TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Jalen Milroe turned a bad snap into an improbable touchdown run. He launched three on-target deep balls for scores, too.
Milroe threw three long touchdown passes and ran for a pair of scores, including one where he turned a potentially huge loss into a dash to the end zone, to lead No. 4 Alabama to a 56-7 season-opening victory over Middle Tennessee State on Saturday night.
Milroe emerged on top of a three-man battle to replace Bryce Young in fall camp for the Crimson Tide, and delivered big plays and no costly mistakes in his second career start. He threw touchdown passes of 47 yards to Isaiah Bond, 48 to Jermaine Burton and 29 to Amari Niblack.
“I think he’s more confident, doing a good job in the passing game,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “His athleticism helps him. He scored a touchdown on a fumbled snap, which wasn’t his fault.”
A much bigger challenge awaits Alabama with a visit from No. 11 Texas. The Tide gets a better chance to demonstrate its championship mettle after uncustomarily dropping two regular-season games a year ago. But Milroe easily passed his first test, saying he didn’t even remember when he learned of the start during the week.
He showcased his running ability in turning a bad snap into a 21-yard touchdown on his opening drive. Milroe had to go back and scoop it up after the ball basically rolled past him, then he raced to the right sideline. He put his left hand on the ground to keep his balance and make a final cut at about the 7.
“I was fortunate to pick the ball up and make a play with it, but it was all the other 10 guys on the field that helped me get in the end zone,” Milroe said.
Center Seth McLaughlin knew instantly it was a snap gone awry. He watched the end of the play on the video board, thinking No. 1: “Thank God that wasn’t a busted play that killed the drive. And 2, oh no this is going to go viral and millions of people are going to see this.”
It was the first of Milroe’s five total scores in a 13-of-18, 193-yard effort. He also ran for 48 yards before handing the offensive reins to Notre Dame transfer Tyler Buchner midway through the third quarter. Ty Simpson was also competing for the job.
Both the backups ran for touchdowns.
Milroe’s only previous start came last season against Texas A&M, when Young was hurt.
“Their quarterback’s a heck of a player and he made some really, really special plays with his feet,” Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill said.
Saban wasn’t about to offer a prediction on how Milroe could build on this performance against Texas.
“This is a Coke bottle,” Saban said, picking up a bottle from his podium. “It’s not a crystal ball.”
Middle Tennessee: Made a reported $1.6 million from the game and did manage a touchdown late in the third quarter. Nicholas Vattiato was 21-of-32 passing for 127 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Couldn’t come close to a Top 25 upset for the second straight year after beating No. 25 Miami last season.
Alabama: Showed the offense remains in good hands with Milroe at quarterback, even though the QB situation may not be truly settled until a big game against No. 11 Texas. A defense replacing Will Anderson pitched a shutout.
If there are any for Alabama, it will be based more on what happens in the game between No. 5 LSU and No. 8 Florida State on Sunday than on the Tide’s performance in an opening blowout.
Middle Tennessee lost starting cornerback Deonte Stanley before the defense even took the field. Stanley was called for targeting on punt returner Kool-Aid McKinstry after the Blue Raiders’ opening series.
Alabama won its 22nd home opener in a row, its 21st straight at Bryant-Denny Stadium its 57th consecutive nonconference regular-season game.
Middle Tennessee: At Missouri next Saturday,
Alabama: Hosts No. 11 Texas next Saturday.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll