Three and Out: Blake Sims helps Alabama hold off West Virginia
ATLANTA -- Alabama hasn’t lost three consecutive games since coach Nick Saban’s debut season in Tuscaloosa in 2007. Despite a surprising threat, the No. 2 Crimson Tide kept that record intact with a 33-23 win over West Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. Here are three thoughts from Bama’s victory.
1. Alabama's quarterback conundrum
The college football world had all but anointed Jake Coker as Alabama’s next starting quarterback this offseason, but Blake Sims got the start for the Tide on Saturday. Overall, the redshirt senior gave Alabama what it needed and pointed to what he might be able to bring to the table.
While Coker held his helmet on the sideline, Sims completed 24-of-33 passes for 250 yards. He dodged a few Mountaineers' pass-rushers on more than one occasion, and he put a nice touch on a few long balls. Sims did underthrow his receivers a few times, including a costly misplaced toss on a fourth-and-six early in the third quarter. He also threw one pick that briefly gave West Virginia life in the final period. But nothing seemed to throw Sims completely out of sync.
Of course, it helps that he appears to have the most dangerous duo of running backs in the SEC. West Virginia had no answer for T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, who gashed the Mountaineers for 239 yards, two touchdowns and an average of 6.0 yards per carry. That makes any quarterback’s job a lot easier.
Now, fans must wait and see whether the Blake Sims show has truly taken over in Tuscaloosa. Coker remains a highly touted option, but perhaps Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will embrace one simple mantra: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The real question is whether Sims can perform similarly against Alabama’s SEC schedule.
2. Questions on defense for the Tide?
Alabama struggled at times in its pass defense last year, especially at cornerback. Texas A&M, Auburn and Oklahoma exploited a position group that suffered from injuries and inexperience. On Saturday, that issue didn’t look like it had been completely resolved during the offseason.
Vulnerability in the secondary allowed West Virginia to stick around despite being one-dimensional. Quarterback Clint Trickett picked apart the Crimson Tide by connecting on 29-of-45 passes for 365 yards with a touchdown. Alabama corner Bradley Sylve headlined a unit that allowed too many big plays downfield to receiver Kevin White (nine receptions, 143 yards) and West Virginia’s other pass-catchers. It’s an issue Saban pinpointed during the game.
“We’re soft,” Saban told ESPN at halftime. “We really need to get ourselves some poise on defense."
The SEC West, in particular, could again present a number of challenges for this Alabama secondary. Ole Miss, Texas A&M and several other teams have the passing power to exploit the Tide. Can Saban -- a former defensive backs coach -- find an answer for this unit?
3. West Virginia, running nowhere
Although West Virginia found success in the passing game, the Mountaineers could do absolutely nothing on the ground. Linebacker Reuben Foster and Alabama’s front seven smothered Rushel Shell and company into a measly average of 1.2 yards per carry. Aside from Shell, who managed 38 yards, no West Virginia player contributed more than nine rushing yards.
This game would have been much uglier were it not for Trickett and the Mountaineers’ passing attack. West Virginia might not face a defensive front quite like Alabama’s on a weekly basis, but coach Dana Holgorsen’s up-tempo attack can’t afford to be one-dimensional all season.