It was Jake Coker‘s solid play under center that helped push No. 3 Alabama to a halftime lead on No. 20 Wisconsin. It was the punishing running of Derrick Henry — and a revitalized unit on the other side of the ball — that sealed the win.
In the only Week 1 game pitting ranked teams against one another, the Tide was able to pull away with a solid and convincing 35-17 win over the preseason Big Ten West favorite Badgers. Henry rushed for 147 yards — on just 13 carries — and scored three touchdowns, two of which came in the second half to help the Tide run out to an 18-point third-quarter lead.
As good as Henry was in chewing up yards on the ground, the Tide’s run defense was equally adept at spitting out Badger running backs after little or no gain.
The last time prior to tonight ‘Bama took the field, they were gashed for 281 rushing yards by Ohio State in the College Football Playoff semifinal. Going up against one of the top rushing teams in the country this century, the Tide gave up just 40 yards on 21 carries. Corey Clement, expected to be the bell-cow replacement for Melvin Gordon, was limited to 16 yards and, adding insult to literal injury, left the contest with a groin issue.
Just as important as Henry’s running and the Tide’s run defense were to the win, the Tide’s long-term hopes this season were buoyed by Coker’s performance.
The fact that Coker, making his first career start, didn’t seem smaller than the stage on which the hyped game was played should bode well for the Tide’s playoff aspirations. In three quarters of work, Coker completed 15-of-21 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown in the quintessential game-manager performance.
The Tide’s win also capped a fairly decent day for the conference.