Blake Sims or Jake Coker?
That’s the question Alabama fans — and West Virginia fans, for that matter — are asking heading into Saturday’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game between the Crimson Tide and the Mountaineers.
Alabama’s situation at quarterback isn’t an unfamiliar one to the guys who will be wearing gold and blue when the game kicks off at 3:30 p.m. from Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. In fact, the similarities are staggering.
The Crimson Tide is trying to replace one of the school’s all-time greats, AJ McCarron, who won three national titles in his time in Tuscaloosa, Ala. McCarron was the Heisman Trophy runner-up last year, and he captured the Maxwell Award, before being selected in the fifth round of the NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.
His possible replacements include a veteran who has waited for his turn, Sims, and a transfer from Florida State, Coker.
Sound familiar Mountaineer fans?
At this same time last year, WVU was trying to replace one of its most successful quarterbacks, Geno Smith, and among the replacements were veteran Paul Millard and FSU transfer Clint Trickett.
Like Alabama coach Nick Saban, WVU’s leader, Dana Holgorsen, hadn’t announced a decision in the days leading up to the opener.
Holgorsen and company are happy the situation is different on their side this year. Trickett — who revealed during interviews on Tuesday that Saban’s daughter, Kristen, was his first kiss when their fathers were coaching together at LSU — was named the starter in the offseason, and he’s going into the opener with more confidence than ever before.
On the other side of the coin, though, the Mountaineers are having to prepare to defend two very different quarterbacks.
“Blake Sims is a little more athletic than Jake Coker, obviously,” said WVU’s first-year defensive coordinator, Tony Gibson. “I’m sure with Blake Sims they’ve got some quarterback run game stuff that we’ll have to defend. Coker’s more of a pocket passer.
“The No. 1 thing we have to do is make sure that we’re ready as a defense to run our package.”
Most in the WVU camp agree that the quarterback battle has been overblown. That’s because there are so many other weapons in Alabama’s offensive holster.
The Tide features one of the country’s best backfields with T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake, and they also have some top-notch receivers like Amari Cooper and DeAndrew White.
“It’s not real hard to play quarterback there to turn around and hand it to those three studs in the backfield, so they can get of of some binds just doing that,” said Gibson.
“They have weapons,” agreed junior linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski. “They have running backs and receivers. They can attack from multiple places, so we just have to be on our toes.”
Junior cornerback Terrell Chestnut, who is likely to get the start opposite sophomore Daryl Worley, said the Tide offense, even with new coordinator Lane Kiffin, isn’t complicated. Their success, he said, is built more on talent than Xs and Os.
“They are very methodical in what they do,” said Chestnut. “They don’t try to do anything special. They stick to what they do. They have a great team. It’s going to be a challenge, but we are ready.
“Everyone is tuned in and aware of who we are playing. At the end of the day, it’s not about Alabama. It’s about West Virginia.”
Saturday’s game will air live on ABC television.
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