TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Despite Blake Sims’ solid showing in his full-time Alabama quarterback debut, the Crimson Tide’s quarterback race is far from over.
Sims played every meaningful snap against West Virginia, throwing for 250 yards and rushing for 42 more in the win while managing Alabama’s efficient, ball-control offense that had possession for nearly 38 minutes and produced 538 total yards.
However, Alabama coach Nick Saban said on Monday that there is still very much a competition under center.
“I still don’t hesitate to say that there’s a quarterback competition,” Saban said. “And in some way, we’ll probably try to play both quarterbacks in this game. I don’t know how. When I figure it out, I’m probably not going to tell you. But I don’t know that it’s that important, to be honest with you.”
That’s a far cry from his strategy against West Virginia, where Sims played all but the final two snaps. Jacob Coker handed to Kenyan Drake twice once the game was out of reach.
Now, it looks like Coker will get his chance to prove what he can do in the offense before a final decision is made on the full-time starter.
So what to make of this new revelation?
For one, Sims playing just about the entire season opener was likely more about the short than the long term.
Saban wanted to go with the guy he knew he could trust at that moment in time. That was Sims, who has been in the system for four years going on five. Sims got to work through spring practice essentially as the starter and knows what’s expected of quarterbacks under Saban.
That, combined with his teammates’ trust and confidence in him, gave him the nod for that game.
“Blake Sims is a very good leader, he’s a very big part of what we have,” guard Arie Kouandjio said on Monday. “We have a lot of older guys on this team, Blake being one of them, and when you’ve been here for a while, sometimes you have to step up. I feel like Blake does his part.”
When it turned out that the game was close for much of the contest—and it wasn’t exactly the offense’s fault—the signal-caller role stayed with Sims. That, as much as anything, showed which guy Saban trusts at this point in time.
To Coker’s credit, fullback Jalston Fowler said he handled watching from the sidelines well.
“He didn't complain,” Fowler said. “Just kept a straight face and kept moving.”
The decision to extend the competition, though, is about the long term.
Alabama’s next two games are at home against Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss. As much as Saban won’t admit it, these are games that give a coach a little more leeway in terms of personnel management and trying new things.
In 2011, when AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims went toe-to-toe for the starting job, Alabama had the luxury of a home opener against Kent State before traveling to Penn State for the first truly competitive game of the year.
In that Kent State game, McCarron and Sims split reps pretty evenly before Saban settled on McCarron in a game where he needed someone he could trust.
It’s almost the opposite of what’s happening now.
Who will look better on Saturday against Florida Atlantic?
The Crimson Tide now have two games where they can sit back and better evaluate Sims and Coker without the added stress of having to worry too much about actually having to win the game. That likely won't come until September 20, when Florida visits Bryant-Denny Stadium.
This benefits Coker, who still hasn’t taken meaningful game snaps since high school. It’s hard to truly analyze Alabama's quarterback competition without having seen him play, and any speculation on how Coker would have performed on Saturday is just that.
He’ll get his chance on Saturday, though. At this time next week, Alabama’s quarterback race could look markedly different.
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