Sept. 7, 2014
By Christopher Walsh
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The numbers sort of jump off the page, 25 receptions for 319 yards. That’s a good season for a lot of college football players, never mind two games.
It’s something that had never been done before at the start of a season or any other time at the University of Alabama. But if you went back a couple of weeks and told junior wide receiver Amari Cooper how his 2014 campaign would begin he might have shrugged his shoulders.
“I don’t’ know what I would have done,” he said after Saturday’s 41-0 victory over Florida Atlantic. “Probably would have been like, `That’s pretty good.'”
It’s better than that. In addition to resuming his assault on the Crimson Tide record book, he leads the nation both in receptions, receptions per game and receiving yards. Specifically, his 319 yards are ahead of Toledo’s Keevan Lucas (317) and Michigan State’s Tony Lippett (300), and his lead in the Southeastern Conference is over LSU’s Travin Dural (291).
Due to bye weeks, the first of which is coming up at the end of the month for Alabama, the NCAA also keeps track of receiving yards per game and Cooper leads with 159.5. Through two weeks, 30 receivers in the nation are averaging at least 100 yards.
Cooper’s 12.5 receptions per game are first with Lucas second at 11.5. Leading the chase in the SEC is Texas A&M’s Malcome Kennedy at 8.5.
At his current pace Cooper would finish the regular season with 150 receptions for 1,914 yards, which would crush the Crimson Tide single-season records set by Julio Jones in 2010: 78 receptions for 1,133 yards.
Against Florida Atlantic, Cooper tied the Crimson Tide record for receptions in a single game, 13, after just missing in the season opener against West Virginia at neutral-site Atlanta (Hall, 13, 2007). The 189 receiving yards were the fourth-most in a game by a Crimson Tide receiver (Jones, 221 at Tennessee in 2010).
Both were obviously career highs as well. Cooper’s previous best was 178 at Auburn last season and he’s topped 100 receiving yards in each game since, leaving him one short of trying Hall’s record of five consecutive 100-yard performances (2006).
Incidentally, Cooper surpassed Jones for career 100-yard games and is alone in second on Alabama’s all-time list with nine (Hall, 13, 2004-07).
“Amari Cooper had another outstanding game,” said Nick Saban, who during the spring stated that defenses almost have to double-team his leading receiver to try and limit him, which has already been proven to be accurate.
Actually, Cooper called his performance Saturday “Ok” because he left some yards out on the field.
That wasn’t the case during his touchdown, Alabama’s longest offensive play of the young season. With senior wide receiver Christion Jones taking out the only cornerback who could stop him, Cooper took a quick screen and headed up the sideline for a 52-yard touchdown to really set the offensive tone for the day. At the time, Alabama was averaging 15 yards per snap.
“It was a great block by Christion,” he said. “If it wasn’t for Christion I wouldn’t have scored. I thanked him twice after the touchdown.”
Even though the game was called with just under 8 minutes remaining due to inclement weather, Alabama had its third straight 500-yard outing and finished with 620, the eighth-most of any game in program history. Quarterbacks Blake Sims and Jacob Coker combined for 416 passing yards, the second most in Crimson Tide lore behind the 484 against Auburn in 1969.
“I thought we came out and dominated,” Cooper said. “We were more consistent with everything that we did.”
Factor in his 20 rushing yards from an end-around run on the first play from scrimmage and Cooper tallied 209 total yards.
“It’s good because with him out there you can’t just focus on the running game,” Sims said. “You also can’t forget about the other players we have because they can make plays just as well as he can. Congratulations to him on tying the record.”
It’s now one of many for the Miami product who recorded Alabama’s first 1,000-yard freshman season before being limited for a good part of 2013. The setbacks included a preseason heel injury on his right foot, a toe injury on the other, and a sprained MCL sustained against Tennessee.
After having five 100-yard performances as a rookie, Cooper didn’t reach the milestone again until facing Auburn in the regular-season finale. He still ended up leading the Crimson Tide for the second straight year, with 45 catches for 736 yards.
“When I’m healthy I don’t think anyone can guard me,” Cooper said before facing Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, along with: “I think I can be great if I do small things well.”
He backed that up with 121 yards on nine receptions against the Sooners, and with DeAndrew White making three catches for 139 yards they were the first Crimson Tide receiving tandem to go over 100 yards in game since Sept. 10, 2005 (Tyrone Prothro 134, DJ Hall 130 vs. Southern Miss).
It turned out Cooper’s 15 catches for 299 yards against the final two opponents of the 2013 season only gave fans a taste of what was coming, especially with Lane Kiffin the Crimson Tide’s new offensive coordinator
“Obviously he’s a guy that we want to get the ball to as many times as we can,” Saban over the summer. “Lane will do a really good job of getting the ball in the playmakers’ hands. I think between the backs that we have and the receivers that we have, and Coop’s history of being a very consistent performer, I would think that he’ll have an outstanding year.”
While he already has local writers figuring out how to spell “Biletnikoff,” as no Crimson Tide player has ever won the postseason award for college football’s best wide receiver, Cooper went over 2,000 yards for his career on Saturday, and with 2,055 needs 869 more to become Alabama’s all-time leader (Hall 2,923).
He also needs just three more touchdown catches to top Dennis Homan’s career record of 18 (1965-1967).
Yet Cooper says he could have been better against FAU.
“It’s not about the receptions, it’s more about what you do after you catch the ball, that’s what I’m big on,” he said. “During practice I make that first guy miss all the time, and hope it will carry over to the game.”