For arguably the first time in over a half-decade, there’s some legitimate concern surrounding Alabama heading into the 2015 college football season.
Considered the King of the South, the Crimson Tide are 84-11 over the last seven years, claiming four SEC titles and three BCS National Championships. However, an embarrassing loss to Oklahoma in the 2013 Sugar Bowl and first-round exit in last season’s College Football Playoff have some declaring Nick Saban’s dynasty a thing of the past.
If Alabama’s spring game was any indication of how this upcoming season will play out, then the doubters will have plenty more to talk about; the days of A.J. McCarron and Blake Sims are gone, and judging by the stats alone, you would imagine that there is a serious hole at the quarterback position.
Five quarterbacks combined to finish 46-of-83 (55.4 percent) for 5.1 yards per attempt, including three touchdowns to six interceptions and a lost fumble. Jacob Coker, last year’s backup and the projected starter, went 14-of-28 for 183 yards with a touchdown and interception, posting the group’s best numbers against the first-string defense.
“You’re going to ask me about all the stuff and look at this and say, ‘Well, these two guys played better,’” Saban said during the post-game press conference. “Well, if I had to play on those two teams, I would have played better on the White team. That’s me playing quarterback, OK? I can sling it a little bit. I can’t see very well, and I might not be able to avoid the rush like I used to, but I’m just saying they had a much better opportunity.
“We lost a lot of players on offense, so we don’t have a lot of depth right now, so it affected the second unit a lot more than the first, especially when you add a few guys that are injured. So those guys had a better opportunity to have success today, and they took advantage and did a good job.”
Coker’s White team – made up of the current first-team offense and second-team defense – won the game 27-14, where redshirt junior Alec Morris contributed as the No. 2 by completing 7-of-11 passes for 60 yards. On the opposite end, David Cornwell, Cooper Bateman, and Blake Barnett went 21-of-38 with 157 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions. They were also sacked five times against the second-string defense.
“You kind of take the plays that the quarterback couldn’t make, because he didn’t have a chance to make, and you really can’t fault him for that,” said Saban. “You take the opportunities that maybe they had where they had protection, they had time, they had open people—did they throw the ball to the right place? Were they able to throw it accurately? Did they make good decisions? I think you have to sort of separate the things that they can control and the things that they can’t control and sort of evaluate it that way.”
While it would be easy to dismiss Alabama and its ugly offensive display, it’s also April – and that gives Saban four more months to prepare his quarterbacks for another run at the College Football Playoff. Besides, recent history tells us that a spring game should mean almost nothing in terms of what the final product will look like.
Blake Sims went 13-of-30 with 178 yards, two interceptions and a touchdown during last year’s A-Day performance. He then went on to lead a record-setting offense, breaking several Alabama quarterback marks along the way.
The only thing keeping Saban up at night are the turnovers.
“When Jason Garrett was here, he had NFL stats from five years, 10 years, 15 years, 20 years,” Saban said. “When you’re plus-one in turnovers, you’ve got, like, an 80 percent chance to win. When you’re plus-two, you’ve got a 95 percent chance to win, and it goes up from there.
“That’s really important, to get them and take care of the ball. We need to do a better job of that.”
From that standpoint, Coker probably has the edge heading into the rest of the offseason, but even he had his fair shares of struggles and looked uncomfortable far too often for a starting quarterback.
Alabama’s quarterback competition won’t be decided until deep into fall camps, and the winner will be handed the gaudy pressures of retaining a dynasty by winning championships.