Alabama senior quarterback Blake Sims is having quite the season when it comes to proving people wrong.
His latest example? Displaying that no third-down conversion is too long for his running ability.
Sims had two third-and-long scrambles in last Saturday's 25-20 win over Mississippi State to extend a 15-play, 76-yard touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter that proved to be the deciding score. Late last month at Tennessee, the 6-foot, 208-pounder from Gainesville, Ga., had a third-and-9 scramble late in the third quarter to continue a 13-play, 76-yard touchdown drive.
"Blake adds another dynamic to their offense," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said this week. "You have to account for the quarterback in all of your run schemes now, and any time you can add the element of a running quarterback, it makes a team that much more difficult to defend."
Alabama was expected to be difficult enough to defend this season due to dazzling junior receiver Amari Cooper and the tailback tandem of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry. Then Sims came along and swiped the quarterback job from projected favorite Jacob Coker, the transfer from Florida State, and went to work from a pass-efficiency standpoint under the guidance of new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.
Sims enters Saturday's game against visiting Western Carolina having completed 170 of 276 passes (61.6 percent) for 2,454 yards with 18 touchdowns and only three interceptions, yet it's his scrambling in clutch situations that now has folks talking.
The Crimson Tide jumped out to a 19-0 lead last weekend against the previously undefeated Bulldogs, but Mississippi State pulled within 19-13 early in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs had Alabama facing a third-and-8 from midfield, but Sims converted it with a 10-yard scramble, and then had the Tide facing a third-and-10 from the MSU 40, which Sims converted with an 11-yard scramble.
"We had guys who were in position to make plays, but he did a great job of either making someone miss or outrunning someone to the corner," Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen said. "When you're in those games against top competition, you don't get there by not having your players make plays. He's a great player who when the game was on the line made some special things happen."
Said Sims: "I always feel good about third downs, because that's what we work the most on in practice. It's just putting it all on the field and leaving no doubts."
Alabama has converted 51.3 percent of its third downs this season, which ranks seventh nationally. The Crimson Tide were only 5-of-14 on third down against Mississippi State, further magnifying the importance of the two runs by Sims.
Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban has expressed each week how Sims is becoming more and more comfortable on the field, but he doesn't attribute his recent third-down scrambles solely to his running ability.
"There was a time when Blake wanted to pull it down and run it all the time, and he really wouldn't go through his reads," Saban said. "He would abort the play, and I think the thing that has made him a much more effective player is that he has the ability to make those kind of plays when plays break down, but what he's done is become a much more effective passer.
"Now he will go through his read before he lets his athletic intuition take over and make a play with his feet."
Sims, who has 55 rushes for 250 yards (5.1 per carry) and five touchdowns this season, isn't the first Alabama quarterback under Saban who could convert a third down by scrambling. Who could forget Greg McElroy's third-and-5 run down the sideline for 5 yards in the second quarter of the Tide's 32-13 surprise thumping of Florida in the 2009 SEC championship game?
AJ McCarron even had the occasional big scramble, such as his 9-yard touchdown run just before halftime in the 2012 win at LSU, but those two couldn't do it with the regularity Sims has shown within the past month.
"I think they've all had it to some degree," Saban said of his quarterbacks, "but the more athletic guys who have the capabilities of running are much more of a threat and a problem for the defense when they do that. Blake is obviously one of the more effective guys we've had in that regard."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.