TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It was the most critical call of the national championship game, just after Jake Coker hit ArDarius Stewart for a crucial 38-yard gain to set up a game-tying field goal in the fourth quarter, when Lane Kiffin tipped off his quarterback to what the University of Alabama was going to attempt: an onside kick.
“Don’t jump or do anything different,” the offensive coordinator said so he wouldn’t miss the play that turned the title game in the Crimson Tide’s favor for good. The mild-mannered quarterback obliged until he saw the ball safely in Marlon Humphrey’s hands.
“We went crazy,” Coker said. “It was awesome. We needed that big time.”
With the benefit of hindsight, that’s sort of like what the graduate-transfer’s addition to the roster ended up meaning to the 2015 Crimson Tide. It may not have been typical and certainly there was a lot of risk involved, but when everything was all said and done it turned out to be just about perfect.
“I’m so proud of Jake,” tight end O.J. Howard said. “After the Ole Miss loss is when we saw Jake step up the most. He started becoming a leader, and he started showing determination on the field. He was running the ball and not sliding like a normal quarterback would. He was showing grit.
“Jake won the whole team over after the loss to Ole Miss. He came in. He didn't start that game, came in and finished the game for us, put us back in the game, gave us a chance to win, and after that game we went undefeated. It was all because of Jake and the rest of the team, but Jake really improved as a quarterback over the last two years.”
When it comes to Coker’s legacy, he’ll at minimum be on the same level as some of Alabama’s other national championship quarterbacks like Greg McElroy, Jeff Rutledge and Steve Sloan, even though they ran very different offenses.
He also never lost a game as a starter, going a perfect 14-0, and got significantly better as the season progressed, with his best games in the postseason.
From the midway point, Texas A&M on Oct. 17, he had just two passes intercepted over the final nine games, the last against Mississippi State. He set career highs for completions (25) and passing yards (286) against Michigan State, and then had 335 in the title game, for a personal-best 203.0 passer rating.
Moreover, he may have become a legitimate NFL prospect, and scouts will be taking a close look at him during the upcoming Senior Bowl and NFL combine due to the limited film they have from just one year of starting.
“The way that Coker went about his business after he got his job back, and the way he finished off when everyone thought he would be a liability, he became a plus for them and made some great throws when he had to,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “I thought Lane Kiffin did a great job with him as well as far as play-calling.”
Kiffin, of course, was also Alabama’s offensive coordinator in 2014 when the Crimson Tide set numerous program records. After taking over for three-year starter A.J. McCarron, quarterback Blake Sims set single-season marks for passing yards and total offense.
Here are the numbers from the past five seasons:
- 2011 McCarron (13 games): 219 of 328 (66.8 percent), 2,623 yards, 16 TDs, 5 Int., 147.3 rating
- 2012 McCarron (14 games): 211 of 314 (67.2), 2,933, 30 TDs, 3 Int., 175.3 rating
- 2013 McCarron (13 games): 226 of 336 (67.3), 3,063, 28 TDs, 7 Int., 167.2 rating
- 2014 Sims (14 games): 252 of 391 (64.5), 3,487 yards, 28 TDs, 10 Int., 157.9 rating
- 2015 Coker (15 games): 263 of 393 (66.9), 3,110 yards, 21 TDs, 8 Int., 147.0 rating
It should also be noted that Sims was a running back before he moved to quarterback. He finished his career with 705 rushing yards while McCarron had minus-50. After subtracting the sacks (25 for 189 yards), Coker had 68 rushing yards.
Also, Alabama’s conversion rate on third downs was just 37.4 percent this past season (80 of 214), which ranked 86th in the nation. That’s down from 52 percent in 2014 (102 of 198).
Although McCarron won the Maxwell Award and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award in 2013, his 2012 campaign was probably the best by a quarterback in Crimson Tide history.
His most impressive statistic was touchdown-to-interception ratio, which wasn’t just the best in Crimson Tide history, it would have shattered the single-season mark if Alabama included it in the record book.
McCarron had 30 touchdown passes compared to just three interceptions, a 10-1 ratio and an interception percentage of 0.96 per attempt. Sims, who had the benefit of throwing to Amari Cooper during his best year, had a 2.8-1 ratio and 2.6 percentage, while Coker was 2.6-to-1, 2.0 percent.
|TD/Interception Ratio Under Saban|
|2007||John Parker Wilson||18/12||1.5 to 1|
|2008||John Parker Wilson||10/8||1.25 to 1|
|2009||Greg McElroy||17/4||4.25 to 1|
|2010||Greg McElroy||20/5||4 to 1|
|2011||AJ McCarron||16/5||3.2 to 1|
|2012||AJ McCarron||31/3||10.3 to 1|
|2013||AJ McCarron||28/7||4 to 1|
|2014||Blake Sims||28/10||2.8 to 1|
|2015||Jake Coker||21/8||2.6 to 1|
Sims’ ratio matches what Jay Barker did during his final season of 1994, when he won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and finished fifth in Heisman Trophy voting—although he had half the numbers, 14 touchdown passes and five interceptions.
After turnovers, the passing statistic that coach Nick Saban probably pays the most attention to is the one that may be most indicative of a quarterback’s performance: passer efficiency rating.
Specifically, it’s a measure of the performance of passers based on attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns and interceptions. It’s not perfect and doesn’t factor in rushing yards, fumbles, sacks or performance on key downs or location on the field, but is how the NCAA names its annual passing leader.
For the second straight year he played at Oregon, as Vernon Adams Jr. topped everyone with a 179.1 ratting, after Marcus Mariota did so in 2015 with a 181.7 rating that was 12 points ahead of the next-best quarterback (Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, 169.8, who didn’t play against the Ducks in the national championship game due to a season-ending injury).
Coker’s 147.0 rating was tied for No. 30 nationally and fourth in the Southeastern Conference. The leader will surprise some fans, Arkansas’ Brandon Allen (165.5), ahead of Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly (155.9) and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott (151.0).
|Career Passer-Efficiency Ratings|
|John Parker Wilson||2005-08||120.6|
|Alabama Record Book|
Incidentally, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson finished No. 12 at 156.3, primarily due to having 13 passes intercepted. Bringing those down next season will likely key his Heisman Trophy chances after placing third as a sophomore.
In 2014, Sims' 157.9 rating led the SEC and was seventh in the nation. If the Alabama record book included passer efficiency, McCarron would have the modern-era benchmarks as his 175.3 rating in 2012 led the nation and helped him finish with a career mark of 162.5.
As for some of Alabama’s legendary quarterbacks, Harry Gilmer posted an amazing 193.09 rating in 1945 when he completed 57 of 88 passes for 905 yards, with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions.
Rutledge had a 169.9 in 1997 and Sloan 153.78 in 1965. However, none of them had a career rating better than 150. McCarron (162.5) and McElroy (155.4) did. He started for two seasons, including the undefeated 2009 national champions and went 24-3.
Coker’s probably right behind them in status. Statistically, he may not have posted the same numbers as Sims, but his new ring collection puts him in some pretty exclusive company.
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.