ATLANTA— How will he handle the pressure of being the starting quarterback at Alabama? Will the offense still produce after losing so many starters to the NFL? Does he have enough experience to lead the offense? These are some of the questions that swirled around sophomore QB Bryce Young in the 2021 offseason.
Young answered all those questions and more in Alabama's 44-13 win over Miami in Atlanta on Saturday.
"It felt great," Young said. "Obviously any time there's offseason, there's a lot of anticipation and, you know, you start to get a little anxious. But for us to get the first win out of the way, did some good things, and there's some stuff for us to improve on."
He set the Alabama record for touchdowns by a quarterback in their starting debut with four. Young also tied the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game record with the four touchdowns alongside Tua Tagovailoa in 2019 and Bo Wallace from Ole Miss in 2014.
Last season in limited playing time, Young was 13-22 for 156 yards and one touchdown. Including the four touchdowns, Young was 27-38 for 344 yards on Saturday against the Hurricanes.
It ended up being incomplete, but Young's first pass attempt of the game was a deep shot down the field to Jameson Williams. It showed that Saban and new offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien have full confidence in Young's abilities.
"Really just getting that trust from OB, from Coach Saban that speaks volumes as a quarterback," Young said. "Especially me who I know prior, technically I hadn't taken a starting snap, but for him to trust me and knew it a little bit from the plan going in, but to know we were going to take a shot early and for him to trust me and not try to hold back or changing the play calls, that means a lot."
Alabama head coach Nick Saban said Young's ability to scramble on third down and his explosive plays were impressive against Miami and said Young plays like a veteran.
"I was really impressed with the way he played in the game, the poise that he played with, the command that he had," Saban said. "He kind of took what the defense gave and really directed the offense in a really positive way."
The Miami defense was getting pretty consistent pressure on him early, but Young showed his escapability and would either find an open receiver or throw the ball away. His three most frequent targets on the day were John Metchie III, Cameron Latu and Williams.
"I thought their quarterback made some plays, keeping plays alive outside the pocket that extended drives that kept our offense off the field," said Miami head coach Manny Diaz.
Metchie caught six passes on the day for 76 yards and a touchdown, the first score of the season for the Crimson Tide. On that touchdown, Young eluded the Miami pressure, stepped through the pocket and found the open Metchie around the 10-yard line who jetted past a Hurricane defender.
Perhaps the most impressive throw of the day was also a big momentum shifter in the game. Right after the Alabama defense on fourth-and-goal from the one, Young was nearly sacked for a safety on second down. On third-and-five from his own end zone, he launched a deep pass to the Ohio State transfer Williams who ran it in for 94 yards.
One of the biggest surprises of the day on offense was the emergence of tight end Cameron Latu. The former linebacker turned tight end had not caught a pass in his Crimson Tide career. On Saturday, his first two catches both resulted in touchdowns from Young.
"I think that's the key with any good offense, making sure everyone's on the same page,' Young said. "We've been working to build that connection. Obviously me and Cam been doing it, rest of the receivers, everyone on the offense has been working this offseason to build that connection."
The lone blemish on the day for Young was the fumble he lost on a sack in the third quarter, even though the offensive line did not provide him with much time to get rid of it.
"We had the one sack fumble which was something that we don't really want to have, but really, not all his fault that he doesn't get protected," Saban said.
Young took his leave from the game halfway through the fourth quarter, giving way for backup Paul Tyson. True freshman Jalen Milroe also got in a few snaps at quarterback late in the fourth quarter.
It was an impressive performance for Young overall, but it is also important to remember that it is only game one of the season. This young quarterback and the Alabama team still have a long season ahead to achieve their ultimate goals.
"For me, external pressure is something that's always going to be there," Young said. "It's not really something that I'm focused on and we're focused on as a group. For me, it was just trying to do my best to help the team. That's what it's always been. That's what it's going to be for all season."