Mercer: Got off to a good start offensively, making it into Alabama territory on its first two possessions and five times in the game. Kaelan Riley was 6 of 19 passing for 44 yards with three interceptions.
Alabama: Dominated, as expected, and got a bunch of players on the field. Defense had interceptions from Deionte Thompson, Dylan Moses and Hootie Jones. Had six tailbacks carry at least four times, and none topped seven carries.
The freshman Moses turned in a huge performance for Alabama's injury-depleted linebackers. Making his first start, Moses picked off a pass deep in Tide territory late in the first half. He had 11 tackles, four behind the line, with 10 solo stops.
Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and guard Ross Pierschbacher were held out. Fitzpatrick played against Mississippi State last weekend despite injuring his left hamstring in the LSU game. Pierschbacher suffered a high ankle sprain in the Mississippi State game and was replaced by J.C. Hassenauer. Placekicker Andy Pappanastos also didn't kick because of a pulled muscle.
It was the last game at Bryant-Denny Stadium for 21 seniors, including a number of key players. They left with a 51-4 record over the past four years going into the Iron Bowl. The win total equals the school and NCAA record set by last year's senior class. Saban said he thinks all 21 got in the game.
"This senior class has been phenomenal," he said.
Mercer finished its season.
Alabama visits Auburn in the Iron Bowl with its bid for a fourth consecutive SEC title — and perhaps another playoff trip — on the line.