Jalen Milroe’s first coveted jersey growing up in Texas was Vince Young’s No. 10. Nowadays, he is apt to end his media interviews with an enthusiastic “Roll Tide.”
Quinn Ewers lifted Longhorns fans’ hopes that they had found another star passer like Young or Colt McCoy with his dazzling start in last year’s Alabama game.
Milroe, the third-ranked Crimson Tide’s dynamic new starting quarterback, and Ewers of No. 11 Texas will lead their teams into Saturday night’s showdown at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Not Young, Bryce or Vince.
“Vince Young is someone I did watch, as far as highlights,” said Milroe, who is from Katy, Texas, outside Houston. “My family loved Vince Young. Growing up, I was always a Vince Young fan. He was my first jersey that I bought.”
Like that Young or Milroe’s predecessor, No. 1 NFL draft pick Bryce Young, quarterbacks at these programs will ultimately be judged by how they perform in games like this one.
Milroe especially hasn’t been tested on this stage before, though he did fill in for an injured Bryce Young in the Texas A&M game last season with mixed results.
Ewers, an Ohio State transfer, was thriving against the Tide last season before going down with a shoulder injury that sidelined him for three games. He racked up 134 passing yards on the first two drives against a normally stingy Tide defense before getting slammed into the ground by Alabama linebacker Dallas Turner, who was called for a personal foul.
Ewers fended off offseason challenges from top recruit Arch Manning and Maalik Murphy to hold onto the starting job. He twice batted away questions about the injury and whether he owed Alabama any “payback.”
“I don’t play the ‘what if?’ games,” he said. “I’m going into this game like any other.”
Milroe is trying to do the same. He doesn’t bite much on the questions about whether facing Texas carries any added significance to him, or how his family will handle any competing allegiances.
The facade cracks some when asked if he has extended or immediate family who root for the Longhorns. “Yeah,” he responds both times with a laugh but no elaboration.
Milroe was once a Texas commitment before flipping to Alabama, where Longhorns coach Steve Sarkisian was one of his primary recruiters. Sarkisian was the Tide’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at the time.
Milroe was impressive in his first game as Alabama’s No. 1 quarterback after also winning an offseason competition with Ty Simpson and Notre Dame transfer Tyler Buchner.
Against Middle Tennessee State, he became the first Tide quarterback to pass for three touchdowns and run for two more in the same game, including a scoring run when he had to retrieve an errant snap before taking off. He also avoided turnovers after fumbling twice and throwing an interception against the Aggies last season.
That’s probably the best indicator of progress for Milroe, who already flashed plenty of talent as Bryce Young’s understudy. Center Seth McLaughlin has seen Milroe put in the work, often arriving early at the football building.
“I think just the focus and work that he puts into it, knowing that he’s the guy and he knows how much weight is on the Quarterback 1 at the University of Alabama,” McLaughlin said. “I’ve seen him taking a lot of steps of just being the guy and focusing in on what he’s got to do and just the amount of work he puts in.”
Tide cornerback Terrion Arnold calls Milroe his “LANK brother,” as in “Let All Naysayers Know.”
“For him to go out there and have a great performance as people have been doubting him, kinda been saying he can’t really play the position … He’s put in a lot of work, so it’s good to see him grow and I look forward to seeing him have success,” Arnold said.
Ewers was inconsistent once he returned from his injury last season. He shredded Oklahoma in a 49-0 Texas romp, but had three interceptions in a road loss to Oklahoma State and struggled badly in a home loss to TCU. By then, Texas had turned the offense over to a running game that was humming behind Bijan Robinson.
In the opener against Rice, Ewers passed for three touchdowns and ran for another, but struggled to connect on deep throws. Ewers does have the more established weapons in the passing game, led by receiver Xavier Worthy, Adonai Mitchell and Jordan Whittington.
“He’s a really good player,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “He does a great job with their offense. He reads coverages well. He’s accurate with the ball and has got really good skill guys outside, and they’re able to take advantage of that. It’s going to be a real challenge for us to affect him, No. 1, but also do a good job of covering their guys.”
___ AP Sports Writer Jim Vertuno contributed to this report.
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