The Alabama Crimson Tide (no. 2, 13-1, 7-1) began the year minus Amari Cooper, a superb record setting All-American wide receiver currently dazzling NFL audiences with every performance. Redshirt sophomore Robert Foster, one of the most sought after prospects in the nation, was the individual thought to be the heir apparent as the alpha dog of the group. The 2015 A-Day Dixie Howell Memorial MVP caught 10 passes for 116 yards before suffering a season ending shoulder injury in the third game against Ole Miss.
The remaining healthy quartet of wide receivers Ridley, Stewart, Mullaney and tight end Howard were relied upon to shoulder the hopes of the Tide passing attack. Establishing the offensive aerial proficiency required a season of development. Jacob Coker was a fifth-year senior quarterback yet to make his first start. Ridley was an untested true freshman, Mullaney a fifth-year senior transfer formerly with the Oregon State Beavers. Redshirted sophomore Stewart and junior Howard had not tapped their potential after one and two years in Tuscaloosa respectively. Last night those four proved worthy of the trust. They were an integral part of the most decisive shutout in Cotton Bowl Classic history.
Julio Jones and Amari Cooper were legendary figures at the wide receiver position during the Nick Saban era. Next to be included in the top echelon of Tide pass catchers is Calvin Ridley.. He shattered the single season freshman receiving records of 59 receptions and 1,000 receiving yards compiled by Cooper in 2012. The 6-1, 188 pound south Florida (Monarch HS) native destined for stardom currently leads the team in three categories with 83 catches, 1,031 receiving yards and seven touchdown receptions. He torched the Big Ten Champions secondary for eight receptions and 138 yards to compliment the two touchdown catches. Forty-one of his catches were for first downs or touchdowns. He earned All-SEC Freshman and All-SEC Second Team honors for his efforts. Ridley’s single season reception total is second in school history trailing Cooper’s 124.
A welcomed addition to the program coming from the Pac-12 Conference was Richard Mullaney. The 6-3, 208 pound Californian (Thousand Oaks HS) is a glue-fingered excellent route runner with deceptive speed. His three receptions for 53 yards last night give him 37 on the year, third on the team and 361 receiving yards, fourth on the team. Twenty-two of his catches have gone for a first down or touchdown. His five touchdowns are second on the team.
Speedy Ardarius Stewart has blossomed into an outstanding receiver after eliminating the early season tendency to mishandle passes. He dramatically increased his freshman total of 12 receptions and 149 yards. Stewart is second on the team with 61 catches and 637 receiving yards this year. The speedy 6-1, 204 pound Alabamian (Fultondale HS), has four touchdown catches, third on the team. Twenty-nine of his receptions have been for a first down or touchdown. He caught seven passes for 37 yards against the Michigan State Spartans (no. 3, 12-2, 7-1). Stewart is tied with David “The Deuce” Palmer at seventh in school history for single season receptions.
Rangey O.J. Howard (Autauga Academy, AL) had a prominent role versus the Spartans. He caught three passes for 59 yards in the College Football Playoff Semifinal Game Thursday evening. The athletic 6-6, 242 pound tight end is a frequent mismatch for defenses. He recorded 33 receptions this season for 394 yards after registering 31 total receptions for 529 yard and two touchdowns in his first two years. Eighteen of his receptions have resulted in a first down. Howard is third on the team in passing yardage and fourth in receptions.
Alabama quarterback Jacob Coker was the Most Valuable Player of the Cotton Bowl Classic. He had a career high of 286 passing yards with an assist from Ridley, Stewart, Mullaney and Howard. Few observers before the season or even the week of the game would have predicted the success of the first year starting quarterback and unproven receiving corps on a big stage. Stay tuned for there is more to come.
The Crimson Tide will square off in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game against the undefeated Tigers from the ACC on Monday evening, at 7:30 PM CT, from University of Phoenix Stadium located in Glendale, Arizona.
Listen and watch Ridley and Howard discuss the win, wide receiver teammates, Jacob Coker and future opponent, the Clemson Tigers (no. 1, 14-0, 8-0).