Alabama finds pulse with Jalen Milroe and shows in Mississippi win it could be dangerous

Alabama found a pulse on the day its embattled quarterback showed his guts, and Crimson Tide fans reserved the day’s mightiest ovation for Jalen Milroe, who picked himself off the turf and came of age in the nick of time Saturday.

Milroe shook off a costly first-half interception to complete two deep shots in the third quarter that changed the trajectory of No. 12 Alabama’s 24-10 defeat of No. 16 Mississippi at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Makes you wonder, if Milroe can play like he did throughout the third quarter, what could Alabama become?

A national championship contender? That’s a stretch.

A threat to reach the SEC championship game? Absolutely, this team can reach Atlanta if the third-quarter iteration of Milroe wasn’t an aberration.

Reading coverages isn’t Milroe’s strong suit, but he has a few undeniable assets. His running ability is particularly handy while playing behind a leaky offensive line that leaves him under duress. And he throws a good deep ball.

He found Jermaine Burton on a deep strike to set up an Alabama field goal in the third quarter that produced the Tide’s first lead. Minutes later, Milroe threw a 33-yard beauty to Jalen Hale while Milroe absorbed a punishing blow from Suntarine Perkins.

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Medical staff rushed on to the field to attend to the crumpled quarterback. Can’t keep this tough one down. Milroe sprang off the turf and into fans’ hearts. As he showed his exuberance, a delighted fan base regained its swagger.

Never mind that many of those same cheering fans were probably fed up with Milroe in the first half, when Alabama mustered just 115 yards.

“Other than that (interception) I thought he played really well,” Saban said.

Indeed, Milroe completed 17 of 21 passes.

Lane Kiffin’s search for a marquee victory at Ole Miss continues

This was supposed to be Lane Kiffin’s best chance to join the line of former Nick Saban assistants to beat their old boss, but, c’mon, Kiffin doesn’t beat opponents like Alabama.

Kiffin brought the Rebels instant relevance and took them to the Sugar Bowl two years ago. He’s a social media maestro and the portal king, but he remains subservient to quality opponents. Through 3½ seasons, this $9 million coach’s best win remains a bowl victory against Indiana, a basketball school.

Kiffin pondered before the game how many more opportunities he’ll have to face Alabama’s 71-year-old coach. Regardless of the number of faceoffs remaining, I’m becoming more and more convinced Kiffin will never beat Saban.

This team ranks among Saban’s most flawed in his 17-year tenure, and Alabama nonetheless swatted aside Kiffin’s Rebels.

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Ole Miss came in averaging nearly 53 points, but it hadn’t faced a defense like this one. Whatever Alabama’s problems, its defense looks the part of an SEC West contender.

Jaxson Dart never found a rhythm. Alabama’s swarming defense wouldn’t let him. Milroe outplayed Dart, and an Ole Miss ground game that had been projected to be an asset remains lethargic.

Alabama, Jalen Milroe come alive after sloppy first half

Little comes easy for an Alabama team that remained an unpolished product, even in triumph. A series of blunders resulted in three prime red-zone trips producing a combined six points.

A Milroe interception, his third in as many starts, ruined one opportunity. He stared down Ja’Corey Brooks while failing to see cornerback Zamari Walton sinking back to provide double coverage on Brooks.

A wayward snap sent Alabama retreating after Brooks blocked an Ole Miss punt to gift-wrap the Tide possession at the 1-yard line. Alabama settled for a field goal then, and for another after a holding penalty negated a touchdown run.

Throughout the first half, Alabama fans knocked around a few beach balls in the stands on a sunny, sweltering day. They had to do something to distract themselves from what was happening on the field.

By the fourth quarter, those same fans were engaged, shaking pompoms and hollering “Roll, Tide, roll!”.

Flawed teams produce flawed victories, and Saturday was no different. The Tide stalled, then rolled.

At halftime, I was thinking Saban would be free to schedule another Italian vacation for the first weekend in December. Now I’m thinking he ought to stick around, in case his presence is required in Atlanta.

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Imperfect though the Tide and their quarterback may be, they’re a factor in this ragged SEC West, and the version of Alabama that emerged from the halftime locker room looked dangerous.

Blake Toppmeyer is the USA TODAY Network’s SEC Columnist. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer.

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