TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – For Nick Saban and Alabama, this year’s A-Day game presented more questions than it did answers.
No moment better summed up the day than a puzzling stretch of plays at the end of the second quarter. Redshirt freshman Ty Simpson, playing for the Crimson team, was marching down the field before Simpson’s pass was intercepted on a brilliant diving grab from redshirt freshman Earl Little II.
Backed up on their own 1-yard line following the interception, redshirt freshman Jalen Milroe – playing for the White team – loaded up and launched a pass up high into the cloudless Tuscaloosa sky.
Unfortunately for Milroe, it was headed straight for a Crimson safety. The nearest receiver? Yards away.
Senior Kristian Story then nearly ran the interception back for a touchdown, being stopped just a yard away from the goal line. After a run that went nowhere, Simpson being sacked, and a short incompletion, Crimson was forced to settle for a short field goal.
“I think the big thing we’re working on with the quarterbacks is fundamentally what they have to do to be able to process. What is the defense doing, get a pre-read…” Nick Saban said after the game.
Saban specifically pointed out trusting in those reads and not drifting around in the pocket.
“As a quarterback it’s not only the plays you can make…”
For Saban, it’s all about being able to distribute the ball to other players who can make plays “more effectively and efficiently.”
Both Milroe and Simpson combined for three touchdowns on the day. On the other hand, they threw three interceptions – although Milroe’s second came on a desperation heave at the end of the first half.
All told, Milroe finished 19-37 for 245 yards, while Simpson passed for 155 yards, going 12-26. Simpson ran for 58 yards, while Milroe ran for 20 yards and a touchdown.
But there were flashes throughout the day, not only from both of the starting contenders at quarterback, but also from Alabama’s receiving core – a point of concern from last season.
Malik Benson caught 5 passes for 70 yards on the day for White, including a late touchdown from Milroe. On the opposing side, freshman running back Justice Haynes caught 4 passes for 40 yards and a touchdown. All told, 17 different players caught passes for Alabama on A-Day.
Saban was quick to praise the young running back, pointing out that Haynes isn’t your typical freshman.
“Justice is a really good player. He had a great spring and has a great maturity about him. You wouldn’t know he’s a freshman if you didn’t know better.”
Based on Saban’s comments, he won’t have to wait long before making his mark on the Crimson Tide.
“I think he’s got a really bright future, and I think he’ll contribute to the team this year.”
In addition to his receiving yards, Haynes also scored two rushing touchdowns in Crimson’s winning effort.
But perhaps the most encouraging development for Saban’s team were his defenses. Crimson and White combined for 12 sacks over the course of the game, giving Alabama’s relatively inexperienced quarterbacks a grueling first test.
The star of the winning defense? Senior Malachi Moore, who totaled 9 tackles, including 3 sacks on the day. Moore, who played safety for most of the Spring, was forced into the star position following several portal moves from Alabama defensive backs.
“We just wanted to show the world,” Moore said when asked about the defense’s intensity.
The Alabama Crimson Tide will make their season debut on September 2 at home when they face Middle Tennessee.
Follow Nicholas Pursley on Twitter @nicholaspursley.