The refrain from the camps of Alabama football opponents was the same each week as the Derrick Henry running train gathered momentum. Stop Henry and put the game on the shoulders of Crimson Tide quarterback Jacob Coker. No one was able to stop Heisman Trophy finalist Henry. That certainly helped as Coker had a very good season, almost under the radar.
Everyone expected Coker to be the Alabama quarterback in 2014 after he transferred from Florida State. That didn’t happen as fifth-year senior Blake Sims won the job. Then, it seemed, no one expected Coker to be Bama’s quarterback this season, and it’s fair to say he wasn’t the clear winner for the job until after Alabama had lost in the third game of the year – the one game in this 12-1 season that Coker didn’t start.
Even though the Mobile native was late to the Bama party with his start at FSU, he has earned the respect of his teammates in his leadership position. He joined Henry, center Ryan Kelly, and linebacker Reggie Ragland as captains, elected by the players.
Next up for Coker and the Tide is the semifinal game of the College Football Playoff against Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl. The teams will meet on Dec. 31 in the Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Already the experts are saying that Michigan State is built to stop a runner like Henry and make Coker beat them. Is there an echo in here?
Even though Henry was the deserved winner of Most Valuable Player as Alabama won the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, 29-15, against Florida last Saturday, consider that Coker completed 18 of 26 passes for 204 yards without an interception. He completed a 55-yard pass to Calvin Ridley that set up a short Henry run for a touchdown, and then completed touchdown passes of 32 yards to ArDarius Stewart and 9 yards to Richard Mullaney.
Coker, who will receive his master’s degree in marketing from The University Saturday, has helped Alabama manage quite the balanced offense, Henry notwithstanding. Bama has 2,707 rushing yards, 208.2 per game, and 2,786 passing yards, 214.3 per game.
Coker ranks fifth in the SEC in passing yardage. For the season he has completed 222 of 338 passes for 2,489 yards and 17 touchdowns against only 8 interceptions. He has completed 65.7 per cent of his passes, second best in the conference.
Coker has also proved to be surprisingly effective with his legs, whether by designed bootleg runs or elusive escapes from a pass rush. There is a belief in the Tide camp that Coker really won his teammates with his tough, no-slide runs in a win over Texas A&M at College Station. He also showed that elusive ability as he out-maneuvered Auburn’s best pass rusher, Carl Lawson, and rifled a 34-yard TD pass to Stewart in Bama’s win over the Tigers in Auburn.
Coker’s other memorable passes include a 45-yard touchdown strike to Ridley in the rain at Georgia, followed the next week against Arkansas by an 81-yard scoring pass to Ridley, the second longest touchdown pass in Alabama football history.
Alabama Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin, who also coaches the quarterbacks, deserves credit for developing Blake Sims in 2014 and Jake Coker this year. When Bama’s run is over this season – hopefully with a win in the national championship game in Phoenix on Jan. 11 – speculation will begin on the quarterback for 2016. And on whether Kiffin will be the man directing that development.