TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama was plagued by turnovers and other mistakes and was once again pushed to the brink by Texas A&M, this time with Bryce Young watching from the sidelines.
Things turned out differently this time.
Jalen Milroe threw three touchdowns in his first start and No. 1 Alabama made the final goal-line run to escape Texas A&M with a 24-20 victory Saturday night in a battle of backup quarterbacks.
Playing without injured Heisman Trophy winner Young, the Crimson Tide (6-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) needed two late stops from Will Anderson Jr. and the defense. They barely survived four turnovers and two missed field goals against a team that beat the Tide 41-38 last season.
“That wasn’t our best football tonight,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “When you don’t have your quarterback out and the second team has to play, everyone has to play better.”
But the Aggies were in a similar boat, albeit with an experienced quarterback sub.
Haynes King, filling in for injured starter Max Johnson (shooting hand), drove the Aggies (3-2, 1-2) 69 yards in the final 1:50 on big passes to Evan Stewart and Moose Muhammad III. Jordan Battle looked to end the threat with an interception in the end zone, but Brian Branch was flagged for pass interference.
That set up a final drive from the 2 with three seconds left, but King’s pass to Stewart fell incomplete.
Milroe passed for 111 yards and ran for 183, but also threw an interception and lost two fumbles. Jahmyr Gibbs rushed for 159 yards, the bulk of his 206 carries since Young’s early shoulder injury against Arkansas.
The big question now is whether Young will play against No. 8 Tennessee.
“Jalen did some good things, but obviously a couple turnovers,” Saban said. “He will live and learn and we will live and learn with him. We’ll see what progress Bryce makes.’
King completed 25 of 46 passes for 253 yards and a pair of touchdowns with one interception, but was under constant pressure. The Tide had three sacks and gave Anderson eight quarterback hurries.
Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher wasn’t buying the narrative that the Aggies kept it close because Alabama was without its star quarterback and made plenty of mistakes.
“We’re playing everybody, even quarterback,” Fisher said. “Two good teams locked up and fought and went there and we showed what we’re capable of.”
In the end, Alabama got a double measure of revenge against the Aggies and Fisher. An unranked Texas A&M team handed Alabama its only regular-season loss last year, then released Fisher indefinitely in response to Saban’s comments that the Aggies bought their top recruiting class with NIL money.
Once again, the Aggies were very close to the top team, a 23 1/2 point favorite.
“We also remember that feeling and (through) all the preparation we’re saying we never want to feel that feeling again,” Anderson said.
Texas A&M cut it to 24-20 on Randy Bond’s 46-yard field goal with 3:32 left. The Aggies settled for the sack after being flagged twice for false starts while attempting fourth-and-long.
The defense then forced an Alabama three-and-out, setting up one more punt for King and the Aggies.
“We went along with them,” Fisher said.
It was an up-and-down season with Saban, but they had regular pre-game and post-game exchanges.
“I told him he had a good team and I wished him good luck for the rest of the year and he said the same,” Fisher said.
Texas A&M: It was another blow to an Aggies season that began with a No. 6 ranking and hopes of SEC and national competition. But the offense showed late signs of life in a gutsy performance that fell short.
Alabama: The dynamic passing game with Young wasn’t evident, but the grinding game was effective, but for a number of mistakes. Running back Jaylen Moody missed the game with a hurt kidney.
Alabama switched places with Georgia after the Bulldogs’ near miss against Missouri. It will be interesting to see how voters view the Tide’s own close call.
Young came out for warmups with the team and took snaps along with the other quarterbacks, but did not throw a pass. Johnson watched the warm-ups from the sidelines. Milroe said he knew he was starting before the game and “I was ready.”
Young said it helped him “stay calm, cool and collected.”
Texas A&M has an open date before visiting South Carolina on Oct. 22.
Alabama visits No. 8 Tennessee in its first game against a Top 10 team.
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