NCAA Football

For Better or for Worse, Alabama Has Found Its Quarterback in Blake Sims

ATLANTA — From the moment Alabama walked off the field on Jan. 2 after losing the Sugar Bowl to Oklahoma, the program had a quarterback battle that featured, among others, senior Blake Sims and Florida State transfer Jake Coker.

That battled ended on Saturday afternoon in the Georgia Dome in Alabama's 33-23 win over West Virginia.

Sims set program records for completions (24) and attempts (33) for an Alabama quarterback in his starting debut, throwing for 250 yards in the process. It wasn't the most creative game plan from offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, but it was safe.

That's important.

Four of Alabama's six plays on its opening drive were passes, and Kiffin got Sims into a good rhythm in his first career start with an abundance of short passes throughout the game. Head coach Nick Saban said after the game that he told Coker to warm up after Sims called some formations wrong in the huddle, but Sims picked it back up after he and Kiffin decided to simplify the offense and go no-huddle.

"When we did that, he sort of got it back together and then he was fine after that," Saban said. "That one little stretch in the second quarter where we got a little bit out of sync was the only time, but I thought Blake did a really good job. He had a couple of guys open that he missed, but he also had a couple guys who dropped balls that he delivered."

On top of that, Sims sidestepped rushers coming in untouched on several occasions, keeping his eyes downfield when appropriate and also tucking it and running for a total of 42 rushing yards.

Saban's comments regarding Sims rebounding and Coker warming up indicate that Sims and Coker weren't battling for the job going in. Sims was the No. 1 and Coker was the No. 2, and nothing that happened inside the Georgia Dome on Saturday should change that.

Coker was there. Here's video of him unleashing two 60-yard bombs in warm-ups with relative ease.

Sure, he had his left leg wrapped heavily and walked out to warm-ups with a slight limp, but he was available and ready to go if Saban and Kiffin needed him.

They didn't—at least, not until mop-up duty on the final drive of the game.

Whether it's because of Coker's knee injury, the reported ineffectiveness in fall camp—Bleacher Report's Ray Glier reported that he completed just 30 percent of his passes and threw three picks on the Aug. 16 scrimmage, or the combination of the two, it appears that he has been relegated to a backup role.

Sims is clearly the guy.

Does he have some limitations? The coaching staff apparently thinks so.

Rarely did Sims try to stretch the field, and his one glaring mistake—a fourth-quarter interception—was up the seam to tight end O.J. Howard, who was double-covered.

But with running backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry back there as insurance policies and Amari Cooper outside, all Sims needs to be for Alabama to win is a game-manager.

At least, for now.

The biggest issue facing Alabama, as Bleacher Report's Alabama lead writer Marc Torrence noted in his postgame story, is at cornerback. Bradley Sylve was picked on early and often by Mountaineer Clint Trickett, and Cyrus Jones wasn't much better. Several Mountaineer second-half drops prevented them from staying in it for a full four quarters, but Alabama can't count on that on a weekly basis.

If Alabama's corners continue to struggle and the Crimson Tide get forced into shootouts, we don't know if Sims can keep up. He didn't have to against West Virginia, but considering the offenses Texas A&M and Auburn are capable of producing and the jury being out on several offenses on the Crimson Tide schedule, that's a reasonable possibility.

Sims needs to progress as a passer, and Kiffin needs to open up the playbook over the next two games against Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss to see what Sims can handle in game settings.

They may need him to be a difference-maker if the Crimson Tide is going to make the inaugural College Football Playoff.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.  


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Freshmen Power Rankings of the Week: Top 5

Welcome to college football, young freshman. Now, go out there and be somebody.

Week 1 of the 2014 season was further proof that freshmen are in a position to not only play right away but be key contributors as well. 

That trend started on Thursday in Texas A&M's convincing 52-28 win over South Carolina. The Aggies had multiple freshmen, including receiver Ricky Seals-Jones, defensive back Armani Watts and defensive end Myles Garrett, act as key playmakers. 

Thus, the Bleacher Report freshman power rankings were born. 

The freshmen on this list didn't technically have to start—as in, they didn't have to be the first player on the field at their respective position—but they did have to play at least a complementary or rotational role with at least one recordable stat. 

So which freshmen stood out in Week 1? Which ones had the most jaw-dropping highlights? Which ones underwhelmed? The answers are in the list below. 

Of course, there are countless freshmen playing in college football today. Is there someone being overlooked who deserves more credit? Sound off in the comments below. 

 

The Standout:  Arizona Quarterback Anu Solomon 

The redshirt freshman shined in his first start for the Wildcats in an easy 58-13 win over UNLV. Solomon threw for 425 yards, a school freshman passing record, and four touchdowns. Perhaps more importantly, however, he didn't throw a pick or fumble the football.

Even against a winnable opponent at home, taking care of the football had to have been one of the biggest takeaways.

Additionally, Solomon added another 50 yards on the ground, including a 31-yard rush.

The Rebels may not be the most formidable opponent, but Solomon looks like he'll be a great fit in Rodriguez's offense. 

 

 

Best Highlight: Georgia running back Nick Chubb

Running back and Heisman contender Todd Gurley was the superstar in Georgia's 45-21 win over Clemson, rushing for a career-high 198 yards and three touchdowns.

But Gurley's effort was complemented by freshman Nick Chubb, who finished second on the team with 70 yards—on just four carries. 

Chubb's highlight came on a monster 47-yard touchdown in which he powered through arm tackles and made Clemson defenders look like they were bad at football. 

Gurley is the show in Athens, but the future at running back for the Dawgs looks blindingly bright with Chubb in the backfield. 

To steal a quote from head coach Mark Richt

 

Who’s Rising: Texas A&M Defensive End Myles Garrett

The focus of Texas A&M's 52-28 win over South Carolina will be on sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill, who threw for a program-best 511 yards in his debut. 

But how about a little love for an A&M defensive player? Freshman defensive end Myles Garrett didn't exactly light up the stat sheet, but he did have a sack in his first game. 

While the Aggies' defense still has issues to iron it out, it also looks promising. Garrett (and Watts) is a big reason for that. He's a physical freak at 6'5" and 255 pounds, so he's still learning how to use his talent at the college level, but the tools are there. 

 

Who’s Falling: LSU running back Leonard Fournette.

The Tigers came back Saturday to beat Wisconsin 28-24 in Houston, but the debut for Fournette, the former No. 1 overall recruit according to 247Sports, was more underwhelming: 8 carries for 18 yards. 

Give Wisconsin's defense credit. Other than a late-game meltdown in which the Tigers' ground game took control with Kenny Hilliard, the Badgers generally did a nice job stopping the run. Fournette is obviously a talented player, but even the best running backs struggle when there's nowhere to run. 

Fournette is capable of bouncing back and could still have a banner year. But his preseason Heisman expectations have been put on hold. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

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Kentucky Wildcats Have Locker Room Dance Party After 1st Win of Season

The Kentucky Wildcats haven't had the best football team over the years, struggling in the SEC. However, they were able to get the 2014 season off on the right track with a 59-14 blowout win against UT-Martin.

After the game, some of the players had a dance party in the locker room. The Wildcats haven't had a winning season since 2009, so they've learned to appreciate a win any time they can get one.

[Instagram, h/t College Spun]

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A Healthy Georgia Backfield Is the Best Offensive Weapon in College Football

When healthy, Georgia running back Todd Gurley is the best running back in college football.

He proved it between the hedges on Saturday afternoon vs. Clemson, rushing 15 times for 198 yards and three touchdowns, scoring a touchdown on a 100-yard kickoff return and setting a Georgia single-game record with 293 all-purpose yards.

Gurley struggled with an ankle injury for the final two months of last season, but he looked like he was 100 percent in the 45-21 win over the Tigers. 

It was enough to vault Gurley to the No. 3 spot in B/R's weekly Heisman rankings—an award that's typically reserved for quarterbacks.

"Todd Gurley is obviously as good as it gets," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said in quotes released by Georgia. "He is a great, great football player. If you give him the ball in the position that we gave them he is going to do great things. Gurley, and all their backs, were special tonight."

They were indeed.

Junior Keith Marshall still looked slowed from last season's ACL injury, but freshman Nick Chubb (four carries for 70 yards and a touchdown) looked like a star-in-the-making, and fellow freshman Sony Michel (six carries for 33 yards) has the moves to be a dangerous weapon for quarterback Hutson Mason in a variety of ways.

Not only does Georgia have the best back in college football, they have quality depth, which makes the Bulldogs backfield the most dangerous weapon in college football.

"[Gurley] makes it easy for us," Mason said, according to Georgia's postgame quotes. "You just have to give him the ball every chance you get. We have some pretty good backups too. Sony and Nick Chubb are both really great. We knew Nick's skill set coming into the game today and he ran well. He reminds me a lot of Todd."

Talk about a "rich man's problem" for head coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.

The abundance of talent in the backfield allows the coaching staff so much flexibility with how they mix and match their running backs.

If they want to hold Gurley back in the first half like they did against Clemson—he had four first-half carries for 44 yards and a touchdown—use him on special teams and conserve his energy to shut the door in the second half, they can.

If they want to control the clock early and put the game on his shoulders to take pressure off Mason, they can.

If they want to get him out of the game a little earlier than normal and give some of the backups some meaningful carries to protect their star, they can.

That's not just a luxury for the coaching staff, it's a luxury for Mason—a redshirt senior who's in his first year as the full-time starting quarterback.

With only one shot for glory, Mason may have the urge to try to do it all himself—especially when receivers Justin Scott-Wesley and Malcolm Mitchell get back to full speed and join Michael Bennett and Chris Conley in that receiving corps.

He doesn't have to, thanks to the running, and it was clear in the opener that he knows it.

If the Bulldogs want to play ball control, the running game allows them to do it. If they want to put their best at more of an injury risk on special teams, the depth allows them to. If they want to mix in different looks with two star tailbacks in the same play, they can. If they want to open it up in the passing game, the threat on the ground will make the passing lanes for Mason the size of the Grand Canyon.

Georgia's top-end talent, depth and versatility at tailback makes the running back position between the hedges the most dangerous weapon in college football.

There isn't a close second.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.  

 


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Eastern Michigan's Cinder Block Wall Entrance Ends Poorly

The Eastern Michigan Eagles came up with a creative way to run out of their tunnel in their season opener against the Morgan State Bears on Saturday, but things didn't quite work out according to plan.

While most of the players waited in the tunnel, several Eagles players were given hammers to smash down a cinder block wall. Unfortunately, knocking the wall down proved to be far more difficult than they might have imagined, as you can see above. 

It wasn't all bad for the Eagles, though. Despite the entrance fiasco, they went on to beat the Bears, 31-28.

[YouTube, h/t The Big Lead]

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ESPN College GameDay to Attend Michigan State vs. Oregon Next Week

ESPN's College GameDay is heading to one of its favorite locations—Eugene, Oregon—for next week's game between the Oregon Ducks and the Michigan State Spartans.

The show's official Twitter account broke the news:

That GameDay will be in Eugene next week should come as a shock to no one. Oregon and Michigan State are both consensus Top 10 teams, and they're both among the five most popular expert picks to make the College Football Playoff. Even with USC at Stanford on the table, how could this not have been the Week 2 location?

Outside of its major CFP implications, Michigan State at Oregon is appealing for its contrast in styles. It's hard to find a more perfect collision between an unstoppable force and an immovable object.

Can Pat Narduzzi's big, strong, angry defense replicate what Stanford has done the past few seasons and stymie the Oregon attack? Or will Marcus Mariota and the speed of those around him "Win the Day?"

The Ducks and Spartans are both coming off easy Week 1 wins over FCS opponents: Oregon's a 62-13 triumph over South Dakota, Michigan State's a 45-7 win over Jacksonville State. Neither team had to play its starters long into the second half.

In theory, that should mean both squads are healthy and rested. However, Oregon is still breaking in Jake Fisher at left tackle after Tyler Johnstone tore his ACL in spring camp, and the Spartans are not the ideal opponent for a jumbled offensive line.

Can Fisher hold up on the left after playing so long on the right? Can Andre Yruretagoyena hold up in Fisher's old spot?

"Andre has come along," said offensive coordinator Scott Frost, per Chantel Jennings of ESPN.com. "I think he was really raw when he got here. He has grown up a lot."

He'll need to play like he's grown up Saturday when Shilique Calhoun, Marcus Rush, Demetrius Cooper, Lawrence Thomas, Malik McDowell and the rest of Michigan State's defensive line come bearing down on him.

As has been the case against Stanford the past few seasons, Oregon's ability to win—or at least mitigate how much it loses by—in the trenches should be what ultimately decides the outcome.

Either way, this will be the sixth consecutive season that GameDay has packed up for Eugene. It's the first non-Pac-12 game in that stretch.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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Texas' Stout Defense in Week 1 Perfect Start for Charlie Strong Era

For the last several months, head coach Charlie Strong has promised Longhorn faithful that he would bring toughness back to Texas football.

The Longhorns delivered with a dominant defensive performance that produced four interceptions in a 38-7 victory over North Texas on Saturday night. 

North Texas' lone touchdown came on a David Ash end-zone fumble that the Mean Green defense recovered. 

In other words, the Longhorns defense shut out its opponent's offense. The defense held the Mean Green to 94 total yards of offense, and the longest play it gave up was eight yards. 

"You have to be very pleased with that on defense," Strong said of the defense not giving up a play longer than 10 yards. "If you're ever going to win a championship, you have to play great defense. And the defense kind of sets a tone for the whole game."

Some critics will look at this game and say the defense was only good because North Texas' offense had a lot of holes. But when was the last time a Texas defense held a Division I offense to 15 passing yards?

Better yet, when was the last time Texas held an opponent to less than 100 yards of total offense?

No matter who the opponent is, Texas' defense deserves a lot of credit for the performance it put up Saturday night.

"Keeping a team under 100 yards and shutting out its offense is what we are looking for," senior linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "They had just as much time to prepare for us as we had to prepare for them. They're Division I college football players as well, so I think we played well."

This increased toughness is something the Longhorns defense has lacked since 2011. Let's not sugar coat it: Texas' defensive performances in 2012 and 2013 were downright atrocious at times. And giving up big plays was a constant issue.

But the defense came out of the tunnel with fire in its eyes and will need to maintain that fire moving forward.

Next week, Texas will face a BYU team which embarrassed the defense in stunning fashion last season.

"I told them to enjoy this one, be ready and come back to work tomorrow," Strong said. "We are going to face a team that played well in their opener. And they are a team that embarrassed us last season with a quarterback who ran the ball all over our defense."

The Cougars return junior quarterback Taysom Hill, who was responsible for 259 yards of BYU's 550 total rushing yards against the Longhorns in 2013. Hill led the Cougars with 97 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns in a win over Connecticut on Friday night.

But the Texas defense is determined to shut down the talented quarterback and has been preparing to seek redemption since last year.

"It's one of those games that will go down in history," defensive end Cedric Reed said of last year's BYU performance. "We've had BYU marked on our calendars." 

The Longhorns will be able to silence any critics if they keep this momentum going, which is something Texas desperately needs to do to shed the "soft" label that has haunted the Longhorns defense since 2012.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow her on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

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