It is understandable that Derrick Henry is the topic of conversation in discussion of Alabama football in general and in offensive production particularly, but Crimson Tide quarterback Jacob Coker has been playing solid football as Bama has rebounded from an early season loss to rank second in the nation.
On Saturday, Coker will lead Alabama against Florida in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game and with a victory Bama will move on to the College Football Playoff. The Crimson Tide and Gators will meet at 3 p.m. CST (4 p.m. Eastern time) in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. CBS will televise the game.
Coker, a senior from Mobile in his first year as a starting quarterback in college (he spent three years at Florida State before transfering to Alabama prior to the 2014 season), has been clutch for Bama, particularly with his surprising ability to scramble for nice gains. In Saturday’s 29-13 win over Auburn in Auburn to close out regular season play, Coker seemed to be headed for another of those runs after avoiding two Tigers defenders in the Tide backfield.
But instead of running, Coker fired a strike to ArDarius Stewart in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.
“ArDarius and I had talked about it,” Coker said. “In the LSU game I was running around and he was trying to get open, and I saw him, but at that point of the game I didn’t want to risk anything, do something crazy. But at that time of the (Auburn) game, we’d talked about him slipping behind coverage. I looked up and it was perfect because the corner had taken his eyes off his man and ArDarius did a great job of getting open.”
Early in the year, Coker seemed to have problems with those throws.
“That’s kind of a different situation,” he said. “In those situations I was trying to throw it too early, before the route had developed, trying to get it off. But there (at Auburn) it was a different situation. It was a tight game, we needed a play really bad, and ArDarius was – I knew ArDarius was open and I just had to throw a certain ball. It was either going to be to him or incomplete.
“I pulled the trigger and he made a great play.”
Earlier in the game Coker had hit Stewart in the end zone, but Stewart failed to hold onto the ball. Coker was seen on the sideline offering encouragement to Stewart.
Coker said, “Yeah, anytime that happens, heck, we’ve all been there. We’ve all missed some big plays or something like that. He had just made a great play right before that to get us down there. It was no big deal. It happens. It would have been a great play if he had made it anyway (on the dropped TD pass). He’s a great guy to have out there. He doesn’t get frustrated hardly at all.”
Even though Alabama has lived primarily by the run – indeed, primarily by the runs of Derrick Henry – Coker has completed 204 of 312 passes for 2,285 yards and 15 touchdowns with eight interceptions. Coker is second in the league in completion percentage at 65.4 per cent, just behind Dak Prescott of Mississippi State at 66 per cent. Coker ranks sixth in the SEC in passing and fifth in passing efficiency.
Alabama will be going up against the best defense the Tide has faced this year when Bama meets Florida Saturday. The Gators are second in the conference in total defense (behind Alabama) and fourth in passing defense.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban was asked about the challenge Coker will face in going against Florida. “I think it’s not just about Jake,” Saban said. “I think it's about everyone on the offensive field has to perform well to be able to make things happen for us. Receivers have to run good routes, they have to get open against good cover people. They have good rushers up front, so we have to do a good job in pass protection. The quarterback has to have an opportunity to be able to function so he can do his part and what he needs to do. When Jake has had that opportunity, he's done a really good job for us this year. It's certainly going to be a challenge for our entire offensive team."
As for the Gators, Coker said, “They are going to be probably the best defense we’ve played all year. We’re going to have to bring our A Game to be successful on Saturday.”
Coker won’t be alone. He said of tailback Derrick Henry, “It’s awesome to have a guy like that in the backfield and know he’s on your side. A guy who is that big and moves around like that and is durable as he is...it’s not too often you see a guy with that physical stature running the ball and doing the things he does.
“When you see a guy run – how many times, 46 times – and he could still play. Not slow down, not hurt at all.
“It’s like playing with the biggest guy on the playground, like ‘What are you going to do to stop this guy?’ It’s just about impossible.”