Their roles have developed over the course of the University of Alabama’s season as they grew into a dynamic second-team duo, providing the Crimson Tide with a different look after the starting offense checked out.
As Alabama put together a series of one-sided wins, they began to accumulate playing time in the third and fourth quarters. Running mostly the read or zone option — an offensive set where the quarterback, Sims, takes a shotgun snap and reads the linebackers to decide whether to keep the ball or hand off to Drake, his running back mate — they have discovered a rhythm that gives defenses something different to consider.
Sims, a 6-foot, 212-pound sophomore from Gainesville has settled in as Alabama’s No. 2 quarterback. He has rushed for 187 yards, averaging 6.2 yards per carry with two touchdowns, and completed 5 of 10 pass attempts for 77 yards in two games.
Drake, the former Hillgrove High School star, a 6-1, 204-pound freshman, is Alabama’s No. 3 running back with 273 yards and five touchdowns, playing in 11 games and averaging 7.0 yards per carry.
Both are happy with their roles.
“I feel like coach Saban and the coaching staff put us in the best place where we can help the team,” Sims said after Alabama defeated Georgia in the SEC championship game.
Sims chose Alabama over Georgia, Florida and Tennessee. He was rated as the No. 33 athlete in his recruiting class by Rivals.com and was told by more than one school that he would never play quarterback at for the Crimson Tide.
“When I was being recruited, they were telling me I wasn’t going to play (quarterback) and Alabama was telling me I was,” he said. “That’s over now. I’m in college and I’m playing for ’Bama.
“I thought it was a possibility because of my ability, and I thought I could help my team.”
Drake signed on as the Rivals.com No. 13 running back in the country and started out behind Eddie Lacy, fellow freshman T.J. Yeldon, Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart, but moved up with Fowler and Hart sustaining season-ending injuries.
Drake got one carry in Alabama’s season opener against Michigan, and scored on a 32-yard touchdown on his only carry a week later against Western Kentucky. Sims threw one pass in that Western Kentucky game.
By the season’s third week, when Alabama blew out Arkansas 52-0, they established their read-option tandem, with each scoring a touchdown against the Razorbacks. It was a natural carryover from their high school days.
“We had the spread at Gainesville,” Sims said. “We did run the read (option). Kenyan Drake is in there with me and his high school ran the read (option) too.”
Drake likes the different wrinkle their roles give the offense.
“Blake is an exceptional player, an exceptional quarterback, and he goes in there and gives the offense an extra kick with his versatility, being able to pass the ball and run the ball,” he said. “Defenses have to wait a second with the option, because he can hand it off to one of our running backs or keep it himself or even pass the ball as a third option. He’s a great asset to the team.”
And if their opportunities have mostly come with the outcome already decided, that doesn’t discourage them.
“Just put away the game, me and the second team, the rest of the offense, can go in and get a little sample of the speed of the game and everything, so when our time comes to play in the beginning of the game we’ll be ready for it,” Sims said.
Drake had two chances for breakaway touchdown runs late in Alabama’s victory over Auburn, but got tripped up both times. Those kind of plays, he said, will serve to make him better.
“Every play. every time you run the ball, it’s a learning experience,” he said. “You try to kind of tweak what you can do. One thing I do realize is I need to run the ball with my knees up a little higher, and also just run north and south, not make too many cuts and get up the field as fast as I can.”
They watched from the bench when Alabama defeated Georgia for the SEC title in Atlanta, but they didn’t feel left out.
“This game was big for me,” Sims said. “I know a lot of the players for Georgia. It felt good. I played here in high school my senior year for the state championship, and we didn’t come away with the win. This win right here on this field is a weight off my shoulders, and I’d rather do it with this team than any team.”
They would be delighted to get to play against Notre Dame in the BCS national championship game. Whether they are called upon or not, they plan to be ready.
“We’re going to game-plan and coach is going to give us the best opportunity to succeed, so we’ll go over everything when the time comes,” Drake said.