Dangerous decisions by both Alabama quarterbacks did not hurt the Crimson Tide during Saturday afternoon’s 37-10 win over Middle Tennessee State, but that won’t be the case moving forward.
Nick Saban’s squad will get a big test from No. 17 Ole Miss next Saturday night in Tuscaloosa. The Rebels have scored at least 70 points in their past two contests, and while they likely won’t reach that mark again in SEC play, there’s little doubt that the ‘Bama offense will need to step up and outgun its Mississippi counterparts to win.
The pieces are there: An elite offensive line, a speedy playmaker in Kenyan Drake, and a Heisman Trophy-worthy bruiser in Derrick Henry all make life easier for the Tide.
But until Jake Coker or Cooper Bateman can provide reasons for optimism, fans should seriously reconsider whether or not this a Playoff-caliber team.
Coker got his second straight start on Saturday, and he displayed his usual cool in the pocket, as well as a confident throwing motion. But two plays in particular kept him off the field for most of the second half.
Up 14-3 and facing 1st-and-10 from the MTSU 33-yard-line, he rolled right, looking for ArDarius Stewart. The sophomore was covered, and Coker had a defender closing in. Instead of tossing the ball away, he took a big hit while slinging the rock into two defenders, who couldn’t quite haul in the potential end-zone interception.
Then, he made a worse decision — and toss — with 4:49 left in the second quarter, overthrowing a double-covered receiver deep downfield. MTSU’s Kevin Byard intercepted the ball and kept the Blue Raiders kicking.
Once Bateman entered the game, he made a pair of decisions that were just as scary.
On one of the mobile QB’s first throws in the third quarter, he tossed the ball right into the gut of Raiders defender Alex Dale, who dropped what probably would have been six points.
Later, while knocking on the MTSU end zone in the fourth, Bateman fired right to Jeremy Cutrer, who took the ball back 80 yards and set up the Raiders’ only touchdown of the day.
While neither QB finished with a bad stat line (Coker 15-of-26, 214/1/1, Bateman 11-of-17, 98/1/1), a closer look says otherwise:
Collectively bad day for Coker and Bateman. Aside from screens and shovel passes, they were a combined 16 of 33 with no TDs and two INTs
— Matt Zenitz (@mzenitz) September 12, 2015
SEC Country caught up with ESPN analyst Marcus Spears in Nashville on Friday. The former LSU defensive lineman thought ‘Bama “would win a lot of football games” if Coker could carry over his strong line from a season-opening win against Wisconsin.
But he also said that the team might be sunk without strong QB play.
“Last year, without Blake Sims, you might lose three games,” Spears said. “I know what Blake did at LSU in overtime. The Ohio State game — being able to scramble and make extra plays. You know, the loss to Ole Miss… I don’t think you play as well of a game without a mobile quarterback against those guys. He added value.”
The good news is: The Tide are rolling in most other departments.
“Between them and Ohio State, you’re probably looking at the two most talented teams — player for player — in the country,” Spears said.
Talent tends to go to waste when paired with inefficient quarterback play. Saban knows where Coker and Bateman need to be before ‘Bama hits the teeth of the nation’s hardest schedule.
But a potential undressing — on national TV, no less — is only seven nights away.