Jacob Coker had a seminal moment on Saturday. Trailing 14-13 with 5:49 and the season in limbo, the eight game starter commandeered an 8-play, 71-yard drive in 3:25 to regain the lead.
Two sideline completions on the game winning drive were delivered with authority. The first was on a 2nd down and 12 to wide receiver Ardarius Stewart for 29 yards to the Tennessee 44. The sixth catch of the day for Stewart was the most difficult and required a review by the officials. He finished with a half dozen receptions and team leading and career high of 114 receiving yards.
Facing a 3rd and 6, Coker lofted a 15-yard fade route to wide receiver Calvin Ridley. He leaped high in the air to haul in the reception at the Vols 25-yard line. Ridley tallied six catches for 62 yards on the afternoon. The Alabama QB, sacked five times for a minus 27 yards, dodged the rush throughout the day to avoid potential losses. Coker finished with 21 completions on 27 attempts for 247 yards and one interception.
Another significant moment occurred as the clocked counted down to zero. Coker embraced the beleaguered Stewart for an extended period of time. Although coming into the game second on the team with 26 receptions, the talented receiver had been struggling. Good leaders recognize the proper time to praise and the demonstrative gesture to congratulate his receiver for a breakout performance was a sign of maturity by the Tide quarterback. “Ardarius plays his heart out every game. He does everything as hard as he can do it,” said Coker during the post-game interview. “I love that guy. He is one of those guys that really helps me learn the games on-and-off-the-field. Just the way he plays and our relationship it means a lot to me. I’m proud of the way he played today.”
Tight end O.J. Howard is as gifted as any player on the roster. One of three game captains, he led the team with a career high seven receptions and added 55 receiving yards on Saturday. He can be a major force on ffense in the remaining games. His signature career moment was catching a pass on a crossing route and sprinting away from LSU defenders for a 52-yard touchdown as a freshman. The Tigers are keenly aware of his impressive speed and athleticism.
Alabama’s true offensive identity rests squarely on the large shoulders of running back Derrick Henry. He accounted for 29 of the 71 yards on the Tide’s final possession, the last 14 for the game winning touchdown. The Heisman hopeful rushed for 143 yards on 28 carries and scored two touchdowns against rival Tennessee (3-4, 1-3). He surpassed the century mark for the fifth time this season and 10th in his career. The first-year full-time starter also reached the 1,000 yard single season milestone having rushed for 1,044 yards on 180 carries. He is 12th all-time in Alabama history with 2,416 career rushing yards.
The Alabama (7-1, 4-1) offensive trio of Coker, Howard and Henry are keys to the Tide’s future success. All the chips will be in the middle of the table as SEC Western Division rival LSU (7-0, 4-0) visits Tuscaloosa on November 7th. The game is schedule to air on CBS at 7 PM Central.