Coker, Alabama Take Down Wisconsin in Season Opener
Jake Coker waited five years for his chance.
When it finally came, he made the most of it.
In his first career start, the fifth-year senior held off all comers – both Alabama quarterbacks and Wisconsin defenders alike – and the third-ranked Crimson Tide took out the No. 20 Badgers, 35-17, on Saturday at AT&T Stadium.
Coker was 15-for-21 yards and 213 touchdowns, and seemingly only gave the coaching staff an opportunity to put the ball in the hands of one of the team’s other quarterbacks after he helped the Crimson Tide build a 28-7 lead with just over five minutes left in the third quarter.
Sophomore Cooper Bateman replaced Coker with 1:05 left in the third quarter, Alabama’s ninth drive of the game, playing three series overall. Bateman, a former four-star prospect from Murray, Utah, completed 7 of 8 passes for 51 yards.
Junior Alec Morris came in on the team’s final series of the game (12th overall) with 53 seconds remaining when Alabama was simply running out the clock. During his two plays in the game, Morris handed the ball off twice to freshman Damien Harris with zero pass attempts.
Of the three Tide quarterbacks who played, none committed a turnover.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said during the last two weeks leading into the game that the quarterback competition was down to three – Coker, Bateman and Morris – with two of the three then receiving the majority of the first-team reps in practice in the final days of preparation.
Coker, Bateman and Morris were listed as co-starters at quarterback on the team’s official depth chart released this past Monday and again in a depth chart handed out prior to the game.
Coker’s opportunity was a long time in the making.
A three-star prospect out of St. Paul’s Episcopal School in Mobile, Coker signed with Florida State in 2011, where he played three seasons but was unable to crack the starting lineup.
As a freshman in 2011, Coker redshirted before sitting behind future NFL first-round draft picks E.J. Manuel and Jameis Winston at quarterback in 2012 and 2013. Winston, the Heisman Trophy winner in 2013, forced Coker to transfer for playing time, ultimately landing at Alabama.
Last season, Coker was the favorite to win the newly vacant Alabama quarterbacking job but was beat out by now-graduated Blake Sims after joining the team for the first time in the summer due to the transfer.
But on Saturday night, Coker received his chance as the clear frontrunner, starting from the beginning and ending it on his own terms.
Through four series, Coker was 9-for-11 passing with 130 yards and one score. Alabama, as a team at that point, also led 14-7. Coker connected with sophomore Robert Foster for a 17-yard touchdown with 6:38 remaining in the second quarter to break the 7-7 deadlock and put the Crimson Tide up for good.
“I thought he did a nice job,” Saban said. “I thought he was accurate with the ball. He didn’t make any poor decisions. He didn’t put the ball into coverage anywhere. Did a nice job of executing what we wanted him to do. It created balance for us on our offense, and that was really good.”
While Coker proved efficient in his debut, it would not have come as easily without the aid of the Tide’s suffocating defense, and a mix of running backs Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake.
Alabama, returning most of its defensive starters from last season, held Wisconsin to 268 total yards, only 40 coming on the ground for the run-first offense. Through three quarters, the Badgers had just 17 rushing yards on 17 carries.
Wisconsin running back Corey Clement, the new starter in replace of last season’s Heisman Trophy runner-up Melvin Gordon, rushed for just 16 yards on eight carries.
Conversely, Alabama had 502 total yards of offense, 303 coming in the second half. Henry led all rushers with 147 yards and three scores on 13 carries, and Drake added 125 all-purpose yards on offense (77 rushing on 10 carries, 48 receiving on two receptions) with a touchdown.
Henry scored on runs of 37, 56 and 2, while Drake capped off Alabama’s scoring with a 43-yard run down the sideline in the fourth quarter to push the Crimson Tide’s lead to 35-10.