Not only is it a matchup of one of the best non-conference games from a year ago, you have quarterbacks Quinn Ewers and Jalen Milroe potentially leading the teams, with their shared history as Texas commits recently. Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian and tight ends coach/special teams coordinator Jeff Banks were actually the ones who recruited Milroe to the Crimson Tide when he was committed to Texas as a part of the 2021 class, successfully flipping him before the coaches came to Austin that offseason.
In spite of a pair of 1-0 records, questions still abound for both teams as they prepare for a non-conference matchup that could play a big part in determining the trajectory for both teams. To help gain some insight into the Tide, we reached out to Brent Taylor of Roll Bama Roll to help us preview the matchup.
Burnt Orange Nation: The biggest story of the offseason was the lack of clarity at the quarterback position, but Jalen Milroe turned in a five-touchdown performance in the opener. Did that performance settle the debate or will we have to await word for who will be in the backfield against Texas?
Roll Bama Roll: In typical Nick Saban fashion, he’s been about as clear as mud about the quarterback competition. We were told it was a three-man race that wasn’t going to be done “just because one guy starts the first game.” Then we heard that Jalen Milroe was the guy. Then gameday arrived and FOUR quarterbacks were listed with “or” on the depth chart... Except Milroe got the start and no one else ever rotated in. But it’s still an ongoing competition each game? I don’t know, to be honest. For what it’s worth, I think Milroe is the guy... but he’s the guy with a short leash. There won’t be any rotating quarterbacks or anything, but if Alabama’s offense bogs down for the first half, don’t be surprised if Saban makes the gut decision to try someone else. Shoot, he’s done that in the middle of a national championship game and benched a future NFL All-Pro to get the results he wanted.
BON: In that same vein, Milroe was also the leading rusher for Alabama against Middle Tennessee, with Jase McClellan turning in 39 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Was this intentional or what will Alabama need to do differently in Week 2?
RBR: The lack of rushing production from the running backs was a bit of a disappointment. We’d heard all offseason that our offensive line had bulked up to improve at the run game after last year, and instead, it was mostly underwhelming in game one. Sure, MTSU blitzed their inside backers up the middle for a huge chunk of the game trying to get run stops. And sure, the actual success rates were really good, but it wasn’t by much and after featured a running back slipping through some tackles to get to four yards.
The quarterback run will absolutely be a huge part of this offense. Milroe is an elite athlete and it would be malpractice not to use it. But the running back needs to be a bigger part of the show.
BON: What’s one storyline you’re watching for Alabama heading into Week 2?
RBR: How Terrion Arnold responds to covering sideline deep balls. Last season, Texas/Quinn Ewers cooked Khyree Jackson in the opening drives of the game. Jackson was subsequently benched and transferred out, and Alabama’s pass defense improved as Terrion Arnold stepped up. He’s still playing second fiddle to Kool-Aid McKinstry and is still only in his second season at the position (he was a safety/wide receiver/basketball player), and so MTSU opened up the game taking a designed deep shot at him down that right sideline. He made a great play on the ball, turned his head and swatted it while in a full sprint, so that was cool to see. But you KNOW Texas is going to test the exact same thing.
BON: What are your keys to victory for the Crimson Tide?
RBR: They have to get the medium plays on offense. Jalen Milroe proved he can throw the deep ball last week. He also proved he can throw the quick outs and make big plays with his legs. The running backs proved they could keep the offense moving in short yardage. But the offense was very dry in the 10-20-yard range. Those kind of plays are needed to keep the offense moving on second and long and third downs. Without them, it could turn into an offense that either scores a touchdown or goes three and out, with nothing in between. And start stacking a few three and outs against a top-tier team like Texas, you lose the game.
On defense... Just avoid penalties. Texas is going to go deep and do it often. And Quinn Ewers isn’t the most accurate deep-ball guy around, which is going to be yellow-hanky city as wide receivers and defensive backs collide 40 yards down the field. Avoid that, avoid giving Texas freebies, and Alabama’s defense, I think, is talented and cohesive enough to keep the Texas offense in check (enough for Alabama’s own offense to have a shot to win it if they prove they are capable).
BON: What’s your score prediction?
RBR: This year’s Alabama team is pretty much an unknown for me still. It’s a lot of new players and new coordinators. There’s a lot of optimism that this defense could be utterly dominant. But, at this point, it’s more optimism than true extrapolation from tangible results. The offense has a high ceiling, but also has a lot of uncertainty and could be downright putrid. They’ve talked a lot about fixing the penalty and mentality issues that plagued last year’s squad — but again, it’s been just that — talk. The game is in Tuscaloosa, and the team has really struggled in road games the last two seasons, so maybe that will help. With all of that, I could see this being an Alabama blowout, a big Texas win, or just about anything in between. And I’m not really comfortable making a prediction. If I was in Vegas, I wouldn’t touch the game with a 10-foot pole. Since you’re making me pick, I’ll let me optimism glasses (and a Tuscaloosa home game as the tie-breaker) tell me that Alabama wins by 14 in a fairly low-scoring game.