No. 13 Alabama once again turns to Jalen Milroe to spark its sputtering offense

Middle Tennessee, Alabama football

Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe (4) jogs off the field after the team’s win against Middle Tennessee in an NCAA college football game on Saturday, September 2, 2023, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

By JOHN ZENOR AP Sports Writer

Alabama is turning the offensive reins back over to Jalen Milroe, but the messy quarterback situation is only part of the problem.

The offensive line was bullied at times and the receivers and running backs didn’t always shine.

The result was a rocky start to the season for the 13th-ranked Crimson Tide (2-1), including a loss to No. 3 Texas and more than 40 minutes before scoring a touchdown against South Florida. Alabama fell out of the AP top 10 for the first time in eight years.

But back to the quarterbacks: Alabama coach Nick Saban said Milroe will be back in the starting lineup Saturday when No. 15 Mississippi visits Bryant-Denny Stadium in the Southeastern Conference teams’ opener. Milroe started the first two games and didn’t play at all in Game 3, while Tyler Buchner opened and Ty Simpson closed out the 17-3 win.

Milroe cheered them on instead of sulking on the sidelines. Now the circle is complete.

“From a quarterback standpoint — that’s all I’ll say on that — Jalen really showed the leadership qualities that I was looking for during the game in terms of supporting his teammates and doing the things that he needed to do .” Saban said on Monday. “He had the opportunity to play. The other boys too. Jalen played the best out of all those guys, so I think he deserves the chance to be quarterback.”

Buchner completed less than half of his passes for 61 yards. Simpson passed for 78 yards but led both touchdown drives.

And Milroe watched. He was benched after throwing two interceptions in the Texas game, but is the most dangerous runner among them and was also more productive in the passing game.

The last two games have made it clear that there is still significant room for improvement across the offensive line. The South Florida game marked the first time since 2007 that Alabama failed to score at least 20 points against a non-Power Five conference opponent.

It’s not what you’d expect from the Tide, even after losing No. 1 draft pick Bryce Young to the NFL, which currently has four former Alabama quarterbacks in the starting lineup. Lately, one star passer seems to be moving on from one star passer to another, but this time the transition wasn’t seamless.

Neither did the move to 31-year-old offensive coordinator Tommy Rees. Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin, one of Rees’ predecessors in Tuscaloosa, said it’s difficult to fully assess an offense when the quarterback situation is in flux. He assumes the Tide’s offensive performance in South Florida “doesn’t say anything about the way they play at home in the SEC.”

“They’re going to make it,” Kiffin said. “Previous games mean nothing year after year, week after week. You see that all the time in college football.”

Alabama ranks 100th in passing offense, 82nd in total offense and 54th in scoring. Tide quarterbacks have been sacked 12 times and have faced pressure on many others.

The offensive line had to replace three starters and freshman Kadyn Proctor, one of the most valuable recruits in the country, was the starting left tackle. Terrence Ferguson Jr. started at left guard against South Florida in place of Tyler Booker (back spasms).

“I think the players didn’t communicate well and disagreed at times, and I think that led to problems,” Saban said. “I thought the offensive line playing like our offensive line needed to play in the last 6:29 of the game and we want to build on that.”

The team held a players-only meeting after the South Florida game, hoping to revive SEC play.

“I think we do a great job, especially on defense, of coming out with energy,” Alabama offensive tackle JC Latham said. “But it’s just little things and drive killers that get us. Elimination of drive killers and the ability to sustain all four quarters.

“I know what kind of team we have. We have the guys who will do their jobs and play at the highest level.”

(Copyright 2023 The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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