TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Dear Daniel Moore,
I realize you probably get suggestions for paintings all the time, but please, do me the honor of considering this request. Your brush has captured some of the greatest moments in Alabama football history. You painted The Goal Line Stand. You painted Bear Bryant’s final game. You painted Gene Stallings’ victory ride in New Orleans. You painted Chance Warmack obliterating Manti Te’o as the Crimson Tide rolled to their most recent national title.
For your next work, might I suggest a two-panel painting titled The Scrambles? I realize this is a terribly unsexy name, but hey, those two Blake Sims scrambles on Alabama’s first possession of the fourth quarter on Saturday were terribly unsexy plays. After all, they were supposed to be something else entirely. But the original plan didn’t work -- twice. Sims tucked and ran -- twice. The quarterback converted third-and-long -- twice. He kept Alabama moving. He made sure the Crimson Tide kept devouring clock. The end result of the drive was a seven-yard T.J. Yeldon score that sealed a 25-20 win over No. 1 Mississippi State. That win will more than likely vault Alabama into the magical top four of the College Football Playoff selection committee’s standings on Tuesday. If the Tide keep winning, they’ll make the inaugural field.
Without those scrambles, we might be having a different conversation. If Sims doesn’t tuck the ball and gain 10 yards on third-and-eight from the 50, Alabama punts the ball back to the SEC’s best offense with only a six-point cushion and most of the fourth quarter left to play. If Sims doesn’t tuck the ball and gain 11 yards on third-and-10 from the 40, Alabama punts the ball back to the SEC’s best offense with only a six-point cushion and most of the fourth to play. Had the Tide punted and the Bulldogs marched for a touchdown, it might have been bye-bye playoffs. Bye-bye national title. An irrelevant Iron Bowl. The sheer force of Phyllis from Mulga’s rage could have crashed Paul Finebaum’s phone lines on Monday. Somewhere in the state, someone would have said, “I don’t think this Nick Saban fellow is getting the job done” without even the slightest trace of irony.
Now do you see why this must be immortalized with oil on canvas? I understand why you wouldn’t believe me. I’m but a silly sportswriter. I was one of the idiots who assumed Alabama picked up Jacob Coker from Florida State to be the starting quarterback on this team. Like most, I had little faith in Sims, the fifth-year senior from Gainesville, Ga. But Saban did. First-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin did. And after that seat-of-his-pants drive to force overtime in last week’s 20-13 win at LSU and that suck-out-the-opponent’s-soul drive on Saturday against Mississippi State, now everyone else does, too. So please, Mr. Moore, unsheathe your brush. If you don’t believe me, take it from this man, who has never been a fan of hyperbole.
“It was one of the greatest drives in Alabama history, probably,” Saban said.
Maybe Saban was messing with us. He has that dry sense of humor, you know. But don’t we have to give him the benefit of the doubt here? “When you’ve got a great coach that says that,” Sims said, “I guess all you can do is believe it.”
OK, maybe the two-panel is a bit much. Maybe you want to focus on a single play. Then please choose the second scramble. That third-and-10 might have turned into fourth-and-two from the 32 if not for hobbled Alabama receiver DeAndrew White sealing off a Mississippi State defender and allowing Sims to pass the first-down marker. That might have led to a field goal attempt -- and you know how those have gone for Alabama this season -- or a fourth-and-short try. Thanks to White, Saban didn’t have to make that choice. White caught the game-winning touchdown at LSU last week, but this block might’ve been every bit as important. “Some people didn’t know that DeAndrew was hurt,” Sims said. “He missed a couple of series. Even when he came back, he was still hurt. He didn’t want to miss more snaps. He wanted to be out there with the team. I just saw him coming for the block, and he did what he had to do.”
So did Sims, who has evolved as a decision-maker to the point where his coaches and teammates can be reasonably certain he’ll make the correct choice on each play. He is not an option quarterback. His default mode is throw, not run. But his legs can carry him fast enough -- and his instincts are sharp enough -- that Sims can get the Tide out of trouble when everyone is covered and protection breaks down. “We didn’t give him all the time in the world today,” Alabama center Ryan Kelly said, “but that’s when his legs become a part of it.”
I get it, Mr. Moore. An 11-yard scramble that didn’t score any points, didn’t win any kind of championship and didn’t beat Auburn isn’t the most exciting subject for a painting. So, maybe you’ll watch the rest of the season looking for more provocative material. Maybe some play from the SEC Championship Game. Or a play from a game in the first College Football Playoff.
But think about it this way: Without Sims’ scrambles on Saturday, Alabama might not have had a chance to participate in either of those events. Now, the painting possibilities are limitless.