MORGANTOWN — To say that Dana Holgorsen isn’t concerned with which of Alabama’s two quarterbacks starts against West Virginia Saturday wouldn’t be entirely accurate.
After all, he’s as curious as anyone else.
Preoccupied with the decision, though? No, not really.
“A lot’s been made about their quarterback spot. I think too much has been made about their quarterback spot,’’ Holgorsen said Tuesday. “They’ve got two guys that are going to be able to run their offense.’’
When West Virginia opens its season Saturday at the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta, the Mountaineers will face an Alabama offense guided by either Blake Sims or Jacob Coker. Tide coach Nick Saban has either not decided which of the two will replace three-year starter A.J. McCarron or he just isn’t saying.
In some ways, the difference could actually be significant. Sims, a fifth-year senior who backed up McCarron for two seasons but has never started, has played in 24 games but thrown just 39 passes. At 6-foot, 208 pounds, he has some mobility and actually spent his redshirt freshman season as a running back. Some consider him the favorite to start because he’s been in the system four years.
That’s certainly not the case with Coker, who like West Virginia’s Clint Trickett graduated and transferred from Florida State with two years of eligibility remaining. But Coker, like Trickett, couldn’t graduate from FSU in time to make it to Alabama for spring practice, so he’s essentially had a month to learn what Sims has studied for four years.
Saban on Monday called it “stupid” to imagine that Coker would be as well-versed in Alabama’s offense as Sims, but on the other hand Coker is also a 6-5, 235-pounder with presumably a better arm than Sims. That’s what makes it more than simple curiosity on the part of West Virginia regarding which of the two gets the call on Saturday.
“They’re not the same quarterbacks,’’ Holgorsen said. “Sims has a little more athleticism, where Coker is a bigger pocket guy. We’ve got to be aware of who [is in the game] as far as elusiveness with one, but there’s only so much you can prepare for. The flip side of that is I doubt they’re going to have two different offenses for those guys.’’
The style of offense, of course, is another of the unknown variables in the quarterback equation. No, Alabama is not likely to look dramatically different depending upon who is behind center, but the Tide also has a new offensive coordinator this year in former Oakland Raiders, Tennessee and Southern California coach Lane Kiffin. Kiffin’s influence is also a question mark, although it seems highly unlikely that he’s been given a free hand to make wholesale changes.
So in that regard, perhaps the biggest unknown really is which quarterback trots out onto the field for Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. kickoff at the Georgia Dome. Perhaps that’s why Saban, if he has established a preference, prefers to keep the decision under wraps for as long as possible.
Then there’s the wild card in the whole discussion: Alabama could play both. Saban has done it before. In 2011, McCarron beat out Phillip Sims for the starting job after the two split time in the season opener against Saban’s alma mater, Kent State. That year McCarron and Phillip Sims alternated quarters.
“We don’t have any plans to do that at this point in this game, but that doesn’t mean that whatever pitcher starts the game is necessarily going to pitch nine innings,’’ Saban said Monday. “I mean, [Yankee manager] Joe Girardi tells [pitcher Masahiro] Tanaka he’s starting in the game, he’s not telling him he’s going to pitch nine innings. Does he tell them that or does he just pitch until he doesn’t pitch well anymore?’’
None of that, though, helps solve the West Virginia dilemma of trying to figure out which quarterback is most likely to play and for which one the Mountaineers should prepare. And so Holgorsen plays the guessing game and does what he can, which includes minimizing the significance of the question and concentrating on what WVU does know about the Tide.
“I don’t think what they do offensively is going to change a whole bunch,’’ Holgorsen said. “There’s a bunch of talent around the quarterback spot. They’ll more than likely play both.
“Besides, there’s not a lot of film to show them who [the two quarterbacks] are. Now, there’s a whole bunch of film on the rest of the guys and we know what we’re getting into.’’
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.