TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Somehow, Alabama is piecing together a College Football Playoff run. Roll that around your football psyche this fine early November. Timing is key here because almost two months have passed since that statement would have been considered laughable.
It was in the second week of September that Texas visited Alabama and , particularly quarterback Jalen Milroe. The offensive line was well on its way to being a bad punchline, mostly because it was … bad.
Nick Saban's treasured defensive backfield was doing a lot of backpedaling.
There's still some of that -- maybe a lot of it at times -- but here we are three weeks from the end of the regular season with the Alabama of September redefining itself in November.
The Tide that beat No. 14 LSU on Saturday night may not have been overwhelming, but it was enough in a comfortable 42-28 win.
A reborn Milroe became a weapon, like he never had been before, instead of being a speed bump that the Tide had to overcome. The defense was always there -- third in the SEC entering the game -- but it had been nothing special compared to units of the past.
In a season devoid of (many) stars, Nick Saban may be doing his best coaching job at Alabama. A year after a former Heisman Trophy winner was at quarterback (Bryce Young) and an All-American was patrolling the edge (Will Anderson Jr.), the Tide have a better look at a championship than they did at this same point in 2022.
"The credit goes to the coaching staff and players," Saban said.
The credit goes to all those that have turned this aircraft carrier around. We'd just like to know more about it. Saban doesn't let his assistants speak with the media during the regular season.
But we'd love to know what influence offensive coordinator Tommy Rees has had on his quarterback. Both are still growing together. Rees is only 31. Milroe is still learning. This has been one of Saban's most challenging years because it quickly became apparent there would be no easy succession at quarterback.
We'd love to talk to defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, a war horse at age 65 who has forgotten more SEC war stories than his peers know.
A year ago almost to the day, LSU ended Alabama's playoff hopes with an overtime win in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Three years in a row without a playoff berth would be a first for Saban at Bama, but no one is thinking about that now.
Bama (finally) has a quarterback. Milroe ran for 155 yards and a school-record (for a quarterback) four touchdowns. The Tide ran for six scores on the ground as a team. A clutch gene has been uncovered. Despite giving up 28 points and letting LSU's Jayden Daniels run wild at times, the defense held LSU scoreless on its last four possessions.
"This is probably as close to a complete game [as we've had]," Saban said. "... We needed to play a game like that."
Texas wasn't even the worst of it two months ago. The week after Texas, Milroe didn't see the field against South Floirda with Alabama's two backup quarterbacks struggling to a 17-3 win. Since then, he has been good enough, probably showing the most progress two weeks ago in a comeback win over Tennessee.
Now this. It's one discussion to wonder how Saban allowed the quarterback room to get so thin. It's another to inquire about what the coaching staff has done about it -- developing Milroe into an asset.
"It's obvious the guy is much more comfortable as a passer, hitting the right guy," Saban said. "We want to contribute to help him grow and develop. … Early in the year, he would get frustrated if he made a bad throw. Now, he's learning to play the next play. … The next play may be the play that's the difference in the game."
On Saturday night, Milroe stood tall and proud after the game.
"Early in the season, Coach Saban said be a point guard with the football," Milroe said. "Whether it is passing, handling the ball off or running with the ball in my hands -- just doing everything possible to advance the ball."
Milroe made his statement to LSU, the fans and his teammates when he trucked Tigers freshman defensive back Javien Toviano in the second quarter.
"He's not afraid to lower his shoulder," center Seth McLaughlin said. " He's not afraid to make people miss. If you see a quarterback willing to put his body on the line like that for your team, it just means the world to us. I'd prefer he juke somebody out, but it's a lot of fun watching him."
There is a long way to go, but consider how the Tide got here to the first week of November: 8-1 and undefeated in the SEC West. Milroe had the game of his life on designed runs and broken plays. He deftly threw short passes that turned into long gains.
An offensive line that had tied for allowing the fifth-most sacks in the country might have played its best game. Milroe was not bad for a quarterback who still can't come off his first read at times and coughs the ball up too much.
There were no turnovers Saturday night. Instead, Alabama turned a corner.
As for that defense, Alabama linebacker Dallas Turner may have made the two most impactful plays of the game. The first was obvious, tipping a Daniels pass that resulted in a Terrion Arnold interception at the LSU 25-yard line. The resulting touchdown gave Bama a two-score cushion in the fourth quarter.
With 13 minutes left, that still didn't seem like enough. Earlier in the game, the teams had combined to score touchdowns on five consecutive possessions totaling 40 plays and 400 yards. To that point, Daniels might have been the best player on the field. But on first down after that Alabama score, he released the ball from his own 25. Turner caught Daniels just under the chin on a pass rush driving him to the ground.
Turner was flagged for a personal foul hitting Daniels late; curiously, though, he was not penalized for targeting. Either way, that was it for LSU and Daniels, who did not return to the game after entering the medical tent and concussion protocol.
The Heisman Trophy is a longshot now, but for a while, Daniels could do anything he wanted with 301 total yards at halftime and 382 for the game. Ask Alabama linebacker Deontae Lawson, who had his ankle broken -- or at least sprained -- after a deke on a run by the LSU quarterback in the third quarter.
LSU is now 6-3 and eliminated from SEC West contention with the loss. Meanwhile, there is less than a month to go until the SEC Championship Game where it looks like Georgia will be waiting for Alabama. Or maybe it's vice versa.
"I'm excited for this team because we're not a finished product," Milroe said. "I'm excited for what's to come."