TUSCALOOSA — Only one will count in the win column, but Alabama actually beat two teams Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Florida and Alabama.
The Crimson Tide overcame a cluster of self-inflicted miscues to crush Florida 42-21 in their 2014 Southeastern Conference debut. Such a score might not scream crush to some, but imagine just how much worse it could've been if not for three Alabama first-half turnovers and a fourth shortly into the second.
A record-breaking performance from national darling Amari Cooper, a breakout outing from Blake Sims that included plenty of downfield passes and a total mismatch in total yards (645-200) were more than enough to send the Tide to a 4-0 start.
Their latest win came in a contest that didn't always seem like it was going to go the home team's way.
Kenyan Drake gave an early indication of how the first 35 minutes or so of the SEC struggle would proceed. Just as quickly as the speedster snuck behind the defense for an 87-yard scoring reception on the game's first play from scrimmage, he inexplicably coughed up on the ball on the first snap of the ensuing possession. DeAndrew White and Sims followed up with fumbles of their own, while Adam Griffith missed his first field goal — a 45-yarder — of the season to give the Tide a shockingly slim 21-14 advantage at halftime despite leading handily in every significant stat except for turnovers.
Alabama's last mistake, a Sims interception five snaps into the third quarter, allowed Florida to tie the score at 21-21 with its third touchdown off Tide turnovers.
But that was about the time Alabama began playing true Alabama football, putting together long — not to mention uninterrupted — drives on offense and dominating the defensive side of the ball.
For as much bad as there was for the Tide — they also had 11 penalties — there was exponentially more good to glean from Saturday's ultimately lopsided affair.
The list of pros started with Cooper, who continued an unmatched kickoff to what's likely his last campaign in Tuscaloosa by piling on another 10 catches, 201 yards and three touchdowns.
The first score was a 79-yard stunner that he had all the time in the world to camp under and jog into the end zone untouched. Cooper's second receiving TD, a 4-yard strike from Jake Coker, was the 19th of his career, passing Dennis Homan on Alabama's all-time list.
By far the biggest benefactor of Cooper's scintillating start has been Sims, who quieted critics — who knows for how long — with the second-best passing output in school history. More important than his impressive 23-of-33, 445-yard, four-score stat line, the fifth-year senior showed remarkable strength on deep throws once assumed only Coker could make.
The Tide's quarterback competition took an unexpected twist when Sims came up lame following a 24-yard scramble.
A bruised throwing shoulder forced the starter to give way to Coker behind center, but the switch lasted only briefly. Sims received raucous cheers when he jogged to the locker room and even louder applause when he sprinted back to the sideline, where he immediately celebrated Coker's score.
If someone would've said Sims would be so positively received by fans even three weeks ago, I would've laughed in their face. But that's the kind of respect the veteran has commanded through his first four starts.
Sims is clearly the quarterback Alabama needs right now, and the offense's resurgence under new coordinator Lane Kiffin could be all the Tide needs to keep marching towards another national championship.