Although Alabama Coach Nick Saban said following the Crimson Tide’s 35-17 win over Wisconsin that he had told both Jacob Coker and Cooper Bateman before the game, “We’re not naming a starter; we’re naming who is going to start the game,” there is no quesiton that Coker – who did start the game – has for the moment cemented himself as the number one man.
In his post-game press conference, Saban said he had made the decision on Thursday to play both men because both had done “extemely well throughout the course of fall camp.” Both, he said, deserved the opportunity to play.
While both did play, it was Coker who put the game away by the end of the third quarter. He had completed 15 of 21 passes for 213 yards with one touchdown. Those passes opened up the effective running game – Derrick Henry rushing 13 times for 147 yards and three touchdowns and Kenyan Drake adding 10 runs for 77 yards and another score.
And Alabama did not have a turnover in the game.
Bateman also did well in his quarter of play, completing 7-8 passes for 51 yards.
Saban said there wasn’t a plan such as “three series for one guy, three series for another. We’re just going to go on the field. And Jake was playing pretty well, so we stayed with it. Cooper got an opportunity. And I thought he did fine as well.”
Saban pointed out that most of Coker’s incompletions “were long balls that we had a chance on. He didn’t turn it over. We need to protect a little better. We got sacked early in the game when it was not really his fault.
“I thought he did a nice job. 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.
“Moved the team, executed the offense, threw the ball where he was supposed to throw it, threw accurately, didn’t make a lot of mental errors, didn’t have a lot of communications problems.”
The Tide coach said the relatively slow start “was kind of the plan, not to put a lont on the quarterback. We ran the ball four or five times. Then when we opened it up and created some balance, I thought Jake played really well.”
Nine different men were on the receiving end of passes. Saban said, “It’s not like Jake went out there and said, ‘I’m going to throw the ball to a lot of different guys.’ He threw the ball to the guys that he was supposed to throw it to. He made the right reads based on the call that was made and based on the way Wisconsin was playing.
“If they are playing split safeties, you are supposed to throw it to one side. If they are playing the middle of the field closed, you throw it to the other side.
“He threw it to the guy that he was supposed to throw it to all the time in the game, which was a very good thing. He was accurate for the most part, and we were pleased with the say he played.” Saban concluded, “We'll look at the film and evaluate the things that we need to do to improve on. And we'll make a decision about who plays quarterback based on what's best for our team.”
Although quarterback play – and particularly the play of Coker – dominated conversation in the press conference, Saban said there were “a lot of good things. I thought we played well in the line of scrimmage. We kind of dominated the line of scrimmage, were able to stop their run. I thought we played really well defensively.
“We didn’t get turnovers like we wanted. We didn’t always get off the field on third down like we wanted. But I thought our guys really competed and played hard, and I was really proud of the way we came out, especially in the second half, and kind of dominated the game.
“I thought that was a big difference in the game.”
Saban said, “We did some good things in the secondary. We made some mental errors. They had a very good plan against what we do. They are a very well coached team. And Paul (Wisconsin Coach Paul Cryst) is an NFL guy, so he has seen all the coverages that we play, and he had some real good beaters for things that we like to do. And we had to make some adjustments. And I thought the players adapted really well, and I think that's why we played a little better in the second half.”
Saban said, “Obviously, Derrick Henry had a nice game. Derrick Henry has had an outstanding camp. I think he's a fabulous player. He usually plays better as the game goes on in terms of workhorse-type guy. And it was good to see him make some good runs out there. We think the guy can be a fantastic player for us, and we want to -- Kenyan Drake got some opportunities. We want to see Kenyan Drake do a little bit more too. And Damien Harris got to play mostly with the second offensive line, which didn't do a very good job in the game.
“But they had their first group in there. So it was a good experience for those guys, and they will learn, and it will help our depth down the road.
“I thought the offensive line did a pretty decent job. Wisconsin has got a very good defensive front.”
Asked about Bama defensive adjustments to the Wisconsin offense, Saban said, “They had a really, really good plan. You never know what [an opposing] team is going to do. They have a really good back (Corey Clement, who had 8 carries for 16 yards) who is a really good receiver (Clement had 2 receptions for 19 yards). They isolated him on a linebacker about three third downs in the first half.
“So we just have ways that we can put somebody else on the guy, and that's what we did. We peeled them from on the line of scrimmage and took them out of the game and made the quarterback throw the ball down the field. We got some batted balls. We got some pressure on the quarterback, got a couple sacks and played a lot better in the second half than we did the first when it came to third down.”
Asked about wide receiver Robert Foster, who 4 catches for 50 yards, including a touchdown, Saban said, “I think he and Ardarius Stewart both did a really good job in the game. We have a lot of confidence in those guys. They're very good players. I know they don't have a lot of experience, but they are both very talented guys. And I think for those guys to catch some balls tonight and make some plays is going to help their confidence tremendously.
“The system that we're using, playing the receivers right and left, has really helped Robert because we can specifically let him know what he does, what he needs to do. So it makes it a little easier for him. He doesn't have to think quite as much and can play a lot faster. And I think that has helped him a lot. Our coaches have done a really good job of helping him be able to play well. And he certainly played well tonight.”
Regarding tight end O.J. Howard, Saban said, “We think O.J. Howard is a really good player who can make plays down the field. He is a mismatch guy. Probably need to do a little better job of getting him the ball more, and I think we will. He's had a great camp, by far has been the most productive of any time since we've been here, the most confident. And he will make, I think, a lot of plays for us.”
Placekicker Adam Griffith missed two long field goal attempts, but Saban said, “I thought he hit the ball really well, kicked off really well. Except for one, the kickoff coverage was really good and his ball placement and distance was very good. I thought both field goals that he missed he hit well; he just missed them. We have a lot of confidence in him. And, you know, the guy makes a lot of kicks, and I think he will make a lot of kicks for us this year.”