Alabama’s bid for back-to-back national championships came to a shocking end on New Year’s Day, as the Crimson Tide fell to Michigan 27-20 in overtime at the Rose Bowl Game in Pasadena. In a dramatic finish, Alabama failed to convert a do-or-die fourth down attempt, sending the Wolverines to the national championship game against TCU.
Heroic Effort by Milroe Not Enough for Crimson Tide
Sophomore quarterback Jalen Milroe almost led Alabama to an improbable comeback after starter Bryce Young was injured early. Milroe ran for two touchdowns and kept Alabama in the game despite struggles with errant snaps. But in the end his desperation scramble on fourth-and-goal fell just short of the end zone.
“I’m extremely proud of our team for the way they competed today,” said Alabama head coach Nick Saban. “Jalen did a great job coming in, but we just shot ourselves in the foot too many times.”
Milroe took over on Alabama’s second drive after Bryce Young suffered what appeared to be an upper body injury. While Milroe moved the offense effectively at times, he often struggled with errant snaps from center Seth McLaughlin.
“It definitely disrupted some of the rhythm,” said Saban. “The exchanges weren’t clean, and it put Jalen in some tough spots having to chase the ball around.”
Second Half Defense Collapse Dooms Tide
Alabama appeared poised to pull off the comeback win after taking a 17-16 lead partway through the third quarter. But the defense surrendered back-to-back touchdown drives as Michigan retook control.
Wolverines quarterback J.J. McCarthy exploited holes in the Tide secondary, connecting on scoring strikes of 45 and 42 yards. Alabama had no answers for standout Michigan tight end Colston Loveland, who racked up 116 yards and seems headed for NFL stardom.
“We just didn’t execute and they hit us on some big plays,” said Alabama safety DeMarcco Hellams. “We have to go back and watch the film but they clearly won some matchups, especially Loveland against the linebackers.”
Final Drive Full of Controversy
The game didn’t end without some drama. Alabama got the ball back trailing 27-20 with just 1:06 left in regulation. Milroe drove them steadily downfield, converting a 4th-and-10 on a pass to Ja’Corey Brooks. But Brooks was injured on the play and had to leave the game.
On the very next snap, Milroe and McLaughlin had another botched exchanged and fumbled the ball away. Michigan looked to have sealed the win, but replay overturned the call, giving Alabama one last shot from the Michigan three-yard line with four seconds left.
Alabama elected to go for the win instead of tying the game with a field goal to force double overtime. Milroe ran a quarterback draw up the middle but was stopped inches short of the goal line as time expired.
“”We were just short on the last play,” said Milroe after the game, clearly dejected. “I thought I got in but the officials spotted it short.”
Replays showed Milroe may have gotten the ball across the plane on his second effort, but the initial spot stood after review.
Controversy Around Final Play Call
Alabama offensive coordinator Tommy Rees drew criticism from fans and pundits for the decision to put the game on Milroe’s shoulders instead of relying on star running back Jahmyr Gibbs near the goal line.
There was also second-guessing on the choice to go for the win instead of the tie at the end of regulation. Saban defended both calls after the game.
“I have lots of confidence in Jalen as a runner and felt he had a chance to get it in,” said Saban. “And with Bryce (Young) being out, I wasn’t sure about getting into overtime and having his backup take every snap.”
Many fans disagreed and blamed the loss on poor late-game strategy. Expect an offseason filled with “shoulda woulda coulda” talk shows relitigating the final minutes.
What This Loss Means for Alabama
With the defeat, Alabama misses out on the national title game for just the second time in eight years. It also likely ends quarterback Bryce Young’s college career on a disappointing note. Young is expected to declare for the NFL Draft after winning the Heisman Trophy last season.
For Nick Saban, it’s back to the drawing board trying to get the Tide back on top after being stunned in a playoff game yet again. Saban did praise the effort and seemed to appreciate how this team overcame significant injuries to make it to the playoffs.
“I know our fans are disappointed but I’m really proud of the adversity we overcame and the effort the players gave all year,” said Saban. “We obviously have some holes to fill but there’s a lot to build on going into next season.”
Many analysts see Alabama headed for a slight step back in 2024 as they break in a new quarterback and replace multiple stars lost to the NFL Draft. But no one is counting out Nick Saban’s ability to reload the Crimson Tide into national title contention year after year.
Today though belongs to Michigan, as Jim Harbaugh’s crew heads to the title game while sending Saban and Alabama home empty-handed and already looking for revenge next season.
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