Out of habit, Alabama quarterback Jake Coker will have the “game manager” label slapped on him sometime between now and New Year’s Eve.
But the fifth-year senior is not the conservative, patient signal caller that SEC fans are used to seeing under center for Alabama. Coker likes to take chances. He likes to throw the ball up when under pressure.
In other words … he’s a gunslinger.
That mentality has hurt the Tide several times this year, and it nearly did in Saturday’s 29-15 SEC Championship game victory.
With Florida’s run defense providing little breathing room early, Alabama attempted six first-quarter passes instead of establishing the ground game. One was a corner route that Coker fired into the hands of Florida defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III. But instead of hauling it in for a game-changing interception, the Gator dropped it.
Later in the game, Coker unleashed two more ill-advised balls that somehow found their mark.
The title game’s lopsided score was shaped in large part by young Crimson Tide receivers Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart.
Down 7-5 late in the second quarter, Coker tossed a bomb down the middle of the field to Ridley. The problem: He was well-covered by two Florida defenders. Somehow, the 6-foot-1,188-pound wideout — who has more receptions in his first season than Alabama greats Julio Jones and Amari Cooper — split the defenders in the air and came down with the football for a 55-yard gain.
Two plays later, tailback Derrick Henry punched in a 2-yard touchdown run that put Alabama up for good.
The Crimson Tide iced their second straight conference championship when Coker lofted another questionable pass in the third quarter.
This one was underthrown to a heavily-covered Stewart in the right side of the end zone. But the sophomore made a great adjustment to the ball, located it at its high point, and held on for a 32-yard touchdown catch.
Coker finished with strong numbers — 18-of-26 for 204 yards, two scores and no picks — but he’d better thank his receiving corps for maintaining his status as “gunslinger,” and not “scapegoat.”