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With All Eyes on Alabama Quarterbacks, Jake Coker Turns in Near-Flawless Performance in First Start

Jake Coker

Jake Coker

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Guess the Jake Coker hand-wringing by Alabama fans can stop now.

After he wasn't able to beat out Blake Sims last August and then wasn't able to convincingly win the starting quarterback job this August, many Alabama followers were starting to wonder if the much-hyped Florida State transfer was just destined to be a career college clipboard holder.

Related: Top 10 Alabama Preseason QB Battles of Post-Bear Bryant Era

Maybe this would be a season for Cooper Bateman or Alec Morris to just keep the quarterback seat warm for super freshman Blake Barnett, likely in line to redshirt this year, to slide into next fall. Then came Saturday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

With the spotlight shining intently on Alabama's QB position, Coker didn't just start under center for the Crimson Tide, he coolly handled the immense pressure and put together a near-flawless performance, helping lead No. 3 Alabama to a 35-17 win over No. 20 Wisconsin.

Coker played so well, in fact, that head coach Nick Saban and his staff didn't trot Bateman, a sophomore signal-caller, out onto the field until very late in the third quarter.

"Jake was playing pretty well, so we stayed with (him)," Saban said after the game.

Most expected Bateman to enter Saturday night's season opener much sooner than he did. Thing is, Alabama simply didn't need a spark at the QB spot. Not with the way Coker was playing. In three quarters of play, the 6-foot-5, 232-pound senior finished 15-of-21 (71 percent completion rate) for 213 yards, one touchdown and, perhaps most importantly, zero interceptions.

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How did Coker's performance stack up against other recent Alabama quarterbacks making their first start in a marquee season-opener against a high-profile opponent at a neutral site? Very well. In 2009, Greg McElroy completed 50 percent of his passes in Alabama's win over Virginia Tech in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, and last season Sims completed 73 percent of his passes in Alabama's win over West Virginia on the same field. And Coker avoided what McElroy and Sims were not able to in their first starts – throwing a pick.

Not surprisingly, after the game, Saban said he was pleased with Coker's performance and ticked off a laundry list of all the positive things the Mobile, Ala., native did in the contest.

"He moved the team, he executed the offense, he threw the ball where he was supposed to throw it, he threw accurately, he didn't make a lot of mental errors, he didn't have a lot of communication problems," Saban said of his highly scrutinized quarterback.

Seven different guys caught passes from Coker, but spreading the ball around like that wasn't necessarily by design. It was just Coker, in each instance, picking out the right guy to throw the ball to.

"He made the right reads based on the call that was made and based on what Wisconsin was playing," Saban explained.

Coker's teammates were impressed with the way he played too.

"Jacob Coker did a great job and had great poise in leading the offense," said running back Derrick Henry, who ran for 147 yards and three touchdowns in the victory.

Added center Ryan Kelly: "(Coker) did great. He's just a real poised leader."

McElroy and Sims both went on to lead the Crimson Tide to a championship in their first season as Alabama’s starting quarterback. McElroy guided the Tide to both an SEC and national championship in '09, while Sims steered Bama to an SEC title last year. Will Coker follow suit?

Only time will tell. But after the way Coker played in his first start Saturday night, it might be hard now to bet against him.

— Written by Erik Stinnett, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Stinnett is an experienced college football beat writer who has been covering Alabama since 2009.