DALLAS — When it comes to star power in this College Football Playoff, Jake Coker is the odd quarterback out.
Alabama’s senior passer is not on the level of Michigan State’s Connor Cook, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield — all three of whom landed national honors this month.
There’s one thing that sets him apart from the others, though.
“Confidence,” ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit told SEC Country on Wednesday. “The other three get a lot of talk, and they should, but Jake Coker has really done a very good job of improving and maintaining, I think, a little bit of an edge.”
Herbstreit covered two of the Crimson Tide’s early games this season. What he saw was a team without an identity, and a quarterback without moxie.
“Early in the year, he was trying to avoid that mistake that could cost his team, and then he got benched,” Herbstreit said. “Then he got mad. You see him scramble, he looks like a bull in a china shop running around. He’s a big dude that’s athletic, so I think he brings a lot to the table.”
There’s a problem, though.
“I think it’s still in him,” Herbstreit said. “He’s done a good job of avoiding it.”
That “it” is Coker’s propensity for head-scratching decisions. Sky balls in the direction of triple coverage have left many fans frustrated, and the 23-year-old often struggles when his first read does not pan out.
“When he’s not sure about a pass, instead of throwing it away, he’ll hold it,” Hebstreit said. “Then he’ll either scramble, or he gets sacked. I think that’s still a factor in this game. Michigan State is very, very athletic on defense.”
If Alabama is not able to build a lead with Derrick Henry and its running game, the Crimson Tide will be forced to rely on Coker’s arm.
“If you see him hitch once and he doesn’t get rid of the ball, and then goes another hitch, another hitch,” Herbstreit said, “either he’s gonna scramble and pick up 10 or 15 yards, or he’s gonna get sacked, or he’s gonna turn it over. Because he’ll throw it into trouble.
“So it’s still in him. He’s just gotta do a good job of avoiding some poor decisions.”