Most Alabama fans saw this past Saturday’s game as a tune-up opportunity – a chance to “get right” before hosting Ole Miss at home and opening conference play. But much to the surprise of those watching, the South Florida Bulls gave the Crimson Tide a real test – one that they narrowly escaped.
The game was a fight until the very end, when Ty Simpson led a 6:29 drive from his own 20-yard line following a Bulls interception all the way down the field – finishing it off with a QB sneak to ice the game. USF would take over with just 33 seconds remaining down two scores.
“The way they competed in the game,” Nick Saban said after he was asked what he was most proud of from his team’s performance on the road.
“They didn’t play great, had a lot of adversity to overcome and kept answering the bell when we needed to do it.”
The Quarterback Carousel
Heading into the game, it was reported that Jalen Milroe had been benched and that Notre Dame transfer Tyler Buchner was going to start against USF. Prior to the game, Milroe was taking snaps from the third-string center. When the Tide marched out on to the field in Tampa, it was indeed Buchner who would get the start.
Buchner had a rough ending to his first drive, missing an open throw behind a receiver that would force Alabama to punt the ball away on the opening drive.
His struggles didn’t continue their, either. Over the course of the half, the transfer was just 5/14 passing – including several poor throws that required great grabs by Alabama receivers and tight ends. Just before halftime, Saban had seen enough. Ty Simpson marched onto the field and helped turn a Dallas Turner forced fumble into three points, tying the game before halftime.
Simpson would finish the game 5/9 passing for 73 yards, rushing for a touchdown of his own. After benching Buchner, Alabama concentrated on the run game – which served them extremely well. Roydell Williams rushed for 129 yards, including a touchdown while Jase McClellan added on 74 yards.
Saban didn’t discuss the quarterback issues much in his post-game press conference, but did hint that the QB1 job was wide open.
“We’re gonna evaluate the quarterbacks that played today, evaluate Jalen Milroe and how he played, and decide this week who gives us the best opportunity to be successful as an offensive team…”
The statement represents the worst possible situation, as far as the QB goes, for Alabama heading into SEC play. While this week might have been used to sharpen Milroe’s game, the Crimson Tide swung and missed on Buchner – effectively restarting the quarterback carousel and leaving serious questions about the position heading into the game against Ole Miss.
Alabama will now return home to take on Ole Miss, who will enter Saturday’s contest coming off a 48-23 win against Georgia Tech.
Nicholas Pursley is the senior football writer and sports director for WVUA-FM Sports. He also co-hosts The Low Tide from 7-8 p.m. CT on 90.7 FM Sunday nights.