By Trey Iles
When Alabama was selected to face Kansas State in the 89th Allstate Sugar Bowl, there was some question as to whether or not heralded Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young would play.
Boy, did he play.
Young, a junior and the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner, put on an unforgettable display in leading the fifth-ranked Tide (11-2) to a 45-20 victory against the ninth-ranked Wildcats (10-4) in the Caesars Superdome on Saturday (Dec. 31, 2022) before 60,437.
Young passed for five touchdowns and 321 yards completing 15 of 21 passes with no interceptions to guide Alabama to victory and earn the Miller-Digby Most Outstanding Player Award. If it was Young’s final game – he could enter the NFL Draft next year – he went out in style. His passer rating was 278.4.
Young said he never really thought about not playing in the game. It was a question of ending the season on a positive note and enjoying time with the team.
“This was more about my teammates,’’ Young said. “Everyone locked in. This is a brotherhood and these guys hold a special place in my heart. Very excited. Everyone stepped up.’’
Not only did Young play at the top of his game he also rallied his team to victory. The Tide, which rolled up 496 yards on offense and averaged nine yards per play, fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter then, led by Young, scored on its next five drives to take a commanding 35-10 lead with 13:00 left in the third quarter.
“It was just me doing everything I could to help the team out,’’ Young said. “We wanted to prove something and finish the season in the right way. I was happy to be able to come out, play with my guys and win.
“The receivers did a great job of creating separation. I have all the confidence in my receivers. I think it was a great job of taking advantage of the play calling. For me, any time I throw a deep ball, just put it up and let them run under it. All the credit to my guys.’’
The first two minutes of the third quarter took much of the suspense from the game as K-State tried to regain lost momentum. But Alabama wouldn’t relinquish it.
The Wildcats, trailing 21-10 at the half, attempted an onside kick to start the second half. But Alabama recovered at the K-State 49 and Young quickly made them pay. He passed 32 yards on the drive’s third play to wide receiver Ja’Corey Brooks for a touchdown and a 28-10 Bama lead with 13:54 to play.
“We’ve worked on these kicks all year long,’’ K-State Coach Chris Klieman said. “Every week we have it in. We didn’t execute it the way we needed to execute. (K-State kicker Ty Zentner) didn’t hit it the way he probably wanted to. But we also knew we had to take some chances because of the last two drives that they (Alabama) had on offense, where we struggled to slow them down.
“We came here to win. Not to keep it close. Thought that was our best opportunity.’’
On the ensuing possession and facing third-and-8 at the K-State 14, Bama safety Brian Branch picked off K-State quarterback Will Howard at the Wildcats 19 and returned it to the 17. Bama running back Jase McClellan then ran 17 yards for the touchdown on the next play to give the Tide a 35-10 lead with 13:00 to play.
Young threw his final touchdown on the last play of the third quarter when he connected with wide receiver Kobe Prentice on a 47-yard score to give the Tide a 42-13 lead.
The first half was punctuated by several big plays, including the second longest run in Sugar Bowl and Superdome history, an 88-yard touchdown scamper by K-State running back Deuce Vaughn.
It also featured a big turnaround by the Tide. Kansas State took a 10-0 lead with 3:26 left in the first quarter when Vaughn, who finished with 133 yards, ran 88 yards on a first down play. K-State had dominated play to that point. The Wildcats ran 18 plays from scrimmage to start the game to only three for the Tide.
But that’s when Young, who completed three touchdown passes in the first half, took over, rallying Bama. He led the Tide on three straight touchdown drives of 69, 63 and 98 yards, the final one coming in the final minute of the first half and after an impressive goal line stand by the Tide. Alabama went to the halftime break up 21-10.
What amounted to a 14-point swing occurred in the final moments of the second quarter that gave the Tide control.
After Young passed 1 yard to tight end Cameron Latu for a Tide touchdown, Bama led 14-10 with 11:33 left in the second quarter.
K-State answered with an impressive drive as Howard guided the Wildcats from their 25 to the Bama 2. The Wildcats converted twice on fourth down to keep the drive alive and Howard passed for 54 yards on five completions.
Facing fourth-and-goal at the Bama 2, however, the Wildcats elected to go for the score instead of a field goal attempt. Howard’s pass to the flat was off the mark and Alabama held, taking over at its 2 with 1:01 to play.
That’s when Young engineered the 98-yard touchdown drive, tied for the second longest in Sugar Bowl history. After the Tide had breathing room on the drive, Bama elected to go for the score instead of running out the clock to get to half time.
“That speaks to the confidence (Alabama) Coach (Nick Saban) has in us,’’ Young said. “There are things that can go wrong. But Coach trusted us. We practice two minute all the time. And we executed it well. The guys did their jobs.’’
Said Saban: “It was a huge swing in the game to stop them and then go 98 yards for a touchdown.’’
Young completed passes of 28, 22 and 12 yards on the drive, including a 12-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Jermaine Burton, who finished with three receptions for 87 yards, to give the Tide a 21-10 lead with but 10 seconds left in the first half.
Young was 10 of 15 in the first half for 211 yards, including touchdown passes for 6, 1 and 12 yards.
Bama’s first scoring drive was keyed by a 60-yard pass from Young to Jahmyr Gibbs that gave the Tide first down at the K-State 9. Young passed 6 yards to Isaiah Bond for the touchdown on third-and-goal to cut K-State’s lead to 10-7 with 32 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
On its next possession, the Tide went 63 yards in six plays for the touchdown that put them up 14-10.
Vaughn had 108 yards on 15 carries and the score in the first half to lead the Wildcats.