Sept. 1, 2014
By Christopher Walsh for RollTide.com
ATLANTA -- Imagine for a moment what it must have been like.
Blake Sims waited for four years to finally get his chance. He tried different positions, probably took more snaps on the scout team than any other scholarship player and kept plugging away. There was even the added pressure of playing before hometown fans, and you know there were numerous family and friends cheering him on at the Georgia Dome on Saturday.
All told, Sims handled it all extremely well. In his first start since playing quarterback as a senior at Gainesville (Ga.) High in 2009, he completed 24 of 33 passes (72.7 percent) for 250 yards while helping lead Alabama to a 33-23 victory over West Virginia.
"I worked hard and I was just happy Coach (Nick) Saban gave me the opportunity," Sims said.
However, this wasn't just about starting, but starting at quarterback for Alabama, which considering its fan base could be the most high-profile position in all of college football. In addition to joining an incredible fraternity that includes Joe Namath, Kenny Stabler, Harry Gilmer, Richard Todd, Jay Barker and Pat Trammell, only three players had started for the Crimson Tide since Brodie Croyle finished his collegiate career in 2005.
John Parker Wilson replaced in him in 2006, Greg McElroy (2009-10) followed with 27 consecutive starts and AJ McCarron (2011-13) just completed a run of 40 straight starts over three years.
McCarron was one of numerous former Crimson Tide players on-hand Saturday, and before kickoff he reminded Sims of one of the team's favorite sayings about focus: "See a little, see a lot. See a lot, see nothing."
"He told me to keep my composure, take what they give me," Sims said.
For the most part he did. Sims admitted that he got a little nervous - and how could he not - before completing his first pass, a 24-yard quick screen right to Amari Cooper that was aided by a very good block by DeAndrew White. It helped ease any anxiety, as did the next quick pass, this time to Cooper on his left.
"Blake is a very confident guy, and a very humble guy," Cooper said.
He did miss some throws, but Saban told reporters after the game that the only time he seriously considered making a change was in the second quarter when Sims appeared to get a little rattled.
The offense went on to complete the 88-yard touchdown drive with Sims giving an emotional arm pump after running back T.J. Yeldon dove into the end zone.
"He seemed more calm," sophomore running back Derrick Henry said about Sims in the second half.
The last time an Alabama quarterback started his first game as a senior was John David Phillips, who led a 38-31 victory against BYU in 1998. Fittingly, when Sims set the program records for most attempts and completions for a quarterback making his first start, it was Phillips' marks that he surpassed.
"I couldn't be more proud of the guy," junior right tackle Austin Shepherd said. "He pretty much just gets in the huddle and he is ready to go. I kept telling him no matter what happens, we've got your back."
Sims nearly went over the 300-yard mark as well, which would have topped Croyle's debut record of 285 at Arkansas in 2002, but still statistically topped his immediate predecessors.
While it was how he played before 100,000-plus people at Penn State that won McCarron the job in 2011, some people forget that wasn't his first start. While splitting time with Phillip Sims he completed 14 of 23 passes (60.9 percent) for 226 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions against Kent State. The performance added up to a 140.4 pass-efficiency rating.
Against the Nittany Lions he was 19 of 31 (61.3) for 163 yards, one touchdown, and a 140.4 rating.
During McElroy's first start in 2009, also at the Georgia Dome against Virginia Tech, he was 15 of 30 (50.0) for 240 yards, one touchdown and one interception for a 118.73 rating.
On Saturday night inside the Georgia Dome against a quality opponent, Sims turned in a quarterback efficiency rating of 130.30 against the Mountaineers and seemed to play better with every bit of new experienced he gained.
The spring and the summer I wasn't worried about being the starter,' Sims said. "I was worried about getting the team to this point. When the time came I was going to be ready."