Milroe’s transformation redirected Alabama’s once-shaky season

Crimson Tide photos / Alabama redshirt sophomore quarterback Jalen Milroe ranks third nationally in passing efficiency entering Saturday's Southeastern Conference championship game against Georgia.
Crimson Tide photos / Alabama redshirt sophomore quarterback Jalen Milroe ranks third nationally in passing efficiency entering Saturday's Southeastern Conference championship game against Georgia.

Jalen Milroe said Monday afternoon that he honestly can't remember one particular moment in which the redshirt sophomore catapulted from a benched Alabama quarterback to one of college football's most dynamic players.

Crimson Tide senior defensive back Malachi Moore remembers.

"It was the Texas A&M game," Moore said. "I had been in the locker room for a little while after halftime, and when I came out, I saw where he was throwing the ball for like 250 yards. He was just bombing and bombing.

"That's when I saw him get really comfortable with himself and trusting himself and his abilities."

Milroe threw for 124 yards in the third quarter alone of his 321-yard performance as the Crimson Tide turned a 17-10 halftime deficit into a 24-17 advantage on their way to a 26-20 victory in College Station. Alabama kept winning from there and will take an 11-1 record and a No. 8 ranking into Saturday afternoon's Southeastern Conference championship showdown (4 on CBS) versus 12-0 and top-ranked Georgia inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Although Alabama has made annual reservations for Atlanta under Nick Saban with the occasional exceptions provided by Auburn and LSU, this year's journey could be considered a surprise given a September in which the Crimson Tide suffered a 34-24 home loss to Texas and a lackluster 17-3 topping of South Florida in Tampa, when Milroe had been demoted to third-string status.

Milroe was handed a second chance and completely capitalized, using the Texas A&M contest as the beginning of a seven-game stretch in which the Katy, Texas, resident has thrown for 15 touchdowns and sustained just three interceptions.

"His transformation at the quarterback position has helped us transform our entire offensive team," Saban said. "The confidence that he's playing with, and the confidence that our players have in him — I think we've done a pretty good job of trying to utilize the skill set that he has, and he's learned that the most important thing at his position is to distribute the ball.

"He's done a really, really good job of that, and I think it's enhanced the transformation of our offensive team to be more effective and productive."

Milroe will enter the SEC championship ranked third nationally in passing efficiency, having completed 158 of 238 attempts (66.4%) for 2,526 yards with 21 touchdowns and six interceptions. He is coming off his most memorable throw, completing a fourth-and-31 touchdown strike to Isaiah Bond that delivered a 27-24 triumph over Auburn this past weekend.

When asked Monday whether he had moved on from such a head-in-the-clouds moment, Milroe said, "I have 100 percent. That game is over with. Now it's about refocusing, cleaning up some things from Auburn, and what the task is, which is today."

The task for Georgia will be slowing one of the sport's unique players. Milroe had a completion of at least 40 yards in 10 of his 11 regular-season games and a run of at least 20 yards in six contests.

"When I used to ask who my sons were playing on the Madden game, they would say they were playing with the (Baltimore) Ravens," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. "When I asked why they were playing with the Ravens, they would say, 'They've got Lamar Jackson, and nobody can tackle him.'

"This guy is a bigger, more physical version of that. He's playing at a different speed than everybody else."

Bulldogs junior cornerback Kamari Lassiter pretty much echoed Smart's sentiments, saying, "We haven't faced anyone to his caliber like that this season. He's definitely different from all the other quarterbacks we've faced."

Milroe said the biggest thing that contributed to his staggering improvement from the start of the season was the support he received from teammates, coaches and family members. He recognizes there are unique talents he possesses and laughs at his dimensions still being listed at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds.

"That ain't accurate," Milroe blurted out. "I'm much bigger than that. I was that like freshman year."


Breaking through

Georgia won its most recent encounter with Alabama, scoring the final 20 points of a 33-18 triumph at Indianapolis in January 2022.

Smart was asked Monday what that win meant, given that it ended Georgia's seven-game losing streak to Saban's Tide.

"It meant the University of Georgia got a national championship," Smart said, "and that's the significance of that."

Smart did elaborate more when asked if his program could carry over some confidence from that result.

"The two teams are very different when you look at who they were then and who we were then," he said. "I don't know that they could be more polar opposites in terms of what they do offensively, and you can say the same about us and who we were defensively.

"With the way college football is today, not a lot of our players who played in that game are playing in this game, and if they did, it was probably a minor role."


Bobo a finalist

Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo was named Monday afternoon among the five finalists for the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant.

The former Bulldogs quarterback was a 2012 Broyles finalist during his first stint as offensive coordinator at his alma mater, and his offense this season is on pace to set school records in yards per game (496.4), yards per play (7.25) and completion percentage (72.4). Bobo's predecessor, Todd Monken, was a Broyles finalist last year.


Learning a lesson?

Alabama's escape of Auburn last Saturday was similar to two years ago, when the Crimson Tide rallied from a 10-0 deficit before defeating their state rival 24-22 in four overtimes.

That Tide team was given little chance to beat Georgia the following week in the SEC championship but stunned the Bulldogs 41-24, so could they replicate that feat?

"We didn't sort of channel all the passion and the great execution in this last game, and I think that was very similar to the game a couple years ago," Saban said. "To get our players to have a good perspective to build on the things they did well and improving the things we didn't do well so that we can channel our passion into positive execution on a more consistent basis was the focus a couple years ago.

"It's certainly going to be the focus in this game."


Title game notes

Alabama leads the series with Georgia 42-26-4. ... Saturday will mark just the second SEC championship pitting teams that went undefeated in league play, with the first being the 2009 matchup won by Alabama over Florida. ... Smart when asked about spying Milroe: "People do try and spy him, but their spy can't get him on the ground."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.

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