Jalen Milroe is Alabama football’s starting QB again. Did Nick Saban make the right call?

TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 16: Alabama Crimson Tide Quarterback Jalen Milroe (4) warms up before the College Football game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the South Florida Bulls on September 16, 2023 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL. (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
By Kennington Smith III
Sep. 19, 2023

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama’s quarterback questions were put to bed on Monday, barring any unexpected developments. Nick Saban announced that sophomore Jalen Milroe would start on Saturday at home against Ole Miss. This decision comes after Milroe did not play in the team’s 17-3 win over South Florida in favor of sophomore Tyler Buchner and redshirt freshman Ty Simpson.


“Jalen really showed the leadership that I was looking for during (South Florida),” Saban said. “In terms of supporting his teammates and doing the things he needed to do. He’s had the opportunity to play, so have the other guys, and Jalen played the best of all of those guys. So I think he’s earned the opportunity to be the quarterback.”

The silver lining in Alabama’s quarterback conundrum is that the coaching staff and public got to see Buchner, Milroe and Simpson play significant snaps in a game setting. Milroe’s confirmation as the starter answers the most pressing question, but Buchner and Simpon’s place in the quarterback competition is still a relevant topic.

Milroe is objectively the best option moving forward, but he still has to play well enough in SEC games to keep his position. And in the unfortunate circumstance of injury, either Buchner or Simpson must be ready. In hindsight, the win over South Florida served as a live evaluation for the No. 2 quarterback position, and that competition between Buchner and Simpson will continue.



Saban names Milroe QB, says Steele remains Bama DC

Here’s our breakdown of the quarterback play against South Florida, a statistical breakdown of the quarterbacks and a projection of the pecking order as SEC play looms.

A look at Buchner’s rough debut

The Tide got off to a promising start behind Buchner with two runs for 25 yards by Jase McClellan. But the offense quickly stalled, with five consecutive punts. Buchner finished the game completing just 5-of-14 passes for 34 yards. He had a few good moments, including a handful of positive rushes, but inconsistencies in the passing game were too much to overcome.

The two biggest issues in Buchner’s performance were accuracy and timing with his receivers, and most of these occurrences were on third down. The first play below is the first third down of the game: Receiver Jermaine Burton ran a short route and found a hole in South Florida’s zone defense out of his break, but Buchner threw the ball late and behind him for an incomplete pass. It was still a catchable ball but a harder play than it needed to be. Two drives later, Buchner skipped a pass to an open Ja’Corey Brooks running a comeback route on third-and-long. Buchner was 0-of-4 on third-down passing.

Two pass plays could have turned Buchner’s fortunes, both on his final drive. Midway through the second quarter on a first down from the Alabama 39-yard line, Isaiah Bond ran a double move and broke free in the middle of South Florida’s defense. Buchner found Bond but didn’t put enough zip on the ball, which allowed for a USF defender to break up the pass.

Ironically, Buchner’s final pass attempt was his best, and it’s also one he’ll want back. On a second-and-8, Burton beat both his man and a safety on a go route and was open in the end zone for a long touchdown, but the ball was thrown a little too far. Because the weather delay affected camera angles in the second quarter, there isn’t a closer angle to determine how close Burton was to making the catch, but that was Buchner’s last big shot. He was hit as he threw on the following play, sailed a pass out of bounds and Simpson entered the game from there.

Examining Simpson’s first, real game action

Two good things come to mind regarding Simpson’s day: He led every scoring drive, one on a short field (25 yards), one of 80 yards and one of 84 yards, and he did so without any turnovers. It wasn’t flawless, but he flashed enough to spark intrigue about what he could be with more game reps.


Arguably the best play of the day offensively belonged to Simpson when he found tight end CJ Dippre for a 45-yard gain that set up Alabama’s first touchdown in the third quarter. The play was well-blocked up front, and Simpson effortlessly dropped the ball in a perfect spot for Dippre to catch and continue running.

Simpson took the brunt of all five sacks allowed against South Florida. The struggles of the offensive line have been documented, but the sacks were a variety of lineman mistakes, poor pass protection by skill players and Simpson holding the ball too long.

Here’s an example of Simpson holding the ball too long. South Florida defender Daquan Evans, who had two sacks to that point, showed a blitz before the snap. He beat JC Latham to the inside, and Simpson, who initially wanted to get the ball out quickly, hesitated and double-clutched, which allowed Evans to finish the sack. Latham needs a better seal on the inside, but Simpson needs to get the ball out quicker.

Below is an example of poor pass protection by McClellan. South Florida disguised its blitz and sent a defensive back, and a poor pickup allowed him to get a sack.

Finally, here’s a sack allowed attributed to poor offensive line play. Evans, who got the better of Latham above, raced by freshman Kadyn Proctor and sacked Simpson before he sensed any pressure. Proctor, a true freshman, has allowed four sacks and 10 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.

The last play falls in the category of one Simpson would like back. With 24 seconds until halftime and no timeouts, Simpson escaped the pocket, rolled out to his right and attempted to find Malik Benson for a long gain. Simpson had ample room to pick up a first down and more with his legs, and because the clock was below two minutes, it would’ve stopped where he was marked down. Understandably, Simpson was trying to gain as many yards as possible to set up a potential field goal attempt, but taking what the defense gave would’ve been the better option.

Buchner, Simpson and Milroe by the numbers

Here’s how each Alabama quarterback stacks up in a few statistical categories:

  • Milroe (career): 61-of-105 passing (58.1 percent) for 11 passing touchdowns and five interceptions with 412 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns.
  • Milroe (2023 season): 27-of-45 passing (60 percent) for 449 yards, five passing touchdowns and two interceptions with 92 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns.
  • Buchner (career): 75-of-137 passing (54.7 percent) for 1,010 yards, six passing touchdowns and eight interceptions with 479 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns.
  • Buchner (2023 season): 8-of-19 passing (42.1 percent) for 61 yards, one rushing touchdown and zero turnovers.
  • Simpson (career): 10-of-15 passing (66.7 percent) for 113 yards, two rushing touchdowns, zero turnovers.
  • Simpson (2023 season): 6-of-10 passing (60 percent) for 78 yards, two rushing touchdowns and zero turnovers.

The following stats are from the 2023 season only:

Yards per play (total offense):

  • Milroe (105 snaps): 6.75
  • Simpson (47 snaps): 4.98
  • Buchner (39 snaps): 4.65

Yards per drive (total offense):

  • Milroe (21 drives): 34.5
  • Simpson (9 drives): 28.6
  • Buchner (7 drives): 22.9

Points per drive (total offense):

  • Milroe (21 drives): 3.14
  • Simpson (9 drives): 2.67
  • Buchner (7 drives): 1.0

Third-down percentage (total offense):

  • Milroe: 12 of 23 (52.2 percent) — four 3-and-outs
  • Simpson: 3 of 7 (43 percent) — one 3-and-outs
  • Buchner: 3 of 8 (37.5 percent) — two 3-and-outs


What early season snap counts reveal about Alabama

Where should Alabama turn behind Milroe?

With Buchner’s rough debut and the positive signs displayed by Simpson, the redshirt freshman should get the nod as the No. 2 quarterback. He led two 80-plus-yard scoring drives in the second half and delivered a good enough hard count to force an offsides penalty on fourth-and-short deep inside South Florida territory that extended Alabama’s final drive. He needs to speed up his internal clock and improve his pocket awareness to succeed against SEC defenses, but the framework is there for a future starting quarterback.


Buchner’s experience is still a welcomed asset to the position, and with more reps, he can continue to develop his touch on passes and chemistry with the pass catchers.

(Photo of Jalen Milroe: Cliff Welch / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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Kennington Smith III

Kennington Lloyd Smith III is a Staff Writer for The Athletic covering Alabama football. Kennington most recently covered University of Iowa football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. He is a three-time state press association award winner in feature writing, enterprise writing and podcasting. Kennington attended The University of Georgia and originates from Atlanta, GA. Follow Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_