ATLANTA – West Virginia sent waves of rushers at the new Alabama quarterback, and Blake Sims kept dodging them.
The replacement for the Crimson Tide’s all-time wins leader A.J. McCarron made enough throws from the pocket and sidestepped blitzers when they came free. Sims threw for 250 yards and ran for 42, which was more than West Virginia amassed as a team.
“He was a little more elusive than I thought,” said Tony Gibson, the Mountaineers’ first-time defensive coordinator.
West Virginia, needing to ramp up its sack totals from the previous two seasons, didn’t record a sack in losing 33-23 to No. 2 Alabama on Saturday. There were several occasions, however, when Gibson seemed certain Sims was in trouble.
“We could’ve had five sacks on the kid, but he slipped off,” Gibson said. “We were clean on three blitzes, really dialed in. We had a corner blitz we missed and K.J. (Dillon) had him two or three different times. We’ve got to make those plays.”
With Sims wriggling free, Alabama’s offense put up 538 yards—an average of 6.6 per play. The fifth-year quarterback heavily favored All-American receiver Amari Cooper, who put up 130 yards while catching 12 of Sims’ 24 completions.
Of course, Sims’ first significant game experience was assisted by the Tide’s running back tandem of T.J.Yeldon and Derrick Henry, who combined for 245 yards and three touchdowns on 40 carries. They helped Alabama to a wide margin in possession—37:47 to 22:13—which included more than 10 minutes in the fourth quarter.
“That’s 82 plays for Alabama, and they probably averaged 65 a year ago,” Gibson said. “When they run 82 plays, and you get pounded on, I’m sure our front six guys are hurting right now.”
After the Tide converted 9-of-16 third downs, Gibson said WVU’s execution didn’t match its effort.
“I’m disappointed—I thought that we would execute better,” Gibson said. “I think we played hard, but we didn’t play smart all the time.”
Missed tackles: No play befuddled Gibson more than the seemingly harmless dump pass Sims threw to DeAndrew White on third-and-13 before halftime. The Alabama receiver juked and danced his way through the defense for a 38-yard gain that led to the go-ahead field goal at 20-17.
“We play zone and drop eight and we missed six tackles on one play,” Gibson said. “That play right there just broke our back—we had all the momentum. It was 17-17 and we just didn’t make a play.”
Saban nearly pulled Sims: Though Sims appeared to be Alabama’s clear-cut No. 1 quarterback, Saban said he considered inserting Florida State transfer Jacob Coker during the first half.
“Blake got a little bit rattled, all right, and I told Jake, ‘Get loosened up. If he doesn’t settle down, we’re going to have to put you in the game,'” Saban said.
Though Sims was 15-of-19 passing in the first half, his confusion over communication worried Saban.
“He called a couple formations wrong in the huddle, he called a couple plays wrong,” Saban said. “We had to burn a couple timeouts. We went down to one on the shot clock a couple times. There was confusion on the field. That’s when I said to Lane, I said, ‘Hey, let’s just go no‑huddle and it’ll make it a lot simpler for him,’ and when we did that, he sort of got it back together and then he was fine after that.”