TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama learned a lot from its season-opening win over West Virginia on Saturday, but it came at a cost as the Crimson Tide lost a pair of veteran starters for a significant amount of time.
Jarrick Williams, a senior defensive back with 10 career starts, will miss four weeks with a fractured foot, and DeAndrew White, a senior starting wide receiver, will miss two weeks with a shoulder injury, coach Nick Saban announced Monday.
Who will be throwing the football to White's replacement at receiver, though, remains unclear.
"When I figure it out, I won't tell you," Saban said with a smile.
Sims started and played all but a few snaps against West Virginia, completing 73 percent of his pass attempts. Coker came on late, handing the ball off a few times before the game ended.
"I still don't hesitate to say there's a quarterback competition," Saban said.
Regardless of whether Sims ever worried about beating out Jacob Coker during fall camp, the starting job is his, and after a decent first start -- and win -- it’s clear his team has the utmost trust in him to be the leader in Tuscaloosa.
“He earned that position to start and did a fantastic job at it,” safety Landon Collins said.
Sims knows he was far from perfect, but he also knows he rebounded well after some poor plays to march the Tide down the field for scoring drives. He actually directed back-to-back scoring drives twice in the first half of his debut. He was a leader who calmed guys down in the huddle. And he learned from his own mistakes as the game went on.
Most importantly, he learned that handing the ball off to T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry will make his job much easier, and targeting Amari Cooper is a very, very good thing. He hit Cooper 12 times for 130 yards, and it’s no surprise that his first attempt went Cooper’s way, which resulted in a 24-yard pickup.
“It got the nerves out. That let me know that everybody’s behind me,” Sims said.
Oh, and they were. Players said they never got down on Sims when he struggled or got out of rhythm in the second half. His coach even went against his own nature and implemented some no-huddle in the second half to get Sims more comfortable and loosen him up after a slow start.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the guy,” offensive lineman Austin Shepherd said. “I’ve been here five years with him and I’m happy [for him]. He played an awesome game.
“I told him before the game, ‘Man, we got you. Don’t worry about a thing. Whatever you do, we’ll back you 100 percent and we’ll get you out of it.’”
Coach Nick Saban said Sims got a little rattled in the second half and called some formations incorrectly that forced the Tide to burn a couple of timeouts. Saban even flirted with the idea of bringing Coker in, but decided to leave Sims in and see how the no-huddle helped him.
“That one little stretch in the second quarter where we got a little bit out of sync was really the only time, but I thought Blake did a really good job,” Saban said. “… But all in all for him to throw for 250 yards, he did a pretty good job of executing, and I’m happy with his progress.”
Sims was happy with his performance but understands he still has a ways to go. There were easy throws that he just plain missed on, but he turned around and stood tall with some big passes to extend drives. He threw out of bounds when he needed. He checked down when he had to. And his legs got him out of a few sticky situations.
“I feel like I did OK,” Sims said. “I can get better in all situations.”
He’ll have to, and the next few tuneups before facing Florida’s defense should help him do that.
The Auburn Tigers struggled with the power running game. The same Arkansas Razorbacks' offense that ranked last in the SEC a year ago manhandled the Tigers’ front seven, posting 21 points by halftime.
The South Carolina Gamecocks just didn’t show up. Steve Spurrier’s defense laid down for the Texas A&M Aggies. His star running back, Mike Davis, shouldn’t have bothered dressing out.
By the time Monday rolled around, the dust settled and the big picture of the SEC became clear, it wasn’t what anyone expected. Somehow it was the Georgia Bulldogs and Texas A&M left standing as seemingly the league’s best hope of reaching the playoff.
But with all due respect to Todd Gurley’s inhuman exploits and Kenny Hill’s inspired performance, should we be sold? For that matter, should we be ready to call anyone the class of the SEC?
Right now there are far more questions than answers. Everyone, it seems, has flaws.
The East is a toss-up. Georgia certainly holds promise, but quarterback Hutson Mason still needs to show he can carry an offense, Gurley has to stay healthy and the secondary must continue improving despite missing so many starters from a season ago. South Carolina, meanwhile, has to do a complete 180 or it will lose to Georgia in two weeks and find itself in an insurmountable hole. Then there are the Florida Gators, who are a complete unknown given Mother Nature’s refusal to let them finally turn the page on 2013.
The West is even more convoluted. Texas A&M might be the real deal, but its offense is so young and it is still too early to say whether Mark Snyder has orchestrated the most impressive turnaround in history with that defense. Alabama has serious questions on defense, too, and at quarterback we might be jumping the gun a bit in proclaiming Blake Sims the answer. LSU could very well settle on Anthony Jennings under center, but he has the potential to be a reboot of Jordan Jefferson, which isn’t a good thing. Then there is Auburn, stuck with too many quarterbacks and not enough defenders, not to mention its brutal schedule.
If you’re looking for one of the favorites to run away with it, don’t hold your breath. In fact, if Week 1 showed us anything, it’s that while there are a bunch of good teams in the SEC, there is no one dominant team like in years past.
The Missouri Tigers won handily, the Ole Miss Rebels turned it on in the second half and the Mississippi State Bulldogs cruised to victory. All three should feel good about their dreams of reaching Atlanta.
Arkansas looked improved. So did the Kentucky Wildcats and Tennessee Volunteers. Though none of the them should go booking trips for the postseason, they could play the role of spoilers.
The only real slouch is the Vanderbilt Commodores.
When it comes time for playoff jockeying and the "my conference vs. your conference" disputes, parity will be the SEC’s No. 1 point of emphasis. But it will also be the reason it doesn’t yield an undefeated or even a one-loss team.
Alabama will get better. So will LSU and Auburn. Even South Carolina should improve with time. It is, in fact, only Week 1 we’re talking about.
But first impressions do mean something, and the first look we had of the SEC revealed a pack of teams loaded with potential but saddled with problems.
Until we find out who is ready to take a step forward and lead, it will continue to be a wide open race.
Kenny Hill, QB, Texas A&M: The award for most obvious helmet sticker goes to the Aggies' sophomore quarterback, who dazzled in his first start. Hill broke Johnny Manziel's single-game school record with 511 yards passing. His 44 completions (on 60 attempts) broke another Manziel record and were the second most in SEC history. We'd give a special sticker to head coach Kevin Sumlin if he only wore a helmet, because Sumlin's offense might be the biggest story of the league's opening weekend.
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia: Another obvious sticker recipient, Gurley carried his Bulldogs to a huge statement win against Clemson. His 293 all-purpose yards broke Rodney Hampton's school single-game record. Gurley had 198 yards rushing with three touchdowns as well as a 100-yard kickoff-return TD that wrestled momentum back for UGA after Clemson had taken a 21-14 lead. As a precaution, Georgia limited his carries to 15, and Gurley still averaged 13.2 yards per carry. Imagine what he could do with a full load.
Alabama running backs: With a new quarterback and a feisty opponent, the Crimson Tide needed every ounce of effort from their stellar backfield tandem. When the final whistle blew and Bama had edged West Virginia, there was little to distinguish between the results of junior T.J. Yeldon (126 yards rushing and two touchdowns) and sophomore Derrick Henry (113 yards and one touchdown). Sometimes Yeldon starts a drive, sometimes Henry does. It's anyone's guess which back finishes them.
Cameron Artis-Payne, RB, Auburn: In his second career start for the Tigers, the senior and former juco transfer showed little drop-off as the replacement for star running back Tre Mason. Artis-Payne proved capable of being Auburn's bell cow with a total of 26 carries. After scoring a first-quarter touchdown, he helped the Tigers wear out the Razorbacks defense in the second half with 122 of his career-high 177 rushing yards.
Cody Core, WR, Ole Miss: There were plenty of worthy candidates for Week 1 helmet stickers, but Core deserves to bask in the limelight after dealing with the tragic loss of his mother in late July and then fighting his way up the depth chart in preseason camp to win a starting job. Core had four catches for 110 yards, including the Rebels' two biggest plays of the night -- a 30-yard TD grab in the first quarter to open the scoring and a decisive 76-yard catch-and-run TD in the fourth quarter.
For now, though, let’s recap some of what we’ve learned so far about the SEC of 2014.
Alabama -- particularly its reconstructed secondary -- had all sorts of problems against West Virginia and its vaunted passing game. Defending league champ Auburn remains an offensive juggernaut, but its defense got manhandled at times early by an improving Arkansas offense. And LSU was on the verge of getting blown out early in the second half before a fake punt gave the Tigers some life, helping them rally from a 24-7 deficit to beat Wisconsin 28-24.
With Texas A&M and Georgia also making statements with impressive wins in their season debuts, it’s evident that nobody has a cakewalk to reach Atlanta. The preseason favorites all have questions to answer, and there are several candidates to rise from the middle of the pack to challenge them.
Heisman hopefuls make moves: Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill wasn’t the only SEC player to jump into the Heisman Trophy conversation. Hill’s school-record 511 passing yards and three touchdowns on 44-for-60 passing had to go down as one of the most impressive starting debuts in recent memory. But he had company among SEC offensive standouts.
Todd Gurley broke Rodney Hampton’s Georgia record with 293 all-purpose yards against Clemson -- 198 on the ground and 100 more on a kickoff return for a touchdown (he lost five yards receiving). Between his running and a dominant second half from Jeremy Pruitt’s defense, the Bulldogs were able to bury Clemson 45-21.
Cameron Artis-Payne ran for 122 yards in the second half against Arkansas and finished with 26 carries for 177 yards and a touchdown as Auburn held the Razorbacks scoreless in the second half to put away a 45-21 win.
Quarterback races progress: Hill made as emphatic a statement as possible about his status as Texas A&M’s starting quarterback after winning a preseason battle. But some of the league’s other QB races remain, well, unclear.
Blake Sims (24-33, 250 yards, INT, plus 42 rushing yards) did a fine job in taking nearly every snap in Alabama’s win over West Virginia. And Patrick Towles (20-29, 377 yards, TD, plus a 23-yard rushing score) was outstanding in Kentucky’s rout of overmatched Tennessee-Martin.
But then a couple of QB battles don’t seem resolved at all. LSU’s Anthony Jennings played most of the game against Wisconsin, but the Tigers’ offense struggled mightily before closing with a flourish. He finished 9-for-21 for 238 yards and two touchdowns. However, freshman Brandon Harris looked lost during the one series he was in the game, so he doesn’t appear to be a better option right now.
Vanderbilt also faces a bit of a quandary at the position. Stephen Rivers (12-25, 186 yards, INT), Patton Robinette (4-6, 38 yards) and Johnny McCrary (0-3, 2 INTs) all played, but nothing went right for the Commodores in a 37-7 loss to Temple.
We’ll see how Tennessee’s Justin Worley fares on Sunday night after winning the Volunteers’ preseason QB battle.
Bad teams are better: Arkansas and Kentucky -- two teams that went winless in SEC play a season ago -- made it clear that they will be tougher in 2014.
It’s difficult to know what to make of Kentucky’s 59-14 win over UT-Martin. We probably shouldn’t read too much into a blowout against a middling FCS program, after all. And yet the Wildcats showed off some impressive new weapons.
How about Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard taking his only two carries for touchdowns of 73 and 43 yards? And Towles connecting with 10 different receivers? It was an impressive debut to be sure.
Even in a losing effort, Arkansas’ physicality had to be what Razorbacks fans wanted to see from a club that lost nine straight games to close out the 2013 season. They pushed Auburn around for a portion of the game and were still thinking upset until Auburn’s Jermaine Whitehead made it a two-touchdown game by returning a deflected pass for a score with 2:39 left in the third quarter.
Auburn really can pass: We heard all offseason that Auburn would put the ball in the air more frequently this season, and it looks like the Tigers have the pieces in place to do that.
Junior college transfer D'haquille Williams was outstanding in his Auburn debut, catching nine passes for 154 yards and a touchdown, while Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson combined to throw for 293 yards and a pair of scores. The ground game is still the Tigers’ calling card (Auburn rushed for 302 yards), but they’re going to be even tougher to defend if they keep throwing like this.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- We pontificate and analyze and study for months, and then the games start, and we find out how much we don't know. We write and speak with good intentions. We're as excited about the season getting here as you are.
But then, like most newborns, it acts nothing like imagined. Little 2014 has a mind of its own, and already we see the darling barely resembles our expectations.
We thought Florida State was invincible, and it's not.
We thought the SEC would hang on to its predominance, and it didn't.
It's August, not November, and we are trying to solve big puzzles with small clues.
All that practice, all those meetings, all that information has to be synthesized and turned into efficient, crisp football. History tells us we don't see a lot of that on Labor Day weekend. But who remembers history when there's a new season to embrace?
No. 21 Texas A&M kicked off the season by looking all grown up and embarrassing No. 9 South Carolina 52-28. But the Aggies proved to be the anomaly. No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 15 USC dominated overmatched foes.
No. 2 Alabama looked exactly like Florida State and against a similar opponent, and they defeated West Virginia, 33-23. Those games might have been won on the past couple national signing days. When neither team is executing well, talent rules the day. It might wait until the fourth quarter, when minds are tired and precision is an elusive goal. No. 5 Ohio State and No. 13 LSU eventually found a way to beat Navy and No. 14 Wisconsin, respectively.
ATLANTA -- We got a little bit of a shootout inside the Georgia Dome on Saturday, but No. 2 Alabama prevailed with a 33-23 win over West Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff. Season openers can be tricky -- and sometimes ugly -- and Alabama, which is a favorite to make the College Football Playoff, had a relatively up-and-down performance in the ATL, but will head back to Tuscaloosa 1-0.
New starting quarterback Blake Sims had some rough moments against West Virginia, but regrouped well and made some big plays throughout the game with his arm and legs. Finding All-SEC receiver Amari Cooper was smart (12 catches for 130 yards), but handing the ball off to his running backs really paid off, especially when he gave the rock to Derrick Henry halfway through the third quarter.
1. Hustling Henry
Let's face it, the third quarter of this game started off a little stale. After seeing 37 points and 500 yards of offense in the first half, we got a failed fourth-down attempt and a missed field goal. Then, things started clicking for the Crimson Tide on their second drive. With Alabama moving at will against the Mountaineers' defense, Sims handed the ball off to the super sophomore, who immediately cut to his left. As a hole opened up, Henry put on the jets and flew through both lines before pushing off one last defender and leaping into the end zone to put Alabama up 27-17 with 7:44 remaining in the third quarter. Alabama only managed two more field goals after Henry's score. It proved to be the biggest score of the game for the Crimson Tide, as they fought off a valiant comeback effort from the Mountaineers.
Henry: "It was the outside zone play and the tight end made the block and I just read it. I hit the hole and [went] right into the end zone."
Defensive lineman Jonathan Allen: "It gave us more energy and more focus because once we make a big play, we want to capitalize on it and try to keep that momentum going. It really got the momentum in our favor when Derrick scored."
Right tackle Austin Shepherd: "I think we were going 'Speed Ball' or something and we were just trying to wear West Virginia down so we were just going fast. I guess the hole opened and he got out there and made it work. We were just trying to attack and we did. ... We were trying to punish them, man. Every chance you got, drive them into the ground, get in their hand and they'll start thinking about it and finally they'll wear down."
2. Slippery snap
Henry's play didn't officially put the game away for Alabama, but a bad snap from West Virginia center Tyler Orlosky severely hurt the Mountaineers' chances of pulling of a major upset Saturday. With Alabama clinging to a 30-20 lead with 14:25 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Mountaineers closed in on what should have been another touchdown drive. Quarterback Clint Trickett had already marched his offense down to Alabama's 5-yard line and after two tough incomplete passes that took two touchdowns off the board, Trickett lined up in the shotgun, only to have Orlosky send the snap soaring over his head and outstretched arms. The ball hit the ground and rolled a bit before Trickett landed on it 19 yards behind the line of scrimmage. The play took the Mountaineers out of touchdown range and forced them to kick a field goal. West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen could barely stand to look at the field after Trickett collapsed on the ball. It swallowed up all the momentum the Mountaineers had and clearly sapped some of the offense's energy. Only a couple plays later, West Virginia got the ball back by way of a Sims interception, but went three plays and punted.
Linebacker Denzel Devall: "We just use things like that to keep boosting us up. No matter how bad things may seem or go, we just keep fighting. That's the main thing. Once we saw that happen, we just knew we were doing something good [next]."
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAlabama rushed for 158 yards in the second half
Alabama won its season-opener on the strength of its running game and a smart passing game plan. However, its defense left something to be desired. Here’s a look at what you need to know about the Tide’s opening game.
Second-half rushing surge
Alabama returned to its bread and butter in the second half, pounding the ball up the middle with T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, who combined for 152 yards in the final 30 minutes. Alabama rushed for 109 yards between the tackles in the second half against West Virginia, slightly better than the 106 yards per game the school averaged on such rushes last season.
Yeldon and Henry each rushed for over 100 yards in this game, the first time those two rushed for 100 yards in the same game. Alabama only had two games last year in which it had two rushers crack the century mark.
Sims keeps it simple
Blake Sims completed 73 percent of his passes in his first career start for Alabama. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin kept the game plan simple, with just four of Sims' 33 pass attempts traveling 15 or more yards downfield.
Sims also relied heavily on Amari Cooper. He was 12 of 15 for 130 yards when targeting Amari Cooper and 12 of 18 for 120 yards when targeting everyone else.
Unlikely defensive struggles for Alabama
West Virginia's Clint Trickett threw for 365 yards against Alabama, the third-most passing yards allowed by the Tide in the Nick Saban era and over double what it allowed per game last season (180.3 yards). The only quarterback to throw for more yards against a Nick Saban-coached Alabama team was Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, who threw for 464 yards against the Tide last season. Big plays also hurt Alabama as the Mountaineers had 17 completions of 10 yards or more, the most the Tide allowed since the 2009 Sugar Bowl.
Drive Through: Alabama, FSU Lackluster
Final 21 Texas A&M 52 9 South Carolina 28 Final Boise State 13 18 Ole Miss 35 Final Temple 37 Vanderbilt 7
Suspended Idaho 0 Florida 0
Final Tennessee-Martin 14 Kentucky 59 Final South Dakota State 18 24 Missouri 38 Final West Virginia 23 2 Alabama 33 Final Arkansas 21 6 Auburn 45 Final 16 Clemson 21 12 Georgia 45 Final Southern Miss 0 Mississippi State 49 Final 14 Wisconsin 24 13 LSU 28