TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama was plagued by turnovers and other mistakes and once again was pushed to the brink by Texas A&M, this time with Bryce Young watching from the sideline.
Things turned out differently this time.
Jalen Milroe threw for three touchdowns in his first start and No. 1 Alabama made a final goal-line stand to escape with a 24-20 victory over Texas A&M on Saturday night in a battle of backup quarterbacks.
Playing without the 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 got them, just barely, to survive four turnovers and two missed field goals against a team that beat the Tide 41-38 last season.
“That was not our best football out there tonight,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “When you don't have your quarterback out there and the second-teamer has to play, everybody’s got to play better.”
But the Aggies were in a similar boat, albeit with a more experienced quarterback sub.
Haynes King, subbing for injured starter Max Johnson (throwing hand), drove the Aggies (3-2, 1-2) 69 yards in the final 1:50 with big passes to Evan Stewart and Moose Muhammad III. Jordan Battle appeared to end the threat with an interception in the end zone, but Brian Branch was flagged for pass interference.
That set up one final shot 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 ran for 159 yards after gaining most of his 206 after Young's shoulder injury early against Arkansas.
The big question now is if Young will play against No. 8 Tennessee.
“Jalen did some good things but obviously a couple of turnovers,” Saban said. “He’s going to live and learn and we’re going to live and learn with him. We'll just see what progress Bryce makes.”
King completed 25 of 46 passes for 253 yards and a pair of touchdowns with an interception but faced constant pressure. The Tide had three sacks and Anderson was credited with eight quarterback hurries.
Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher wasn't buying any narrative that the Aggies kept it close because Alabama was without its star quarterback and made a number of mistakes.
“We’re playing the backup, quarterback too,” Fisher said. “Two good teams locked up and battled and went at it and we showed what we’re capable of.”
Ultimately, Alabama got a double measure of revenge against the Aggies and Fisher. Another unranked Texas A&M team handed Alabama its only regular-season loss last year, then Fisher went no-holds barred in response to Saban's comments that the Aggies bought their top recruiting class with NIL money.
Once again, the Aggies hung ever so close with the top team, a 23 1/2-point favorite.
“We also remember that feeling and all (through) preparation we’re just saying we don’t ever 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 kick after twice getting flagged for false starts trying to go for it on fourth-and-long.
The defense then forced Alabama into a three-and-out, setting up one more shot for King and the Aggies.
“We went toe to toe with them,” Fisher said.
He went toe to toe with Saban in the offseason but they went through the customary pregame and postgame exchanges.
“I told him he had a good team and wished him good luck the rest of the year and he said the same to me,” Fisher said.
Texas A&M: It was another blow for an Aggies season that started with a No. 6 ranking and hopes of SEC and national contention. But the offense showed late signs of life in a gutty performance that fell just short.
Alabama: The dynamic passing game with Young wasn't evident, but the grind-it-out run game was effective but for the array of mistakes. Linebacker Jaylen Moody missed the game with a bruised kidney.
Alabama swapped spots with Georgia after the Bulldogs had a 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 alongside the other quarterbacks, but didn't throw passes. Johnson watched from the sidelines in warmups. Milroe said he found out he was starting before the game and “I was ready to go.”
He said Young 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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