ARLINGTON, Texas — Jake Coker played the best game of his career on Thursday night.
The 25-for-30, 286-yard, two-touchdown Cotton Bowl performance shocked those who had come to expect a mediocre Alabama passing attack this season.
Coker — named the game’s offensive MVP — undoubtedly caught NFL scouts’ attention in the 38-0 win over Michigan State. He connected with Calvin Ridley on a pair of impressive deep balls, and showed off his arm strength on several other tosses under pressure.
Players and coaches on the Alabama sideline have been seeing that All-American level of play in practice all season.
“That’s the Jake that we’ve known since he came here,” running back Damien Harris said. “A lot of people don’t really see that, because obviously, we’ve got Derrick (Henry). We’ve got Kenyan (Drake). We’ve got all these great guys. But in all of our eyes, Coker’s one of the leaders of this team. We voted him team captain for a reason.”
Tight end Michael Nysewander said Coker led the team’s off-field approach in Dallas.
“He’s been mentally locked in,” the senior said. “You’re out in a different city. You can choose to go out and be out all night, or you can choose to come in and get some sleep and get prepared for the game. Jake did a great job with that all week.”
Coach Nick Saban has been impressed with his quarterback’s patience.
“He’s not a selfish guy at all,” Saban said. “He never complains about we don’t throw it down the field enough. He just tries to do what he can do for his team.”
Sometimes, that involves lowering his shoulder into opposing linebackers.
Nysewander said Coker “plays with a chip on his shoulder” and “with a lot of grit.” Harris agreed.
“He ain’t scared of nobody,” Harris said. “He’s proven he can lower his shoulder on plenty of people. We can always depend on him, and we know that he’ll be there to make a play if a play needs to be made.”