Cooper Goes Home With Big Numbers

A similarity in this season's BCS National Championship Game and the title game at the end of the 2011 season is that Alabama faces a defense that is very effective against the run.

Last year Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron had his coming out party to some extent with an MVP passing performance in leading the Crimson Tide to a 21-0 victory over LSU to give Bama the championship. This year the Tide takes on a Notre Dame team with a big and explosive defensive front, Irish eyes focused on stopping the Bama running duo of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon.

Alabama's receiving corps has been hard-hit this season. Chris Black, a true freshman who had a nice spring, had to have shoulder surgery before the start of the season and thus far has not played. DeAndrew White was the starter in Bama's first five games, but suffered a torn ACL and is out. Kenny Bell, the Tide's deep threat (averaging over 25 yards per reception), suffered a broken leg in the final regular season game of the year against Auburn.

Amari Cooper, 6-1, 198, who was playing for Northwestern High School in Miami a year ago, will return to his hometown next week as Alabama's leading receiver. There are those who believe Cooper's skills could be the difference for the Crimson Tide.

Alabama will practice in Tuscaloosa through Wednesday morning, then fly to South Florida. The second-ranked Crimson Tide (12-1) will meet top-rated Notre Dame (12-0) in the national championship game in Miami Gardens on Jan. 7.

Cooper was selected to the Freshman All-Southeastern Conference team by the league's coaches and was named one of four selected for Offensive Achievement at the Alabama Football Awards Banquet.

This season, Cooper has played in all 13 Tide games with eight starts. In his rookie season he has hauled in 53 passes for 895 yards (16.9 yards per reception) with nine touchdowns. His most recent touchdown catch was a 45-yard grab against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, providing the winning points in that 32-28 national championship play-in game.

Against the Bulldogs, Cooper had a season-high eight catches for 128 yards. His top yardage game came against Tennessee, seven receptions for 162 yards (and two touchdowns).

Perhaps his most memorable reception was a leaping grab over Georgia defenders for a 44-yard gain that flipped the field.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban takes note of Cooper's aggressive play as a receiver. "He's got good size and he does attack the ball when he goes up for the ball," Saban said. "He's made several catches this year where he's gone up and made some outstanding plays by doing that.

"I think it's a matter of having an aggressive attitude about going after the ball. Too many guys are too casual in terms of waiting for the ball to come down. They've got more confidence in catching it around their body rather than extending for the ball and catching it with their hands. That's something you always want receivers to do. Amari Cooper's really pretty natural doing that, and very confident in doing that."

The Tide coach also pointed to Cooper having "ball judgment," which he calls "very important for receivers and defensive backs."

Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron said Cooper is "a smart player who makes plays. He runs really good routes at times. The kid's a freshman. He's going to make mistakes.

"But he's a freak at wide out."

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