Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe had an eventful first season as a starter for the Crimson Tide in 2023. As Milroe and the Tide prepare to do battle against No.1 seed Michigan in the semi-final round of the College Football Playoff, let’s analyze the sophomore’s inaugural season at the helm of Nick Saban’s team.
Jalen Milroe competed and beat out transfer former Notre Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner and former five-star freshman quarterback Ty Simpson to earn the starting job before the start of the regular season. No matter who won the starting job, the shoes that were there for the taking were going to be tough to fill due to the greatness of former Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young, the No.1 pick in the 2023 NFL draft, respectively.
Young was arguably the best quarterback in Alabama’s history during his two seasons as a starter for the Tide (’21-’22). The current Carolina Panthers quarterback won the 2021 Heisman Trophy (the only Alabama Quarterback to win the award), and led the Tide to an SEC championship victory ( vs. Georgia in 2021) and a berth in the 2022 College Football Playoff Championship Game, respectively. Prior to Young, the Tide had a string of seasons with excellent quarterback play such as the likes of Mac Jones (led Alabama to the 2021 title vs. Ohio State ), Tua Tagovailoa (Offensive MVP in the 2018 National Title victory vs. Georgia), and Jalen Hurts (26-2 as Alabama Quarterback, fifth in program history), respectively.
The biggest question heading into the season for Saban’s team was who was going to take the reins after the departure of Young. Jalen Milroe came into the season with instant pressure and expectations, and why not? Alabama slowly was becoming a quarterback factory after years of being known as a team with a greedy defense, a smash-mouth rushing attack along with a game manager or a “do just enough” guy at quarterback.
The 6-foot-2 220Ibs pass thrower started the season off with promise, as his first test as a starter was against Middle Tennessee State at home which was more like a quiz. The sophomore pass thrower displayed his impressive athletic ability and deep ball accuracy by having tossed for three touchdowns (all three were 29-plus yards) and led the team in rush yards (48) in a 56-7 route against the Blue Raiders, but the real exam was the following week against then-No. 11 Texas Longhorns.
The Tide suffered their first out-of-conference home loss at Bryant-Denny Stadium since 2007 after being outplayed and outmatched at the hands of the Longhorns 34-24 in week 2. Milroe’s flaws were on full display as he looked uncomfortable, struggled with intermediate passes (11-19 yards), and tended to bail clean pockets, as his first instinct was to run first instead of looking downfield.
Milroe threw two interceptions, a season-worst QBR (64.1), and completed only 51% percent of his passes, respectively. Milroe was benched after his performance and there were questions whether Saban and Alabama’s run at the top of College Football was coming to an end.
Saban trotted out Simpson and Buchner at quarterback against South Florida in week 3 and the Crimson Tide offense looked even worse. Buchner and Simpson tossed for an average of 2.7 yards per play along with zero touchdowns collectively. Saban and his staff knew Milroe was the best option at quarterback going forward. Milroe at least could extend plays with his legs, throw a solid deep pass downfield, and keep defenses honest which are abilities that Buchner nor Simpson don’t have.
How Jalen Milroe has turned into a star
Since Jalen Milroe got the starting job back, the dual-threat pass thrower has led the Crimson Tide to 10 consecutive victories that included ranked teams such as then-ranked No.15 Ole Miss, then-ranked No.17 Tennessee, then-ranked No. 14 LSU and the two-time defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs in the 2023 SEC Championship Game, respectively.
Milroe has emerged as one of the nation’s most dynamic players in all of College Football over the past 10 weeks. The first-year starter finished the 2023 season with 12 rushing touchdowns (led the team), ranked second in the nation in pass yards per play (10.41), fifth in passing yards per completion (15.89) and fourth in the nation in passing efficiency (171.48), respectively. Saban’s starting quarterback looks more comfortable in the pocket (solid footwork and presence) and is making good reads by being more patient before releasing the ball or rushing with it. It hasn’t been all sunshine and roses for the Tide since Milroe’s return as a starter in week 4, as they hung on at home against a bad Arkansas team (24-21), escaped an underwhelming Texas A&M squad (26-20) and needed a 4th and 31 Hail Mary play in the waning seconds against in-state rival Auburn to close out the regular season (27-24), respectively.
Despite the numerous close calls, Milroe and the Tide did something 29 other teams before them couldn’t do during the past two seasons, which defeated the Georgia Bulldogs. Milroe was responsible for three prominent plays that altered the outcome of the game, as the Bulldogs headed into the matchup as the favorite.
Saban conveyed his trust in Milroe, as the Tide attempted and converted a 4th and 4 at the Georgia 37-yard line with 1:25 remaining in the second quarter. Milroe threw an accurate lob to sophomore wideout Isaiah Bond to move the chains while being heavily pressured by the Georgia front. The drive was capped off by a 15-yard touchdown pass to senior pass catcher Jermaine Burton, who leads the team with 777 reception yards and has become Milroe’s favorite target. The Tide led 17-7 at halftime.
The second dynamic play by Milroe displayed his prowess as a runner and football IQ, as he burst for a 30-yard run outside of the numbers and slid in bounds to keep the clock ticking with 2:45 left in the fourth quarter, which forced the Bulldogs to use their second timeout. Lastly, Milroe sprung for a 9-yard gain on the ground on 2nd and 8, which effectively ended the game with 1:51 remaining.
Milroe’s improvement in performance is eye-popping to say the least, as he was benched after only his second game as a starter and went on to become the 2023 SEC Championship Game MVP by season’s end. Yes, credit is due to Saban and Alabama offensive coordinator Tommy Rees for constructing the offense to Milroe’s strengths by incorporating run-pass option plays (RPO) and QB draws that showcase his talent as an effective runner and competent passer.
Sure, Milroe isn’t the pure passer like Washington’s Michael Penix Jr or USC’s Caleb Williams, but he does other things that are just as impactful and after having led the Crimson Tide to yet another Playoff appearance in his first season as a starter, Milroe should now be looked at as one of the sport’s premier players.