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‘This isn’t a popularity contest’ — QB battle rages on as Tide overwhelm FAU

(Photo by Jonathan Biles)
(Photo by Jonathan Biles)

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Lightning struck both in and around Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday.

Sure, there was the philosophical sports writer metaphor lightning on the field as Alabama blistered the well-paid, yet woefully undermanned FAU Owls. But there was actual lightning as well, resulting in the game being called off with 7:53 remaining in the fourth quarter, a rare first in Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s illustrious career.

“Today’s the first time I’ve ever had a game called off,” Saban said in his post game press conference. “I would’ve liked going back out there to finish the game, and I know our players would’ve liked to have done the same thing. A lot more players probably would’ve had the opportunity to play, and some of the guys that were getting to play that we certainly need to play to gain experience would’ve been able to finish the game.

“But I think the circumstances were such that we would’ve had to wait a significant amount of time to go back out there because of the lightning and the storms. I think everybody made a good decision just to end the game.”

While the team was actually on the field, the offense chugged along well, with an even distribution of snaps between quarterbacks Blake Sims and Jake Coker. Both quarterbacks threw for over 200 yards, amassing a combined 416 yards, the second-highest passing total since the 484 yards thrown in 1969 Iron Bowl. Amari Cooper tied the school record for most receptions in a game with 13, a number that he will probably surpass in other games this season as he has become the primary target in Alabama’s aerial attack.

The Alabama fan base seems to be somewhat split over which quarterback should lead the Tide moving forward.

On Saturday, Sims was clearly more at ease initially, but Coker showed the potential of a starting quarterback once given time to settle into the offense.

The Sims-led offense continued to involve a simpler, more no-huddle style of play calling, while Coker’s was stocked with long pass attempts that were at least occasionally in the general vicinity of his receivers. Sims accounted for 21 points; Coker accounted for 20.

Coker also received a rousing ovation when he entered the game, showing at least a vocal selection of fans who would prefer him to be the starter. Saban, however, doesn’t seem to worry about whether the fans are on #TeamBS6 or backing the formerly bang-haired Coker.

“I really don’t care what side they take, the only side that matters is the side we take,” Saban said. “We’ll continue to try to help both guys develop and be more effective as players relative to the things that they need to work on to continue to improve.”

At least the quarterbacks support each other, which Sims focused on after the game.

“Me and Jacob have a great relationship,” he said. “To this day we’re not looking at the competition, we’re just saying whoever’s number is called to go out there, be the best and win the game for the team.”

This offense, regardless of who is throwing the passes or handing the ball off, is fun to watch. That’s something that couldn’t be said of some Alabama offenses in the past.

Sims runs a high-paced attack — for Alabama’s standards — that includes heavy doses of screen passes and runs. Coker’s is a more traditional Crimson Tide look with steady runs and long passes, mostly because he can. Sims has the ability to juke defenders, while Coker’s NFL-ready body allows him to barrel over them.

“This is not one that’s going to be a popularity contest,” Saban concluded of the quarterback battle. “It’ll be what’s best for our team in the decisions and judgments will be based on one thing, and that’s what’s going to help our team have the best chance to be successful and win.”

Follow Jonathan on Twitter @Jonathan_Biles

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