TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama is turning the offensive reins back over to Jalen Milroe, but the messy quarterback situation has been only part of the problem.
The offensive line has been bullied at times, and the receivers and running backs haven't always shined either.
The result for the 13th-ranked Crimson Tide (2-1) has been a sputtering start to the season, including a loss to No. 3 Texas and going more than 40 minutes before managing a touchdown against South Florida. Alabama has fallen from the AP's top 10 for the first time in eight years.
But back to the quarterbacks: Alabama coach Nick Saban said Milroe will start again Saturday when No. 15 Mississippi visits Bryant-Denny Stadium in the teams' Southeastern Conference opener. Milroe started the first two games and didn't play at all in Game 3, while Tyler Buchner opened and Ty Simpson finished the 17-3 victory.
Milroe cheered them on instead of sulking on the sideline. Now, the position has come full circle.
“From a quarterback standpoint — this is all I’m going to say about this — you know, Jalen really showed the leadership that I was looking for during the game in terms of supporting his teammates and doing the things he needed to do,” Saban said Monday. “He’s had the opportunity to play. So have the other guys. Jalen played the best of all those guys, so I think he’s earned the opportunity to be the quarterback.”
Buchner completed less than half of his passes for 61 yards. Simpson passed for 78 yards but did lead both touchdown drives.
And Milroe watched. He was benched after throwing two interceptions in the Texas game but is the most dangerous runner among them and has also been more productive in the passing game.
The past two games made it clear there's considerable room for improvement all over the offense. The South Florida game marked the first time Alabama has failed to score at least 20 points against a non-Power Five conference opponent since 2007.
It's not what you'd expect from the Tide even after losing No. 1 draft pick Bryce Young to the NFL, where four ex-Alabama quarterbacks currently are starting. One star passer has seemingly rolled into the next lately, but the transition hasn't been seamless this time.
Nor has the switch to 31-year-old offensive coordinator Tommy Rees. Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin, one of Rees' predecessors in Tuscaloosa, said it's hard to fully judge an offense when the quarterback situation has been in flux. He figures the Tide's offensive performance at South Florida “means nothing about the way they play in the SEC at home.”
“They're going to work it out,” Kiffin said. “Previous games don't mean anything year to year, week to week. You see that in college football all the time.”
Alabama ranks 100th in passing offense, 82nd in total offense and 54th in scoring. Tide quarterbacks already have been sacked 12 times and under pressure plenty of others.
The offensive line had to replace three starters and freshman Kadyn Proctor, one of the nation's most prized recruits, has been the starting left tackle. Terrence Ferguson Jr. started in place of Tyler Booker (back spasms) at left guard against South Florida.
“I think the players were not communicating well and not on the same page sometimes, and I think that created issues and problems,” Saban said. "I thought that the offensive line played like our offensive line needs to play in the last 6:29 of the game, and that’s something that we want to build on.”
The team held a players-only meeting after the South Florida game, hoping for a resurgence entering SEC play.
“In my opinion, especially on defense, we do a great job of coming out with energy,” Alabama offensive tackle JC Latham said. “But it’s just little things and drive-killers that tend to get us. Eliminating drive-killers and being able to sustain for all four quarters.
"I know what type of team we have. We’ve got the guys to get the job done and play to the standard.”