ATLANTA — Not even that old ugly leather bucket helmet Blake Sims slapped on his head after the game could ruin the shine of his smile Saturday night at the Georgia Dome.
He was too happy after No. 2 Alabama's 33-23 win over West Virginia — and thankful.
"It feels good," said Sims after the game on the field. "The whole team was behind me, dawg. I'm glad to have these boys behind me. If we keep doing what we're doing, we're going all the way."
Sims waited four years to do what he did Saturday — lead the Crimson Tide to victory. To do it in his home state before 70,502 fans in a building he lost in high school made it even sweeter.
Everything about his game wasn't all smiles now.
Sims made mistakes, under and overthrew open receivers and forced a pass to tight end O.J. Howard that was intercepted. The fifth-year senior seemed rushed at times and lost in other situations.
In his first career start, Sims went 24-of-33 for 250 yards with no touchdowns. Even on the completions, he put a tad bit too much air on some, which gave the WVU defenders time to zoom in. Senior receiver DeAndrew White got blasted after catching one of those floaters and had his shoulder separated.
What Sims also did was show resolve, made something out of nothing at times and converted first downs with his arm (six) and legs (two). And he did it in the face of detractors who got ugly on Facebook when the word got out about him starting over Florida State transfer Jacob Coker.
Good or bad, the most important thing Sims did Saturday night was win the game.
The key for Sims now is to build off this game and improve because Coker isn't going anywhere. The Mobile native didn't graduate early from Florida State to sit the bench at his home state school. So if Sims slips, he already knows Coker is waiting in the wings. That why Sims isn't calling this his team.
"That's not my call," Sims said. "You've got to leave that to Coach (Nick) Saban. That's what he's supposed to do."
In the second quarter when Sims was struggling and looked rattled, Saban almost gave Coker a chance. Sims appeared rattled, and as Saban said, “There was confusion on the field."
In giving Sims another opportunity to play out of the funk he was in, Saban had offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin go no-huddle to "make it simpler for him."
He closed out the first half with a late drive in which he went 4-for-4 for 28 yards and ran for 21 more on third-and-six play to set up an Adam Griffith 41-yard field goal to give the Tide a 20-17 halftime lead.
"I thought Blake did a really good job," Saban said. "He had a couple of guys open that he missed. He also had a couple of guys that dropped balls that he delivered."
After a four-week competition that went up to 48 hours before the game, Sims said he found out Friday he was starting. The stress of having to be at your best every day, with the realization there were Alabama fans who didn't think he was good enough to start, had to take its toll on him.
He stayed the course and was rewarded.
So when his teammates were congratulating him on the field after the game, you could see the gratification on his face. Now it's his job to do whatever it takes so that he ends every game smiling.