Alabama football won't win the SEC. Bryce Young is only reason it ever had a chance | Toppmeyer
OXFORD, Miss. – Alabama got eliminated from SEC Championship contention before its game against Ole Miss even started Saturday.
Twenty minutes before Alabama football's opening kickoff, LSU sealed a victory over Arkansas to extinguish the Crimson Tide’s remaining hope of reaching Atlanta.
Nothing left to play for?
No one informed Tide quarterback Bryce Young.
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner will depart for the NFL next spring. He’d surely hoped to culminate his Alabama career with a national championship, but he doesn’t have the supporting cast to do it.
No. 9 Alabama displayed its warts against the No. 11 Rebels.
And Young once again proved he remains among college football's best talents.
Better than any caulk, Young smooths over the cracks.
Three touchdown passes, and several plays in which he moved the pocket to extend plays before firing a completion or escaped pass rushers with his legs.
A vintage performance in a 30-24 comeback victory.
Alabama (8-2, 5-2 SEC) won despite allowing 403 yards. It won despite more stupefying blunders. It won, in large part, thanks to its quarterback and a few clutch fourth-quarter stops.
This Alabama season isn't bound for the history books, but Young has kept his team in contention for a New Year’s Six bowl and not an Insert Sponsor Here Bowl.
“He’s an unbelievable player," said Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin, offering a description so many opposing coaches have uttered. "He put the team on his back – again.”
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Imagine what Young could do if he had a DeVonta Smith or a Jerry Jeudy or an Amari Cooper to throw to. Think of how much more balanced Alabama would be with a Derrick Henry in the backfield.
Unlike so many of Nick Saban's previous quarterbacks, Young doesn’t have a full complement of weapons. Not winning a national championship will leave him underappreciated by many Alabama fans.
Yet, Young makes Alabama a team still worth watching, as we wonder what he'll do for his next magic act. Like when Ole Miss defensive lineman Cedric Johnson had him cornered for what should have been a sack. Young wriggled loose and flipped a completion to Ja’Corey Brooks. Later, he rolled right and fired a gorgeous touchdown pass to Brooks.
Alabama does not resemble a typical Saban team. The national championship squads he fielded during this dynasty were deep, well-rounded units that won with sharp play in all three phases.
This team is almost a one-man show, but Young still commands the stage.
Where would Alabama be without Young’s brilliance? Worse than 8-2, I have little doubt.
Young’s stats don’t match what he posted last season, but he didn’t regress. His supporting cast did. Significantly.
Take Young off this roster, and the Crimson Tide is closer to Texas A&M than to No. 1 Georgia.
Georgia’s cornerbacks blanket receivers. Alabama’s cornerbacks get exploited in one-on-one coverage. Its wide receivers can’t get open, or they drop passes when they do. Mental gaffes occur regularly, like when Alabama center Seth McLaughlin snapped the ball on fourth down to a quarterback who wasn’t ready while two players were in motion. It would have been a penalty, except Ole Miss (8-2, 4-2) stuffed Young for no gain and declined the flag to take possession.
A baffled look painted Saban’s face after the fourth-down bust. That look summed up what’s been an baffling season, in which Alabama has not lived up to its preseason No. 1 ranking.
Saban is best to ever do it, but this team plays undisciplined, and Alabama’s inability to significantly upgrade its receiving corps in the offseason hamstrings its quarterback.
In the third quarter, Alabama linebacker Dallas Turner corralled Jaxson Dart on third-and-long, but he threw him to the ground by his facemask, a personal foul that allowed Ole Miss to move the chains.
Dart’s helmet came off on the play. Somehow, his head remained attached to his neck. Four plays later, Dart threw a touchdown to Jonathan Mingo on a beautifully designed and executed screen pass.
A sequence that felt all-too-typical for Alabama, which has mastered the art of shooting itself in the foot.
Yet, even when Alabama trailed by a touchdown in the third quarter, you just knew Young was going to supply a counterpunch. In doing so, he squashed Ole Miss' chance of winning the SEC West.
How many times have we seen it? Young is at his best when Alabama's back is against the wall.
Midway through the third quarter, Rebels tight end Jonathan Hess grabbed a fire extinguisher and sprayed its contents into the air. Rebels players jumped up and down and waved towels. Techno music played.
Kiffin was within reach of his first victory against his former boss, and Ole Miss fans were ready to celebrate.
The place was lit, but Alabama, for all of its faults, remains armed with a quarterback who puts out fires.
Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer.
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