TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Despite being without its Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and turning the ball over four times, No. 1 Alabama hung on to beat Texas A&M 24-20 on Saturday night.
Bryce Young, the Crimson Tide’s star quarterback, did not play as he continues to recover from an injury to his throwing shoulder.
Sophomore Jalen Milroe struggled as his replacement, throwing three touchdowns while also turning the ball over three times (one interception and two fumbles).
Alabama coach Nick Saban pointed to his team’s 111 passing yards and said, “So something in the passing game needs to get better.”
“I’m not putting it all on him,” he said of Milroe. “I’m just saying we need to do a better job in protection. We need to do a better job route running. And we need to do a better job of being able to make good decisions in the pocket so we don’t have negative plays.”
Alabama running back Jase McClellan lost a fumble, Will Reichard missed two field goals and twice the offense reached the end zone without putting points on the board. The four turnovers by Alabama (6-0) were the most it committed in a game since 2015 against Ole Miss.
A pass interference penalty gave Texas A&M (3-3) the ball on the 2-yard line with three seconds left in the contest. But the pass from Haynes King to Evan Stewart fell incomplete.
“There’s no such thing as moral victories, but it shows what we’re capable of, how we can play and the things we can do,” Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We’ve got to regroup next week and play our tails off and get better and finish these last six games the way we need to play the rest of the year. This gives us a vision of what we can be and what we can do.”
As Fisher added, “We battled. They’re a good team. We were a good team today and came up one play short.”
Saban looked back on the game and said it wasn’t “winning football.”
With the Tide’s second-team quarterback in, Saban said, everyone needed to play better.
“Jalen did some good things, but obviously, a couple of turnovers,” Saban said. “But he’s going to live and learn. And we’re going to live and learn with him.
“So we’ll see what progress Bryce makes next week.”
Saban said that Young wanted to go into the game in the fourth quarter.
He lauded Young’s leadership, encouraging Milroe throughout the tilt. Young found Milroe once the game ended, and the two shared a long embrace.
“Bryce is a good leader,” Saban said. “That’s what good leaders do. They set a good example.”
Milroe, who was second on the team in rushing with 83 yards, called the game a learning experience.
“I’m happy,” he said. “You know, we’re going to turn on tape and fix whatever we need to fix, but right now, I’m excited.”
Fisher scoffed at the idea that Saturday’s game was close because of Young’s absence, pointing out that the Aggies were missing key players too.
“We didn’t have Ainias Smith,” Fisher said, referring to the wide receiver who is out with a season-ending injury. “We didn’t have our left tackle. We didn’t have our left guard. It’s the first time we had [defensive tackle] McKinnley Jackson. We didn’t have [defensive lineman] Shemar Turner. We’ve been short-handed all year too.
“We don’t look for qualms, and he won’t either. I know Nick. He ain’t going to look for no qualms. We were playing a backup quarterback too. So there were two good teams out there that battled and went at it.”
Alabama’s defense, led by standout linebacker Will Anderson Jr., kept the pressure on King and the Aggies all night. Anderson finished with eight of the team’s 14 quarterback hurries. He also had 12 pressures in the game, which is tied for the most in the country this season.
King, who made the start for an injured Max Johnson, was sacked three times.
Alabama goes on the road to No. 8 Tennessee next Saturday.
ESPN’s Chris Low contributed to this report.