Crimson Tide run past Badgers
ARLINGTON, Texas—Derrick Henry is transitioning into the role as the featured back for No. 3 Alabama, and Jake Coker got the first shot as the new starting quarterback.
With Henry and Coker leading the way, the Crimson Tide got another big season-opening win in the NFL stadium where their last championship season began.
Henry ran for 147 yards and three touchdowns and Coker threw for 213 yards and a score while playing late into the third quarter in a 35-17 victory over No. 20 Wisconsin on Saturday night.
“Offensively, we started a little bit slow, that was kind of the plan, not put too much on the quarterback,” coach Nick Saban said. “When we opened it up and created some balance, I thought Jake played really well. Obviously, Derrick Henry did a nice job.”
The AdvoCare Classic was played in the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium where the first College Football Playoff championship game was played last January.
Alabama didn’t make it that far, losing in a national semifinal to eventual national champion Ohio State, which had beaten Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten championship game.
The Crimson Tide’s last national title was in 2012, which was the school’s third in four years under Saban. That season opened in the same kickoff game with a 41-14 victory over No. 8 Michigan at the stadium that is home of the Cotton Bowl, one of the national semifinal games this season.
After a quarterback competition throughout camp that may not be settled, Coker got the starting nod. He completed 15 of 21 passes for 213 yards. His 17-yard TD pass to Robert Foster in the second quarter broke a 7-7 tie and put the Tide ahead to stay.
Cooper Bateman, the second quarterback, was 7 of 8 for 51 yards.
“I told both guys we’re not naming a starter, we’re naming who’s going to start the game,” said Saban, who decided Thursday that both would play. “We’re just going to go on feel. Jake was doing pretty well.”
Henry ran for a team-high 990 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, when he was behind second-round NFL pick T.J. Yeldon. Now Henry gets his chance as the Tide’s top runner, following Yeldon, Eddie Lacy, Trent Richardson and 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram.
Henry’s 13 carries included a 37-yard TD run on Alabama’s second drive, then scores of 56 and 2 yards in the third quarter.
“Anytime you look up and see No. 2 running down the field and a whole bunch of guys chasing him—that’s an awesome feeling,” center Ryan Kelly said. “You’re not going to arm tackle a guy who is 235 pounds. Derrick Henry is just going to run right through them.”
The Badgers were held to 40 yards rushing, their lowest total since 19 against Michigan State on Oct. 27, 2012, and had only 268 total yards in former offensive coordinator Paul Chryst’s first game as head coach. They had averaged 264 yards per game on the ground over the previous five seasons.
Wisconsin’s new starting running back Corey Clement had only 16 yards on eight carries, limited by a left groin injury that had been bothering him during the week.
“Give him a little credit, this game was important for him,” Chryst said. “It was all driven by how he was feeling.”
Clement had averaged 7 yards per carry with seven 100-yard games his first two seasons, even while starting only once. He ran for 949 yards and nine TDs in the same backfield with Heisman runner-up Melvin Gordon (2,587 yards and 29 TDs).
Joel Stave, in his 29th start as Wisconsin’s quarterback, was 26 of 39 for 228 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
The Badgers lost one of their top defenders on the third play of the game when senior safety Michael Caputo sustained a head injury while tackling Henry. He led the team with 106 tackles last season.
“It was hard on him … yet it was pretty clear,” Chryst said about Caputo being held out the rest of the game. “Those decisions are pretty easy.”