3:30 PM ET, August 30, 2014
Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA
Blake Sims plays wire-to-wire as No. 2 Alabama beats West Virginia
Conversation was the only thing Sims and Coker shared at the Georgia Dome. The quarterback job, Sims had all to himself.
The fifth-year senior played well enough in his first career start to keep playing, getting plenty of help from Amari Cooper, T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, and the second-ranked Crimson Tide held off West Virginia 33-23 on Saturday.
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Sims was 24-for-33 for 250 yards, added 42 running, threw one interception in the fourth quarter, and took every meaningful offensive snap.
Tide coach Nick Saban said leading into the game that both Sims and Coker, the Florida State transfer, might play but there was only one point during the game that he thought about pulling the starter.
It came in the second quarter.
"And it wasn't his play, it was ... he called a couple formations wrong in the huddle, he called a couple plays wrong," Saban said of Sims. "There was some confusion on the field."
Saban said he suggested going to a no-huddle offense to new coordinator and former Southern California coach Lane Kiffin, and the tempo helped settle Sims.
"But all in all for him to throw for 250 yards, he did a pretty good job of executing all in all and I'm happy with his progress," Saban said.
He added "We're looking forward to how we can help him improve as well as Jake, too."
So the quarterback competition might not be closed.
"I'll leave that to Coach Saban," Sims said.
Yeldon (126 yards rushing and two touchdowns), Henry (113 yards rushing and a score) and Cooper (12 catches for 130 yards) provided ample support. And Alabama needed all the offense it could get because West Virginia found plenty of soft spots in the Tide's D.
The Mountaineers' up-tempo spread gave Clint Trickett his pick of open receivers, and he took advantage with 365 yards passing.
A Passing Grade
Clint Trickett's 365 passing yards are the second-most a Nick Saban-coached Alabama squad has ever allowed. Including Trevor Knight's 348-yard game in the Sugar Bowl, Saban's teams have allowed back-to-back 300-yard passing games for the first time in his Bama coaching career.
Most Passing Yards Against Saban-led Bama
|2013||Johnny Manziel, A&M||464|
|2014||Clint Trickett, WVU||365|
|2010||Ryan Mallett, Ark.||357|
|2007||Matt Flynn, LSU||353|
|2013||Trevor Knight, Okla.||348<<|
|>>In Sugar Bowl (Jan. 2, 2014)|
Sims Keeps It Short
Blake Sims completed 73 percent of his passes in his first career start for Alabama. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin kept the game plan simple, with just four of his 33 pass attempts traveling 15 or more yards downfield.
Sims' Passing by Distance -- Saturday
|Less Than 15||15 Or More|
|Yds per att||8.0||4.2|
|-- ESPN Stats & Information|
But West Virginia didn't take full advantage, dropping more than a half-dozen catchable passes, including one off the hands of Elijah Wellman near the goal line that would have been a sure TD early in the fourth quarter.
"Yeah, it's frustrating," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said of the final result. "You play against a really good team and you're in position in the fourth quarter to be able to win the game. I mean you don't have those opportunities very often."
Coming off a 4-8 season, West Virginia was a 26½-point underdog. They didn't play that way. Mario Alford returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score with 1:43 left in the first half to tie the game at 17-17.
"We really had the confidence that we were going to compete," Trickett said.
Henry scored the only touchdown of the second half on a 19-yard run midway through the third quarter to put Alabama up 27-17. It was all field goals from there.
Coker warmed up briefly on the sideline in the second quarter after Saban told him to get ready, but that was it until it was time for victory formation at the end.
Saban has another Tide team ready to roll. The biggest question in the preseason was who would replace quarterback AJ McCarron, but it sure looked as if a defense that struggled at times last year against spread offenses could be a problem again for the Tide.
Maybe the bigger question is who will replace All-American middle linebacker C.J. Mosley. The Tide were also missing linebacker Trey DePriest, held out one game for an undisclosed NCAA violation.
Saban called his defense "soft" during a TV interview at the half, but postgame said the problems had a lot to do with lack of communication between the new linebackers and the secondary.
No matter who plays quarterback for Alabama, he'll have a treasure trove of talent with which to work.
"We definitely we want to be physical running the ball, pass blocking and being effective as receivers," Henry said. "Anything we can help out Blake in any way, we're going to try to do."
The Tide even got a 4-for-4 performance on field goals (47, 41, 27, 45) out of Adam Griffith, the kicker who came up short on the field goal that Auburn returned for a TD to win the Iron Bowl last year.
Saban wasn't about to sound any alarms after one game, even if some Alabama fans might have expected it to be easier.
"I thought this game was going to be," Saban said, "exactly like it was."
Top 25 Overview
It was over when... West Virginia's last chance evaporated when Clint Trickett and the Mountaineers failed to convert a fourth-and-11 with less than 1:30 left in the game.
Gameball goes to... T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry. Alabama's talented rushing duo rushed for a combined 239 yards and three touchdowns.
Stat of the game... 4-for-4. Crimson Tide sophomore Adam Griffith booted four field goals to stave off West Virginia, three of them from further than 40 yards out.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||5-14||9-16|
|4th Down Conversions||0-1||0-1|
|FG||10:58||Josh Lambert 20 Yd Field Goal Watch Highlight||3||0|
|FG||8:18||Adam Griffith 47 Yd Field Goal Watch Highlight||3||3|
|TD||14:11||T.J. Yeldon 15 Yd Run (Adam Griffith Kick)Watch Highlight||3||10|
|TD||11:58||Kevin White 19 Yd pass from Clint Trickett (Josh Lambert Kick)Watch Highlight||10||10|
|TD||1:57||T.J. Yeldon 1 Yd Run (Adam Griffith Kick)Watch Highlight||10||17|
|TD||1:43||Mario Alford 100 Yd Kickoff Return (Josh Lambert Kick)Watch Highlight||17||17|
|FG||0:00||Adam Griffith 41 Yd Field Goal Watch Highlight||17||20|
|TD||7:44||Derrick Henry 19 Yd Run (Adam Griffith Kick)Watch Highlight||17||27|
|FG||4:59||Josh Lambert 42 Yd Field Goal Watch Highlight||20||27|
|FG||1:27||Adam Griffith 27 Yd Field Goal Watch Highlight||20||30|
|FG||13:37||Josh Lambert 41 Yd Field Goal Watch Highlight||23||30|
|FG||8:07||Adam Griffith 45 Yd Field Goal Watch Highlight||23||33|
Blake Sims completed 73% of his passes in his first career start for Alabama. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin kept the game plan simple, with just four of his 33 pass attempts traveling 15 or more yards downfield.[+]
Blake Sims Passing by Distance
* Nick Saban has never been a fan of up-tempo offenses, but Alabama was better this week when OC Lane Kiffin switched to the no-huddle. QB Blake Sims was 8-9, and had a 21-yard run for a 3rd down conversion. The only SEC school with a better QBR in no-huddle Week 1 situations was Auburn.[+]
Alabama Offense on Saturday
Sims relied heavily on Amari Cooper throughout the game. He was 12 of 15 when targeting Amari Cooper for 130 yards and 12 of 18 for 120 yards when targeting everyone else.
Alabama allowed 365 passing yards to West Virginia, its third-most passing yards allowed in the Nick Saban era. The Mountaineers had 17 completions of 10 yards or more, the most the Tide allowed since the 2009 Sugar Bowl.[+]
Alabama Pass Defense
This is the first time that Alabama has allowed 17 points in three straight games since 2008-09 (losses to Florida and Utah to end 2008 season, win against Virginia Tech in 2009 opener).
Alabama returned to its bread and butter in the second half, pounding the ball up the middle with T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, who combined for 152 yards in the final 30 minutes.[+]
Alabama Designed Rushes
This is the 3rd straight game Alabama has allowed a non-offensive touchdown. Alabama had gone 12 straight games not allowing a non-offensive TD until this streak, and had allowed 2 non-offensive touchdowns combined in their previous 26 games. The 3-game streak is the longest in the Nick Saban era.
Alabama leading West Virginia 20-17 at the half... Crimson Tide allowed 10 TOTAL 1st-half points in 4 regular season non-conference games last season.
Alabama has allowed 8 completions of 10+ yards through 10:58 of the 2nd quarter. Only once last season did the Alabama defnese allow more than 7 completions of of that distance in the first half (10 to Texas A&M).
If there's a way to beat Alabama's defense, it's to keep up the tempo. Over the last 2 seasons, teams that average 26 seconds per snap or less are 6-3 against the Tide and score a touchdown as often as they go 3-and-out. Alabama is 18-0 when teams take more than 26 seconds per snap against them. West Virginia averaged 22.8 seconds per snap last season.[+]
Alabama Defense Last 2 Seasons - By Opponents Time of Possession Per Play
Alabama has allowed 168 passing yards in the first half, including 120 yards after the catch. The Tide did not allow more than 100 yards after the catch in a half in any game last season.[+]
West Virginia Passing in 1st Half
ESPN Stats & Information