Without Bryce Young, Alabama football loses its magic and becomes more ordinary | Toppmeyer

Blake Toppmeyer

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – He’s Alabama’s superman. Its Houdini. He’s Mr. Heisman, because he’s Mr. Clutch.

For a season and a half, Bryce Young has been Alabama’s bail bondsman, springing his team out of one jam after another.

Alabama’s junior quarterback is the player it cannot afford to lose, and when Young entered the medical tent during the second quarter Saturday with a right shoulder injury, the Tide’s season hit a pothole with the potential to throw the crimson machine out of whack.

Young’s absence didn’t derail No. 2 Alabama on this day. The Tide led by two touchdowns, both supplied by Young, before his injury and held off No. 19 Arkansas, 49-26, at Razorback Stadium.

The best news came afterward, when Nick Saban offered an injury update: a sprained AC joint in Young's throwing shoulder. He's day to day.

"He doesn't have a serious injury," Saban said.

In other words, this shouldn't be as disruptive as Tua Tagovailoa’s hip dislocation in 2019 – the only year Alabama did not qualify for the College Football Playoff.

Still, it was bad enough that Young spiked his helmet in frustration while en route to seek medical attention on the sideline.

In a cruel twist, Young’s former teammate sacked him on the play that caused his injury. Arkansas linebacker Drew Sanders, an Alabama transfer, brought Young down near the sideline, and Young landed on his right shoulder while trying to throw the ball away. Young returned for the ensuing drive before exiting in discomfort.

Now, Young's shoulder will become the most scrutinized shoulder in the state of Alabama.

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Without Young, Alabama (5-0, 2-0 SEC) loses some magic and becomes more ordinary.

Young means so much, in part, because of who Alabama doesn’t have.

The Tide doesn’t have a Jameson Williams, DeVonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy or Amari Cooper on the perimeter. It doesn’t have a Derrick Henry in the backfield or a road-grading offensive line.

Alabama, for the first month of the season, did not appear to have the nation’s best team. No. 1 Georgia is loaded. Yet, when you possess a quarterback as skilled, as poised and as clutch as Young, you’re a national championship contender.

ESPN’s Todd McShay spent Saturday telling viewers that NFL scouts salivate over Kentucky quarterback Will Levis.

Levis boasts a big-league arm and prototypical NFL size, but you couldn’t convince me that any college coach would select Levis over Young in a quest to win a national championship.

"There's only one Bryce Young in this country," Saban said, "and he's a great player."

It’s not as if Young’s backup is Johnny Walk-On, though.

Redshirt freshman Jalen Milroe was a four-star recruit, and he can scoot. Milroe bolted 77 yards on a key third-down scramble to set up a fourth-quarter touchdown after Arkansas (3-2, 1-2) captured the momentum.

"It stopped the bleeding, for sure," Saban said.

Plenty of coaches would take Milroe as their starter. You probably could stick Milroe on a couple of Alabama’s past national championship teams without altering the outcome.

But Alabama’s armor possesses a few chinks, and without Young to paper over the cracks, the Tide becomes more vulnerable.

Alabama wide receivers piled up drops when they weren’t dissecting an infirm Arkansas secondary, and its special teams made blunders that are uncharacteristic of Saban’s best teams. Alabama amassed 10 penalties.

Arkansas’ explosive offense kept swinging until finding a few soft spots in Alabama’s defense.

The Razorbacks rattled off 23 unanswered points in the middle of the game, briefly making this a one-possession game in the fourth quarter.

The crowd came alive and danced to the music inside Razorback Stadium.

Momentum shifted.

Milroe restored order with his long run.

Crisis averted – for now.

For all of Milroe’s speed and athleticism, he completed four passes in 2½ quarters as Alabama became one-dimensional. Arkansas couldn't stop Alabama's speedy tailback Jahmyr Gibbs, so one-dimensional wasn't an issue.

Alabama’s defense is better than it was last season, but this is not a 2011 Alabama defense. More importantly, Alabama’s defense is not the caliber of Georgia’s. Neither is its offensive line or its tight ends.

Young is the great equalizer, though.

Texas coach Steve Sarkisian compared Young to a magician for the way he avoided a blitzing defender who had him sighted in with 30 seconds left in Alabama’s great escape in Week 2.

Not only did Young avoid the sack, he scrambled for 20 yards to set up the winning field goal.

That’s who he is. When the pressure heightens, Young stays cool. When Alabama stumbles off track, he provides a course correction.

He can do that only if he’s on the field.

Alabama will need more magic this season, but will its Houdini be available to supply it?

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer.

The "Topp Rope," is his twice-weekly SEC football column publishing throughout the USA TODAY Network. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Also, check out his podcast, SEC Football Unfiltered, or access exclusive columns via the SEC Unfiltered newsletter