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Jake Coker Is Alabama’s Biggest Question Mark

Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire

It’s difficult to pinpoint Alabama football’s greatest weakness, if it has any at all.

So let’s start with its biggest strengths: Derrick Henry and the nation’s best front seven.

Henry is the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy on Saturday after a historic season that set a new SEC record for rushing yards. He leads the nation with 1,986 yards and 23 touchdowns — which he’s scored in each of his last 18 games, dating back to 2014.

Alabama’s front seven is equally dominant and includes several players with just as many “freak athlete” attributes as the 6-foot-3, 242-pound freight train of a running back. The Tide ranked first in total defense, rushing defense and sacks among SEC teams and fourth in tackles for loss.

A’Shawn Robinson, Jonathan Allen and Reggie Ragland were each named to the All-SEC first team. In fact, Alabama led the SEC with 10 all-conference selections.

But neither Henry or Alabama’s front seven was much of a surprise, as both entered the season with huge expectations. It’s the improved play of others through the course of the 2015 season that really makes pinpointing a flaw difficult.

Alabama’s secondary struggled in its loss against Ole Miss but has been outstanding ever since. Kicker Adam Griffith — who missed his final 12 field goal attempts while battling a stress fracture in his back as a redshirt sophomore in 2014 — made 21 of 29 attempts and all 51 PAT attempts in 2015.

Even Alabama’s receiving corps looked stellar after losing Biletnikoff Award winner Amari Cooper.

There really isn’t a flaw in the Alabama machine.

The Tide have looked like the nation’s best team since its Week 3 loss, but if you had to choose one thing, for the sake of argument, it may be the play of quarterback Jake Coker.

To be fair, Coker is coming off a solid performance against Florida in the SEC Championship Game that included 204 yards and two touchdowns on 18 of 26 passing. But, he’s never had a historic performance that carried the Tide to victory. Granted, Alabama’s offense revolves around Henry, who’s done that in every single game. So it’s not Coker’s fault that his passing attempts are limited. It’s still up for debate as to whether he can take over a game, though.

October 17, 2015: Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Jake Coker (14) before the Alabama Crimson Tide  vs Texas A&M Aggies game at Kyle Field, College Station, Texas. (Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire)

October 17, 2015: Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Jake Coker (14) before the Alabama Crimson Tide vs Texas A&M Aggies game at Kyle Field, College Station, Texas. (Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire)

Alabama faces Michigan State in its first College Football Playoff game on Dec. 31. The Spartans ranked second in rushing defense among Big Ten teams. It’s unlikely that Henry will be stopped, but we could see less production from him in comparison to his historic November performances. Michigan State should provide Alabama with enough of a threat to keep the game competitive, if not actually jump out to an early lead. Coker has been an efficient game manager throughout the season, but can he takeover and provide a dominant pass attack in a shootout; or more realistically in a situation where Alabama needs big plays through the air?

We still don’t know the answers to those questions because Alabama hasn’t been in that situation since Week 3. Coker threw for a season-low 46.7 completion percentage and two interceptions — which tied a season-worst — in the Tide’s loss to Ole Miss.

Now, it’s not fair to judge him based on one lackluster performance early in the season. Like his teammates, Coker has made improvements as the season’s progressed and is a key element to Alabama’s winning string.

But, with all that said, he may be the Tide’s only weakness if asked to be the feature component to its offensive attack.

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