Alabama recalls Nick Saban always has an answer, even when Bryce Young’s injury changed the question

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Razorback Stadium’s most decorated cheerleader tried another wand wave. Given all the magic Alabama’s Bryce Young has already pulled off in his career, I was expecting a little more with a second-half visit from Hail Mary to the medical tent on Bama bench.

Remember: The reigning Heisman Trophy winner hadn’t played since his ankle fall lands awkwardly on the right shoulder in the second trimester.

At the time, Arkansas coach Sam Pittman, that old dog, leaned into his team’s growing momentum by calling in a successful onside kick. The No. 20 Razorbacks were on the way to 23 straight points against the No. 2 Crimson Tide, 17-point street favorites who had just won 28-0 late in the second quarter.

It was questionable if Young would return as he was nursing a sprained AC joint.

When the quarterback visited the tent for the second time Saturday afternoon, he was hoping for a different diagnosis or some privacy in order to don a Superman costume. It didn’t happen either.

“There’s only one Bryce Young in this country,” Saban later remarked.

Ah, but there are different ways to win a game. Saban said it himself after Alabama’s 49-26 win.

We should already know that The Sabanator always has answers. One of them was in the transfer portal on Saturday. Running back Jahmyr Gibbs broke out with a career rushing performance: 206 yards with two touchdowns, each from 70+ yards.

Georgia Tech’s much-hyped transfer finished third in all-purpose yards last season. He had one goal on Saturday: to replace Young’s arm with his bang.

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“The fourth quarter is here, hold on tight [four fingers] like we do every day,” Gibbs said. “I kept things calm, I played football.”

The other answer came through recruitment. Redshirt freshman QB Jalen Milroe replaced Young late in the second quarter. He led five touchdown drives and rushed for 91 yards, including the third snap of the fourth quarter with 77 yards to the Arkansas 3.

“The greatest thing was looking at the chains,” Milroe said. “…Once I passed the line of scrimmage I was just trying to get a first down. Then my eyes widened, I’ll try to score.”

Not quite. Jace McClellan scored three games later, ending Arkansas’ 23-point streak. That was essentially the spirit of the Hogs.

“It stopped the bleeding for sure,” Saban said.

On his first touch in the fourth quarter, Gibbs rushed 72 yards for his first touchdown. On his third touch, he ran 76 yards to score. That’s a total of 242 yards, all rushing, in a three-touchdown barrage in the fourth quarter that not only wiped away the 17-point lead but also brightened the mood.

When asked if the game plan changed when Young came out, Saban blurted out, “I was going to call Jimbo [Fisher] later and tell him.”

Fisher can see for himself next week at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Texas A&M comes out injured, 3-2 after being beaten at Mississippi State, and likely unranked. Alabama hosts with a better idea of ​​who they’ll be five weeks into this season.

The Tide’s top defense slipped a bit as Arkansas QB KJ Jefferson caught fire, Pittman ordered that onside kick and Bama long snapper Kneeland Hibbett delivered it off the kicker with a wild pitch center and the Hogs at Tide 3 in third quarterly report.

“You have to be able to win in more ways than one,” said Saban. “We had to score differently than we did when Bryce was there.”

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In the second half, Young was left with nothing but Rah-rah from the touchline. Stud Arkansas linebacker Drew Sanders, a transfer from Alabama, caught Young’s ankle as he ran to the right to throw the ball.

I should have thrown it away sooner, said Saban. The forfeited yards resulted in a missed 52-yard field goal.

Then he had to win in another way. After Young came out, Milroe threw the ball just nine times. In the second half there were only four throws for 3 yards through the air.

Milroe, a former four-star recruit with the 247Sports Composite, is a 6-foot-2, 212-pound specimen who can run the 40-yard dash in 4.64 seconds. Gibbs was supposed to be the lead man this season. It just took a while.

“The first thing I met Gibbs for was the Army All-American Bowl,” said Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr. of the San Antonio high school’s annual All-Star game. “In my opinion he was the best in running. Looking at the Jumbotron, its punching and blasting through holes is excellent. When he faces him in training every day, he’s quiet, doesn’t talk much. He’s doing his job.

“That’s why you come to Bama. For games like that.”

Young probably made Jimbo solid in a weird way. Instead of focusing on summer’s Saban-Fisher feud, there will be breathless speculation about Young’s condition all week.

After the game, Saban openly revealed that Young’s AC sprained ankle is not an uncommon injury for the quarterback; he’s experienced it before, and it usually resolved itself for him. That gets him day in, day out for the Texas A&M game.

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Even though Young was healthy, there were questions as to whether Alabama would get into this game down the road. He had played games within three points in four of his previous five competitions. There was the squeak at Texas, last year’s loss at Texas A&M, and the overtime miracle against Auburn.

And now this. The Tide trotted off the field peacefully in more ways than one after defeating the Razorbacks for the 16th straight season. They scored more than 42 points for the seventh year in a row.

Things looked complicated when Young tented in the second quarter. With their roles changing in an instant, Young gave words of encouragement for his support. Then the backup got higher.

“My first thought was to talk to God, to ask for protection and healing. I had a personal conversation with God,” Milroe said.

Did you have an answer?

“He did,” Milroe said.

That’s all Milroe would share. As Saban mentioned, after a win like this, it’s best to keep a few things to yourself.

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