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Alabama quarterback Blake Sims talks with offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, left, during what has become an unprecedented early-season offensive display for the longtime national power.

SEC WEEKLY HONORS

• Co-Offense: Alabama receiver Amari Cooper, who had 10 receptions for 201 yards and three touchdowns in the win over Florida.

• Co-Offense: Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott, who had 268 passing yards and 105 rushing yards in the victory at LSU.

• Defense: Auburn defensive back Joshua Holsey, who had 11 tackles and helped limit Kansas State to 40 rushing yards last Thursday.

• Freshman: Georgia tailback Sony Michel, who had 10 carries for 155 yards and three touchdowns in the triumph over Troy.

• Offensive lineman: Mississippi State's Ben Beckwith, who had five knockdown blocks on an offense that amassed 570 total yards.

• Defensive lineman: Trey Flowers of Arkansas, who had nine tackles, a sack and a forced fumble in the win over Northern Illinois.

When Alabama football coach Nick Saban hired former Tennessee and Southern Cal coach Lane Kiffin as his new offensive coordinator in January, there were two trains of thought.

Kiffin would either fall in line with predecessors Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier and keep the Crimson Tide in the hunt for national championships, or he would be a distraction and a disaster and last one year under his detail-oriented boss. Nobody suggested a faster-paced offense that would produce record-setting numbers.

"He's been huge," Alabama right tackle Austin Shepherd said moments after the Crimson Tide's 42-21 blistering of Florida on Saturday. "I literally just told him, 'You really can call plays.' I think it's awesome. He just knows what to do and when to do it. He knows when to go fast, and he knows when to get everybody to regroup.

"We love to play for the guy, and we love the way he calls plays."

Inheriting a quarterback who few thought could be the starter, Kiffin quickly transformed fifth-year senior Blake Sims into a Walter Camp Foundation national offensive player of the week. Sims completed 23 of 33 passes for 445 yards and four touchdowns against the Gators, with that yardage total the second-highest in school history.

On Alabama's first play from scrimmage, Sims shattered the notion he couldn't throw deep by firing an 87-yard scoring strike to tailback Kenyan Drake down the right sideline.

"That was all Coach Kiffin," Sims said. "He recognized Kenyan had a linebacker on him."

Sims was labeled a "work in progress" by Saban at the start of spring practice, and he struggled through a 13-for-30, two-interception showing in the A-Day game. He was the starter coming out of spring but was challenged this summer by Jacob Coker, a big-arm transfer from Florida State who became the odds-on favorite as soon as he stepped foot in Tuscaloosa.

But going into this week's open date for the No. 3 Tide, Sims ranks fourth nationally in efficiency. The 6-foot, 208-pound former tailback from Gainesville, Ga., has completed 71 of 97 passes (73.2 percent) for 1,091 yards with eight touchdowns and two interceptions.

Sims is the second SEC quarterback transformation project for Kiffin, who helped Tennessee's Jonathan Crompton rebound from an early three-interception performance against UCLA to lead the Vols to a trip to the Chick-fil-A Bowl in 2009. Crompton threw for 889 yards with four touchdowns and five interceptions as a junior but had 2,800 yards, 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in his one year with Kiffin.

"He just keeps me calm," Sims said. "He lets me know that he has all the confidence in the world in me, and he sits me down and says, 'This is the situation, and you're going to see this and that. If you don't see it, I'm going to help you out.'"

Kiffin provided Sims some immediate confidence in the season opener against West Virginia with a 24-yard quick screen to Amari Cooper, who leads the nation in receptions (43), yards (655) and yards per game (163.8). By the second quarter against the Mountaineers, however, Sims and the offense were struggling, so Kiffin ditched huddling up and had the Tide operate at a quicker pace.

There has been no looking back since, as Alabama is averaging a staggering 588 yards and 78 plays a game, which is five plays a game more than fast-paced rival Auburn.

"Obviously we're getting up to the ball faster," junior center Ryan Kelly said. "When we're not snapping the ball with under five seconds left, it gives us an advantage to put pressure on the defense to play base and take away some of the things they can do. It puts pressure on us to get in shape, but that's what we do every week."

Last year's offense, which was plenty potent under the guidance of quarterback AJ McCarron, averaged 66 plays and 444 yards a game. It's too early to project where this year's offense will wind up, but Alabama's current average per game is 30 yards higher than the SEC record attained by Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M two years ago.

What seems a bit more certain is whether Kiffin was the right man for the job.

"We were sitting there in the fourth quarter just staring up at the scoreboard," Kelly said. "To see more than 400 passing yards is just crazy, but obviously the more yards we gain, the more points we'll score."

Said Cooper: "Coach Kiffin is a very smart offensive coordinator. He takes advantage of matchups, and he knows exactly what he's doing."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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