Blake Sims didn't just start at quarterback for Alabama in the season-opening win over West Virginia; he started and played the whole game.
Well, sort of. Presumed rotation quarterback Jake Coker came in for mop-up duty once the outcome was in hand. But for all intents and purposes, Sims was Alabama's starter, and Coker was his backup. The redshirt senior played well enough to stay on the field.
That very nearly wasn't the case. According to Ralph D. Russo of the Associated Press, head coach Nick Saban said he thought about going to Coker in the second quarter, scared that Sims was starting to get rattled. But instead of pulling the plug, he settled Sims down by going to—of all things—the no-huddle offense:
Playing From the No-Huddle
In many ways, settling Sims down with the no-huddle offense—a concept that seems foreign to Alabama football—was a fitting touch to an impressive starting debut. This is not the archetypical modern Tide quarterback, and he deserves to be handled as such.
What's more: It worked! Sims looked markedly better once Alabama went to the no-huddle, especially in the red zone. He is adept at making quick decisions, and the fact that he is a redshirt senior helps in this regard. He is on precisely the same page as his teammates.
Coker did his best to catch up with Sims, but he only had one fall camp to Sims' five years. Communication and trust are the keys of a no-huddle offense, and if that's something Alabama wants to employ this season, Sims is the right guy for the job.
He proved that on Saturday night.
The Mobility Factor
Sims made a few plays with his legs that the AJ McCarrons, Greg McElroys and Cokers of the world cannot make. He rushed six times for 42 yards, but more than that, he eluded multiple pass-rushers, extended multiple plays and always kept his eyes down the field.
He didn't throw a touchdown pass, but he completed a serviceable 24 of 33 passes for 250 yards—numbers that should have been even better if not for an egregious drop by Christion Jones on a broken-play heave down the field. That was one of many instances where Sims' nifty footwork created an opportunity out of nothing:
Forty-two yards does not jump off the page as a wildly successful running night. But Sims was at his best going east-to-west, shifting around or outside the pocket to elude pressure and buy time.
Especially behind a young offensive line that remains a work in progress, his ability to do that was invaluable.
Pocket passing is the weakest part of Sims' game, and it looked that way on Saturday. He wasn't bad, by any stretch, but he wasn't as sharp on first-read throws as he was when he was moving around.
The interception he threw to Daryl Worley was ill-advised and gave West Virginia a pulse late in the game. The incompletion he threw to a wide-open DeAndrew White in the first half was painful to watch. There were places where his arm and his mind have to improve.
Alabama's offense has been among the best in the country these past few seasons, which makes a fundamental schematic change seem crazy. But Sims looked so much better in no-huddle and out-of-the-pocket situations than he did in, well, traditional-Alabama-quarterback situations that it almost has to be discussed.
"We'll certainly consider it," said Saban of running more no-huddle sets, per Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com. "I think we will do what we think benefits our players the most."
If Sims is his quarterback, this is what benefits his players the most.
Finding Amari Cooper
Sims did make a few more traditionally impressive throws, showing decent arm strength to get the ball out to the sideline. He didn't force much but did a great job getting the ball to his best receiver, Amari Cooper, who finished with 12 catches for 130 yards.
On the heels of Cooper's "down" 2013 season, that was important. It was extra important given the struggles USC had getting the ball to Marqise Lee under then head coach Lane Kiffin in 2013.
Sims and Kiffin combined to get the ball into their best weapon's hands early and often, and that deserves to be commended.
For the most part, Sims did everything an Alabama quarterback needs to do.
He leaned on the two-headed monster of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry (40 carries, 239 yards, three touchdowns), and he made the defense pay when it bit too hard on run-fakes. He broke the school record for completions and attempts in a starting debut, and he did it without ever feeling overused.
"I didn't think about it too much," Sims said of the pressure that came with finally getting his first start. "I just went out there and played."
After overcoming early jitters, the looseness of Sims' game showed. That's why a B-plus for his first game seems the fairest grade. He didn't blow anybody away, but he wasn't asked to. He was asked to, well, "just go out there and play."
If he irons out the jagged edges of his throwing motion—the ones that led to ugly ducks such as the one he threw to White—Sims can start earning A's later on in the season. He won't be a Heisman finalist like McCarron, but that doesn't mean he can't do just as well at his job.
"Remember when Alabama had a quarterback competition?" asked Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee after the game. "That ended quickly."
For Sims, that means the mission was accomplished.
Overall Grade: B+
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