The Alabama football quarterback position is set to be scrutinized all season long. But make no mistake about it: Jalen Milroe is QB1 for the Crimson Tide, and he did just enough to prove it on Saturday against the Ole Miss Rebels.
Ole Miss, coming into Tuscaloosa while Alabama was recovering from one of their worst showings during the Nick Saban era, had all the makings of a complete and utter derailment of this season's Crimson Tide football team. For most teams, it probably would have been. It was the perfect recipe for disaster for Alabama: a top-25 ranked team, a conference game, and facing a former assistant in Lane Kiffin. There were significant implications all around. One more loss, and Alabama is likely out of the College Football Playoff contention once again. This loss would have also been an SEC West defeat, reducing Alabama's chances of making the SEC Championship game.
That's why head coach Nick Saban promptly named Milroe the starting quarterback well ahead of the Ole Miss game, shortly after the South Florida game where the Crimson Tide only managed a mere 17 points.
Saban probably did this for a few reasons. One, to avoid continuous questioning from the media about who would start against Ole Miss. Saban and the staff had been asked this same question repeatedly, from spring to fall camp and just before the season opener against Middle Tennessee State. Saban nipped this problem in the bud early, indicating where the team was headed. Two, Saban had no other choice but to name Milroe as the starting quarterback. The South Florida game allowed a luxury of being a test sample game to see what Notre Dame transfer Tyler Buchner and Ty Simpson had to offer. Needless to say, neither seems likely to regain the starting job this season unless Milroe gets injured.
Jalen Milroe in comparison to Tyler Buchner and Ty Simpson
The sample sizes for Milroe, Tyler Buchner, and Ty Simpson entering the season were small. It wasn't the first season that Saban was entering with a new, fairly inexperienced quarterback. It's just that the talent drop-off from his previous quarterbacks to his 2023 stable of quarterbacks was apparently significant.
Saban had seen firsthand what he had in Milroe last season during the Texas A&M game. The game ended up being much closer than what most expected, with the Crimson Tide escaping with a 24-20 victory. Milroe by no means was spectacular in the game but more than serviceable. He completed 12-of-19 pass attempts (63.2 percent), throwing for three touchdowns and one interception, while also rushing for 81 yards on 17 carries, per ESPN stats. That was really the gist of Milroe's season last year, leaving Saban and Alabama fans wanting more, especially in comparison to Bryce Young, who unfairly set the bar high.
That's why when Saban hired Tommy Rees as his offensive coordinator, Tyler Buchner followed not long after. Buchner had played in only a handful of games with significant playing time at Notre Dame. He was a consistent 55 percent completion passer during his three seasons in South Bend before being sidelined by injury last season. When Buchner got the nod for the South Florida game, most thought it could be the end of Milroe as the starter, yet it only confirmed the opposite.
Buchner went 8-for-19, throwing no touchdowns and no interceptions. But his 42.1 completion percentage was abysmal, and he could never seem to move the offense down the field. In the five drives he had, they all resulted in punts, with only one pass completion over 10 yards. In fact, he never made it out of the first half before Simpson took over late in the second quarter, when the Crimson Tide finally scored with a field goal.
Simpson's only real sample size is the South Florida game. He was definitely the more productive quarterback between him and Buchner against the Bulls, helping Alabama score their 17 points. But he still seems unrefined in some areas. He finished 5-for-9 with no scores and no interceptions.
Jalen Milroe has shown improvement
Alabama football fans are still trying to come to terms with a team like Texas coming into their stadium and controlling the game as they did and ultimately beating them. That just hasn't happened often while Saban has been roaming the sidelines. Of course, much of the immediate blame goes on the quarterback, in this case, Milroe.
Milroe by no means had a game to remember, unless it was for the wrong reasons at times. But he didn't have an all-time horrible game either. Like most with Milroe, he's a bit of a mixed bag at times. He'd look awful for a couple of drives, namely the two interceptions he threw. And then, a few drives later, he'd be putting Alabama in good field position to score.
It doesn't help that Alabama has a terrible offensive line this year that has surrendered 16 total sacks (124th in the country). Nonetheless, Milroe showed some signs of improvement against Ole Miss that shouldn't be overlooked. Milroe increased his completion percentage by almost 30 percent, from 51.9 against the Longhorns to 81 against the Rebels, for a 66.7 percent completion rate for the season. This is a step in the right direction for Milroe and the Crimson Tide, proving that he is indeed QB1.