It's been quite the busy month for Jalen Milroe.
Alabama's redshirt sophomore quarterback was the Crimson Tide starter for the first two games of this season, which included the 34-24 home loss to Texas on Sept. 9. Milroe was then benched and didn't play the following week in a 17-3 downing of South Florida in Tampa, but he was named the starter again last Monday and led the Crimson Tide to a much-needed 24-10 victory over Ole Miss in their Southeastern Conference opener.
Now the challenge for the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder from Katy, Texas, is the first road start of his career Saturday night at Mississippi State. Milroe entered last season's 49-26 triumph at Arkansas for an injured Bryce Young midway through the second quarter and with the Crimson Tide leading 21-0, but his lone career start before this season was last year's home game against Texas A&M.
"The biggest thing is to focus on today and try to maximize today and be the best version we can today," Milroe said Monday in a news conference. "We know we have a tough opponent this week and that it's going to be a hard road game, but we're ready to accept the challenge as a team.
"The first thing we've got to do is clean up some things we messed up on this last week."
The meeting between the Southeastern Conference's two closest campuses has a 9 Eastern kick on ESPN.
Alabama has dominated Mississippi State through the years, posting an 87-17-3 series advantage that includes 15 consecutive wins. The past three encounters pitted Nick Saban against the late Mike Leach, with the Crimson Tide winning all three by the average score of 40-5.
"I loved Mike Leach," Saban said. "He was different, but in a good way. He had a great sense of humor. He obviously presented an offensive system or scheme that was unique and very challenging, but he believed in it and kind of did it his way.
"I always had a tremendous amount of respect for him as a coach, but I really liked him as a person."
Milroe will head to Starkville having completed 44 of 66 passes (66.7%) this season for 674 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions, and he has also rushed 38 times for 120 yards and two scores. His efficiency rating of 173.4 ranks third in the SEC and 16th nationally, which might seem a bit high given that he averages one interception per game.
Yet yards per attempt factors heavily into the efficiency formula, and Milroe has displayed a nice touch on deep balls, including a 54-yarder to Jermaine Burton against the Rebels.
"He's got a strong arm, and he knows his receivers," Crimson Tide senior defensive back Malachi Moore said of Milroe. "The catch Jermaine had in this game was really a throw where only Jermaine could catch it. That's one thing that makes his deep balls so good, his connection with receivers."
No need for gun
The Crimson Tide don't have a lot of scoring drives covering minus-21 yards in the Saban era, but such was the case midway through the second quarter Saturday after blocking a punt that rolled out of bounds at the Ole Miss. 1
On the ensuing play, Milroe lined up in the shotgun, and the snap sailed over his head. Saban was asked Monday why Milroe didn't get under center with the goal line just three feet away.
"There is a lot of thought about that," Saban said. "It was not smart on our part to do what we did, and to get a bad snap after all that. With better execution, we shouldn't snap the ball over the quarterback's head, but there is a time when it's first-and-goal at the 1 where it's like, 'Why do you need to be in the gun?'"
It's not the time
Alabama and Mississippi State have met annually since 1948, but the two teams are not scheduled to play next season when Oklahoma and Texas join the SEC to form a 16-member collection.
"I think there is a time and place to commiserate or celebrate or whatever you want to do relative to rivalries and the changing environment and landscape of college football," Saban said. "To me, everything is about this game and trying to get our team better."
Only once before
Saban is 15-1 in SEC road openers at Alabama, with the lone setback being the 23-17 loss at Ole Miss in 2014.
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