Jalen Milroe starts and stars as Alabama races past MTSU

AP photo by Vasha Hunt / Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe keeps his balance as he completes a long touchdown run during Saturday night's season-opening win against Middle Tennessee State in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
AP photo by Vasha Hunt / Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe keeps his balance as he completes a long touchdown run during Saturday night's season-opening win against Middle Tennessee State in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The offseason question of who would replace Bryce Young as Alabama's starting quarterback continued right up until the Crimson Tide's season opener as coach Nick Saban chose to keep his depth chart close to the vest.

Turns out Jalen Milroe was the right answer.

Milroe threw three long touchdown passes and ran for a pair of scores, including one where he turned a potentially huge loss into a dash to the end zone, to lead No. 4 Alabama to a 56-7 season-opening victory over Middle Tennessee State University on Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Milroe emerged on top of a three-man battle in preseason camp to replace Young — the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 pick of this year's NFL draft — and delivered big plays without any costly mistakes in the second start of his career for the Southeastern Conference power. He threw touchdown passes of 47 yards to Isaiah Bond, 48 to Jermaine Burton and 29 to Amari Niblack.

"I think he's more confident, doing a good job in the passing game," Alabama coach Nick Saban said of Milroe, who started when Young was injured last year and threw three touchdown passes in that win against Texas A&M. "His athleticism helps him. He scored a touchdown on a fumbled snap, which wasn't his fault."

A much bigger challenge awaits Alabama with a visit from No. 11 Texas next weekend, when the Tide will get a better chance to demonstrate their championship mettle after uncharacteristically dropping two regular-season games last season. Milroe easily passed his first test, saying he didn't even remember when during the week he learned he would start.

He showcased his running ability while turning a bad snap into a 21-yard touchdown on his opening drive. Milroe had to go back and scoop the ball up after it basically rolled past him, raced to the right sideline, put his left hand on the ground to keep his balance, then made a final cut at about the 7-yard line.

Touchdown, Milroe.

"I was fortunate to pick the ball up and make a play with it, but it was all the other 10 guys on the field that helped me get in the end zone," Milroe said.

Center Seth McLaughlin knew instantly it was a snap gone awry. He watched the end of the play on the video board, thinking, No. 1, "Thank God that wasn't a busted play that killed the drive. And 2, oh no this is going to go viral and millions of people are going to see this."

It was the first of five total scores by Milroe, who was 13-of-18 passing for 193 yards and also ran for 48 yards before handing the offensive reins to Notre Dame transfer Tyler Buchner midway through the third quarter. Ty Simpson was also competing for the starting job, and he and Buchner each ran for a touchdown against the Blue Raiders.

Milroe, though, set the pace.

"Their quarterback's a heck of a player, and he made some really, really special plays with his feet," said MTSU coach Rick Stockstill, whose team is part of Conference USA.

The Blue Raiders, who beat No. 25 Miami 45-31 a year ago, couldn't come close to pulling off another upset of a power conference program.

The night wasn't a total loss for the visitors. MTSU made a reported $1.6 million from the game and did manage a touchdown late in the third quarter. Nicholas Vattiato was 21-of-32 passing for 127 yards, including a 7-yard connection with Bryce Bailey for the score, but was intercepted once.

Stockstill lost starting cornerback Deonte Stanley before the defense even took the field. He was called for targeting on punt returner Kool-Aid McKinstry after the Blue Raiders' opening series.

MTSU's tour of SEC programs continues next weekend with a visit to Missouri.

Saban wasn't about to offer a prediction on how Milroe could build on this performance against Texas, which will leave the Big 12 to join the Tide in the SEC next year.

"This is a Coke bottle," Saban said, picking up a bottle from his podium. "It's not a crystal ball."

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