On September 16th, 2023, Alabama put together one of the most miserable football watching experiences for their fans in recent memory. After a poor showing with two brutal interceptions from QB Jalen Milroe the week before in a loss to Texas, Nick Saban made the swap and started Tyler Buchner, the transfer from Notre Dame.
Buchner completed 5 of 14 passes for all of 34 yards (36% completion rate, 2.43 yards per attempt) before being benched and replaced by Ty Simpson. The redshirt freshman did get a few more air yards on a couple of nice passes (73 yards on 5 completions and 9 attempts), but also took 5 sacks.
Combined? 107 total yards, 43% completion rate, and 4.7 yards per attempt.
While Alabama squeaked out a win thanks to dominant defensive performance and a strong 4th quarter from senior RB Roydell Williams, the passing game was, outside of two passes from Simpson, downright atrocious.
In the heat of the moment, it could be easy to think it was one of the worst quarterbacking performances in the Nick Saban era of Alabama football.... And I’m here to tell you that it definitely is.
HOWEVER, this game is not without company. Saban is no stranger to games with horrid QB play, even if we’ve mostly avoided them for a few years. How about a trip down memory lane?
Jalen Milroe vs Texas A&M
This one wasn’t too awful, really. Milroe just didn’t really throw many passes. He only had 111 yards, but did get 3 TDs out of it with a solid 63% completion rate and 5.8 yards per attempt. He also took 4 sacks, an interception, and fumbled twice.
After that, we have to go in the way-back machine before we get a game in the same stratosphere of bad. There were a couple in there like Bryce Young vs Auburn in 2021 where it was downright awful up until one final drive and then racked up a bunch in overtime, and Tua Tagovailoa vs Miss State in 2018 wasn’t too good either. But really, we have to go back to 2017 where the passing game was this bad again.
Jalen Hurts vs. Florida State
96 Total yards against an FSU team that was a complete disaster. Hurts basically completed one long ball on a busted coverage to boost the stats. 55% completion rate and 5.3 yards/attempt did beat out today’s performance, though.
Hurts vs Auburn, Clemson, and Texas A&M
Jalen really did put up some stinkers. He had less than 125 yards in all three of these games, never hit 60% of his passes, and dropped a brutal 4.47 yards/attempt and 103 total yards in a loss to Auburn.
Hurts vs Washington
Crazy to think that the runner up to the NFL MVP owns 5 of Alabama’s worst passing games of the decade. And this one vs Washington takes the cake. 57 total passing yards at 4.07 yards per attempt. OOF.
A.J. McCarron vs Virginia Tech
This season opener is an easy one to forget, but Alabama’s offense was pretty much useless in this one, with Christion Jones saving the day with a kick return and punt return touchdown. McCarron had 110 total yards on an awful 41% completion rate and 4.8 yards per attempt, plus an interception and 4 sacks. A.J. was a senior, 3rd-year starter, and Heisman runner-up, and had a game that is on par with how well Buchner and Simpson played yesterday.
McElroy and McCarron vs Florida
Florida was a failing program at this point, and in 2010, Greg McElroy racked up 103 yards on 4.9 yards per attempt, while in 2011, McCarron had 110 yards with a 48% completion rate.
This is where things start picking up in terms of bad QB play. Some of this was due to Saban rushing the ball 45 times per game and getting a few passes here and there, but some of it was just awful QB play as well. Here’s a few of the worst
McElroy vs Tennessee
The infamous Rocky Block game, Alabama did not score a TD. McElroy got all of 120 passing yards on a very sad 4.1 yards per attempt. He did complete 62% though, he just threw everything for like 4 yards at a time.
McElroy vs South Carolina
Another infamous game where Saban basically resorted to putting the QB over on the sidelines and just started direct snapping to Mark Ingram. McElroy had 92 yards on a 50% completion rate and 4.6 yards per attempt to go along with 2 picks.
McElroy vs Texas
In a National Championship game, Alabama passed for all of 58 yards... and won. McElroy was playing with broken ribs, so he kind of gets a pass. His 5.3 yards per attempt were...ok. The 5 sacks were bad, though.
John Parker Wilson vs Tulane
Oh man, for all of our fond memories of 2008, this Tulane game was possibly even worse than the USF game yesterday. Wilson had 73 yards with a 47% completion rate and 3.2 yards per attempt. That’s a full yard and a half per attempt WORSE than Simpson/Buchner. Thankfully, Javier Arenas saved the day on special teams.
John Parker Wilson (and McElroy) vs Arkansas
It was a 49-14 win for the Tide, but the passing game was worse than useless. Wilson had 74 yards at a 40% completion rate and 4.9 yards per attempt. McElroy even got to throw one pass in mop-up duty... And threw a pick.
John Parker Wilson vs Auburn
113 yards. 46% completion rate. 4.3 yards per attempt. One interception. Fear the thumb :(
Brodie Croyle vs Auburn
I am so sorry to bring this one up. Brodie Croyle had 107 yards on a 52% completion rate and an atrocious 4.3 yards per attempt. And yeah...11 sacks.
A backup John Parker Wilson did get to play at the end after Brodie was broken and completed 3⁄4 to boost the overall stats up a little for the game.
The Spencer Pennington/Mac Guillon experience.
About half of Alabama’s games this season were worse than what we saw from Buchner/Simpson. The worst one? South Carolina.
The pair combined for 67 yards on 41% completion rate and 2.8 yards per attempt. Oh, and FOUR interceptions.
In 2002 and 2003, Alabama played Southern Miss back to back. in the first game, Brodie Croyle and Tyler Watts combined for 21 yards. 29% completion rate. 1.2 yards per attempt. And the follow up? Brandon Avalos had 12 passing yards. TWELVE.
Anyway, I’m not sure this will do anything to make you feel better about yesterday’s game. Alabama did wind up winning a national championship in 2017 despite quite a few games from Jalen Hurts being just as bad as Simpson/Buchner. Of course, it took Tua Tagovailoa coming in slinging pineapples in the final game.
And the Tide went undefeated in 2008 and 2009 with McElroy putting up pretty similar stats, but the college football game was totally different back then.
In other words, it’s not unprecedented at Alabama, even under Nick Saban.
But it was verging on Pennington/Guillon levels of bad, and that is extremely uncomfortable, to say the least. I’d rather not go there.
If you’re interested, I tabulated all of the worst games since 2002 for a nice visual. Enjoy the pain:
Alabama Football’s worst passing games