Alabama QB Jalen Milroe shakes off benching, growing pains to account for 10 TDs the past 2 games

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Benched after losing to Texas and scrutinized at times since then, Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe has regained his starting spot — and has put together a string of impressive efforts to answer the critics.

The past two weeks in particular have shown how much the sophomore has progressed for No. 8 Alabama.

Milroe has 644 yards of offense and 10 touchdowns in that span, including six scores in Saturday’s 49-21 rout of Kentucky. The latter tied for the second most in Crimson Tide history with notable predecessors such as Tua Tagovailoa and 2021 Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young, who he backed up last season as a redshirt.

“I think experience is the best teacher,” said Milroe, who has started the past seven contests for the Crimson Tide (9-1, 7-0 Southeastern Conference, No. 8 CFP). “I’m seeing things much better. I’m not a finished product.”

Even so, Milroe has led Alabama to another West Division title, an achievement that looked shaky after that 34-24 loss to the Longhorns in September. Texas converted his two interceptions into 10 points and he subsequently watched the Tide scrape past South Florida 17-3 from the sideline.

Milroe returned to beat Mississippi and has directed six more victories featuring 21 TDs, including 11 passing. He rushed for a career-high four scores and 155 yards and passed for 219 in last week's 42-28 victory over No. 13 LSU that confirmed his running skills, followed by a signature performance set up by his arm.

Of course, giving Milroe ample time and space to scan the field for receivers certainly helped. Alabama didn’t allow him or backup Ty Simpson to be sacked, its first clean effort after entering the contest tied for last in the SEC with 37.

“You’ve got to keep putting in blocks because you never know what this guy could do,” Alabama left guard Tyler Booker said of Milroe’s dual skills. “I’m very glad to have him on our team and just very proud of the way he’s been playing as of late. We’ve just got to keep protecting him and giving him time, so he can continue to be who he is.”

Tide receivers also got separation against Kentucky, though Milroe bought time by extending the play on his 26-yard TD pass to Roydell Williams. He rolled right from the pursuit, waved his hand downfield and found Williams underneath at the Kentucky 12; Williams then tightroped the sideline to the end zone to make it 28-7.

“Jalen played really well,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “The offense started the game out setting the tempo for the game. The whole idea is with the way they play, take what the defense gave you. We were able to nickel and dime them the first couple drives and then hit a couple big plays.”

All this after missing the game’s sixth play following a hit to his left leg after a 16-yard run. Milroe was down for a minute and hopped off the field but returned to throw a 26-yard TD pass to Amari Niblack. He spent some sideline time on a stationery bike with an ice pack applied, but clearly wasn’t bothered too much as it turned out.

The same can be said for the early-season doubts about Milroe and Alabama. Though the Tide is not the same offensive powerhouse as recent years – yet – it still achieved its second-highest scoring and yardage (444) outputs this season and has booked another trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship on Dec. 2 against top-ranked Georgia.

Even better, it has gotten there with the same QB who showed that his season-opening, five-TD performance against Middle Tennessee was just a hint of what's possible against higher-level competition given time and confidence. The Tide host Chattanooga on Saturday before facing rival Auburn a week later.

“It is all motivation,” Milroe said. “We knew it was going to be a long process. We set short-term goals and set long-term goals, all achievable. But now we have to do our job and can’t worry about external factors.”

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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football