Sims, Coker Split Reps, Guide Alabama To Weather-Shortened Win
It was far from the biggest game on Alabama’s schedule, or the most memorable, but by seasons end, it may prove to be the most pivotal.
In a game that could ultimately help decide a definitive starter at quarterback, Blake Sims and Jake Coker matched each other nearly every step of the way in a split-playing time role during second-ranked Alabama’s 41-0 victory over Florida Atlantic on Saturday. A figurative truce was called when lightning ended the game with 7:53 remaining in the fourth quarter.
After playing all but the final two plays in last week’s season-opening victory over West Virginia, Sims, in the start, did most of his damage in the first quarter, finishing 11-of-13 for 214 yards, two touchdowns and a rushing touchdown. Coker, who handed the ball off in those final two plays against the Mountaineers, threw for 202 yards and one touchdown on 15-of-24 passing.
The combined 416 passing yards between the two quarterbacks is the second-highest passing yardage in school history.
“It was good that we got to play both quarterbacks in the game today,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
Sims played four series in the game compared to six for Coker. On Sims’ first three series, all in the first quarter, Alabama scored three touchdowns with Sims having a hand in all of them (two passing, one rushing).
“I’m very happy about the way things went,” Sims said. “The coaching staff did a good job with play calling and the players did very well executing the plays.”
Coker saw the first meaningful action of his Alabama career with 1:34 left in the first quarter, as well as the Crimson Tide’s next two drives until halftime. His drives ended with a field goal, a three-yard touchdown pass to Jalston Fowler and end of half.
Both quarterbacks took full advantage of junior receiver Amari Cooper, who finished with a school record-tying 13 catches (D.J. Hall in 2007 vs. Tennessee) for 189 yards and one touchdown. Through two games this season, Cooper has 25 catches for 319 yards.
“Amari Cooper played an outstanding game again today,” Saban said. “Our offense didn’t punt all day, but we also didn’t finish drives in the red area, which is something that we definitely need to continue to work on.”
Cooper scored Alabama’s second touchdown of the game on a 52-yard screen pass from Sims to push the lead to 14-0 and finished with 10 receptions for 156 yards in the first half alone.
“He’s one of the best receivers in the country,” FAU coach Charlie Partridge said. “He’s someone that’s going to keep your hands full. He’s someone you have to account for, but as soon as you roll over and start to account for him then you’re starting to lighten the box.”
Leading 31-0, Sims, back in at quarterback for the Crimson Tide’s first possession of the second half, quickly marched the offense downfield but fumbled on a botched handoff to running back T.J. Yeldon at the 1-yard line, which the Owls recovered. The miscue was similar to Coker taking an ill-advised sack at the Florida Atlantic 4-yard line to end the half. Coker played the final three possessions of the game, following Sims’ fumble.
“Blake played well except for one play,” Saban said. “Jake got some experience, and I think that experience should help his confidence and his ability to play with a little better rhythm. He did some very good things today as well.”
Kenyan Drake had seven carries for 45 yards and a score, as well as a 39-yard touchdown reception from Sims. Redshirt freshman receiver ArDarius Stewart made his first three career catches for 63 yards, including a 40-yarder from Coker in the third quarter. As a team, Alabama outgained FAU 620-145.
Defensively, the Crimson Tide received a big boost with linebacker Trey DePriest (suspension) and cornerback Eddie Jackson (torn ACL), holding Owls running back Jay Warren to 56 yards on nine carries. Backup quarterback Greg Hankerson, who was starting in place of injured starter Jaquez Johnson, was limited to 88 yards passing.
“I was really proud of the way our players competed in the game today,” Saban said. “I thought we went out and improved some as a team. I think we played fast. I liked the intensity that we played with.”