Sims, Cooper set records as Alabama beats FloridaBy Sean Landry | 09/25/2014 12:16am
With four minutes left in the first quarter, quarterback Blake Sims found Amari Cooper in yards of space, with the closest Florida defensive back so far away, he might as well have been on the sideline.
The junior receiver hauled in the fifth-year senior quarterback’s pass and strolled into the end-zone for a 79-yard touchdown reception – the first of three touchdowns on the day for Cooper, the 18th of his career and one of 10 connections between the Crimson Tide’s two newest offensive record holders.
No. 3 Alabama’s went on to defeat Florida 42-21 Saturday afternoon with the help of the record-breaking performances from Sims and Cooper.
After only four starts and a much-discussed position battle, Sims cemented his place in Alabama history and the starting job by accruing a school-record 484 yards of total offense, breaking the nearly 45-year-old mark of 457 yards set by Scott Hunter against Auburn. Sims was 23 of 33 passing for 445 yards and four touchdowns, good for second all-time in yards and touchdown passes in a single game for Alabama.
“When Blake takes what the defense gives, he’s instinctive and he makes good plays and decisions,” coach Nick Saban said. “He made a couple of nice plays scrambling today, which is going to be a real asset for him. People have to respect him as a passer. He has made too many plays and too many good throws for people to not respect him as a passer. He’s done a really good job for us.”
Cooper continued his early-season dominance, racking up 201 yards and three touchdowns on 10 receptions. By the end of the game, Cooper had 20 career touchdown receptions, the most all-time for the Crimson Tide. His 201-yard performance ranks third for Alabama, behind only Julio Jones and David Palmer, and was his sixth consecutive 100-yard game above the century mark - another school record.
“It’s the time that the camera’s not on us,” Sims said of his connection with Cooper. “The time that we put in, the effort that we put in – even not just Amari, all the wide receivers – we put in time after time. When the sun goes down, we’re still working.”
Alabama’s offense has been functioning at a blistering pace all season, recording over 600 yards in three of its four games, yet in each game, the offense has struggled in some way. Against the Gators, four Alabama turnovers held the Crimson Tide back.
“We had four turnovers, and three of them led to scores,” Saban said. “That’s something we need to clean up. We had 11 penalties, which is also something we need to clean up. We had 645 yards on offense, and I think defensively you have to think we did some good things. We just were inconsistent and sloppy at times, and we need to improve on that. They’re all correctable issues.”
Even with the penalties and turnovers, Alabama’s offense ran over the Gators. Derrick Henry’s 111 yards led a rushing attack that accumulated 196 yards. Saturday’s contest was the only game in Alabama history with a 400-yard passer, 200-yard receiver and 100-yard rusher.
“I think coach [Lane] Kiffin is a very smart offensive coordinator,” Cooper said. “He takes advantage of matchups and knows exactly what he’s doing.”
Defensively, Alabama’s secondary put in its best shift of the season against the toughest passing attack it has faced so far. The Crimson Tide held Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel to 9 of 28 passing for only 93 yards and intercepted two passes.
“The performance on defense was really good,” safety Landon Collins said. “We had communication going on all over the field. We stayed in tune with each other and we had great composure. Our big concept today was to get turnovers – interceptions or strips, anything we could get. That was our big thing, because if you want to be a champion, that’s what you need to do as a defense.”
True freshman Tony Brown started in place of injured Eddie Jackson and was immediately tasked with covering Florida’s top receiver, Demarcus Robinson. Brown helped hold Robinson to two catches for 14 yards.
“He played excellent,” Collins said. “He kept his composure and he played sound. That’s what we want out of our corners. He listened to us safeties and did what he had to do. That’s the best thing to do is communicate and watch.”
Alabama will be off next week, then will travel to No. 10 Ole Miss to continue its conference schedule.
“The Florida win is fantastic for us,” Collins said. “It is SEC play and one of the big games that you have to win because it can make or break your season. Going into the off week, we have to get at all of our fundamentals, reading our keys, and getting better at what we are doing.”
UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect a statistics correction issued by UA Athletics. Blake Sims is now credited with 27 more rushing yards than his original total of 12, for 484 yards of total offense, a new school record.