After the first two weeks of the season, Amari Cooper, Alabama junior wide receiver, is leading the nation in receptions (25), receiving yards (319), and receptions per game (12.5). In last week’s win over Florida Atlantic, Cooper hauled in 13 passes, tying the single game Bama record set by D.J. Hall in 2007.
This week, Alabama will host Southern Mississippi in Bryant-Denny Stadium with kickoff at 5 p.m. CDT Saturday.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban discussed Cooper and the Alabama passing attack in his Monday press briefing.
Most of the damage done by Cooper and his receiving corps in Saturday’s 41-0 win over Florida Atlantic was on quick screen passes from Blake Sims and Jake Coker. The relatively short passes resulted in some long gains, so that Sims and Coker set an Alabama record as for the first time in Tide history two quarterbacks passed for over 200 yards each. Sims connected on 12 of 14 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns, while Coker was good on 15 of 24 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns.
Cooper was the main target, pulling in 13 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown. He reached the 100-yard mark in the second quarter. He has had four consecutive games going back to last season with 100 or more yards receiving (the Tide record is five by Hall) and it was Cooper’s ninth career game of 100 or more yards in pass receptions.
Cooper now ranks sixth in career receptions with 129 (behind Hall who had 194 in four years). Cooper is fourth in receiving yards with 2,055. Hall leads with 2,923. Cooper is tied with Ozzie Newsome for third in touchdown receptions with 16, behind Dennis Homan with 18 and D.J. Hall with 17.
Asked about Cooper’s early season performance, Saban said, “Coop has always been a really good player. I think a couple of things have happened. He had a great off-season. He always had great work ethic. His maturity as a player sort of allows him to play through things that maybe used to affect him a little bit. That's not happening much. I think in two games, we've been able to put him in a place and get him the ball. I also think we have other guys that can make plays and be effective on the perimeter as well.”
The adage, “Practice makes perfect,” has been fine-tuned to “Perfect practice makes perfect.”
Saban said the Alabama practice regimen is designed to help the receivers and passers get a rhythm.
“I think the way we've gone here with this is we alternate receivers in practice quite a bit because we try to get repetitions in practice,” Saban said. “The first receivers don't always go with the first quarterback. They get plenty of practice with both quarterbacks. I think that's important long-term and I don't see a big difference in how our guys sort of jeehaw with one guy versus the other because they have practiced with both quite a bit.”
Saban said the emphasis on the quick screens to Cooper and other receivers “are all based on the look that you get on defense. I think the thing that has made those plays so successful is the wide receivers that aren't catching the ball are doing a great job of blocking. We've had several occasions where we've actually gotten guys on the ground. The same thing happened on Kenyan Drake's (39-yard touchdown reception) play. We got the guy on the ground.
“It's the look that you get on defense that makes that an effective play and it's something that we've been able to take advantage of to this point.”
Asked what makes a good blocker at wide receiver, Saban said, “I think receivers sometimes take what they do in the game literally, which means they're supposed to receive the ball.
“What we try to emphasize with them is you've got to be a complete player at your position. You're going to receive the ball. If you have a really good day, you might catch five or six balls. There's going to be 70 plays in the game. That means there's something else that you have to do on the other 65 plays a game that makes you a good player.
“When we run the ball, it's important that receivers are aggressive and block, and some of the pass plays that we run it's important that they block effectively. I think that the guys have done a really good job of that so far this season. I think when a guy comes up to block a guy, a defensive player has to read the block for high-low, and if the guy's really erect and not in a good football position, he's probably not going to be able to play the cut block. Sometimes if you can just tie them up on the perimeter, you can get by with anything.”
Saban also pointed to moving receivers to different spots. Although Cooper is primarily an X, which is split end, he can also be found at flanker (Z) and slot (H).
“I think it's really important in that it's hard for the defense to get a bead on a particular guy,” Saban said. “When a guy always plays one specific position and it's easy to identify where that guy's going to be, it's a little easier to defend that guy. If a guy's always playing split end, then we can double that guy a whole bunch of different ways. But when that guy's moving all over the place, it's harder to figure out exactly how to do this.
“I think having multiple levels of guys that can make plays, we do try to do that. It affords opportunities for other people to make plays. I think that's really, really important. I think the utilization of formations to put the guys into places is really the thing that is philosophically what I've always wanted to do. We're doing a really good job of that this year offensively.”
Saban also discussed the role of the offensive line.
“I think they made improvement in the last game,” Saban said. “I don't think statistics always really prove exactly how our group did. The pass protection was good for the most part. We got movement in the running game for the most part. We just didn't probably run it quite as much and that was a little bit determined by their defense. I thought that all the guys up front made improvement and I think it's going to be important that we continue to do that.”