ATLANTA — From the moment Alabama walked off the field on Jan. 2 after losing the Sugar Bowl to Oklahoma, the program had a quarterback battle that featured, among others, senior Blake Sims and Florida State transfer Jake Coker.
That battled ended on Saturday afternoon in the Georgia Dome in Alabama's 33-23 win over West Virginia.
Sims set program records for completions (24) and attempts (33) for an Alabama quarterback in his starting debut, throwing for 250 yards in the process. It wasn't the most creative game plan from offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, but it was safe.
Four of Alabama's six plays on its opening drive were passes, and Kiffin got Sims into a good rhythm in his first career start with an abundance of short passes throughout the game. Head coach Nick Saban said after the game that he told Coker to warm up after Sims called some formations wrong in the huddle, but Sims picked it back up after he and Kiffin decided to simplify the offense and go no-huddle.
"When we did that, he sort of got it back together and then he was fine after that," Saban said. "That one little stretch in the second quarter where we got a little bit out of sync was the only time, but I thought Blake did a really good job. He had a couple of guys open that he missed, but he also had a couple guys who dropped balls that he delivered."
On top of that, Sims sidestepped rushers coming in untouched on several occasions, keeping his eyes downfield when appropriate and also tucking it and running for a total of 42 rushing yards.
Saban's comments regarding Sims rebounding and Coker warming up indicate that Sims and Coker weren't battling for the job going in. Sims was the No. 1 and Coker was the No. 2, and nothing that happened inside the Georgia Dome on Saturday should change that.
Coker was there. Here's video of him unleashing two 60-yard bombs in warm-ups with relative ease.
Sure, he had his left leg wrapped heavily and walked out to warm-ups with a slight limp, but he was available and ready to go if Saban and Kiffin needed him.
They didn't—at least, not until mop-up duty on the final drive of the game.
Whether it's because of Coker's knee injury, the reported ineffectiveness in fall camp—Bleacher Report's Ray Glier reported that he completed just 30 percent of his passes and threw three picks on the Aug. 16 scrimmage, or the combination of the two, it appears that he has been relegated to a backup role.
Sims is clearly the guy.
Does he have some limitations? The coaching staff apparently thinks so.
Rarely did Sims try to stretch the field, and his one glaring mistake—a fourth-quarter interception—was up the seam to tight end O.J. Howard, who was double-covered.
But with running backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry back there as insurance policies and Amari Cooper outside, all Sims needs to be for Alabama to win is a game-manager.
At least, for now.
The biggest issue facing Alabama, as Bleacher Report's Alabama lead writer Marc Torrence noted in his postgame story, is at cornerback. Bradley Sylve was picked on early and often by Mountaineer Clint Trickett, and Cyrus Jones wasn't much better. Several Mountaineer second-half drops prevented them from staying in it for a full four quarters, but Alabama can't count on that on a weekly basis.
If Alabama's corners continue to struggle and the Crimson Tide get forced into shootouts, we don't know if Sims can keep up. He didn't have to against West Virginia, but considering the offenses Texas A&M and Auburn are capable of producing and the jury being out on several offenses on the Crimson Tide schedule, that's a reasonable possibility.
Sims needs to progress as a passer, and Kiffin needs to open up the playbook over the next two games against Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss to see what Sims can handle in game settings.
They may need him to be a difference-maker if the Crimson Tide is going to make the inaugural College Football Playoff.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, and co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93 XM 208. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.
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