Last season, Amari Cooper didn’t see as many passes as he did during his freshman season. First-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has changed that this fall. Through three games, Cooper has 454 yards and two touchdowns while catching 33 passes, averaging 151.3 yards per game. No other Alabama receiver has more than nine catches.
He’s the focus for the Crimson Tide on the perimeter.
“He's a guy that can stretch the field vertically,” Will Muschamp said on Monday. “They do a nice job in the run game of getting the ball to him in a lot of what I call quick situation, of seeing a bad box and getting it out to him on the perimeter, creating some one-on-ones. They move him around a little bit and we've got to make sure we identify him and know where he is. He's been targeted a bunch in their first three games, so there's no question he's a playmaker.”
These are the games that Vernon Hargreaves III gets most excited about. He’s lined up across from an All-American in a hostile environment, and the Florida defense needs its shutdown corner to at least slow Cooper and make life difficult for whichever Alabama quarterback is under center on Saturday.
“I’m excited about the matchup,” Hargreaves said. “Everybody knows what’s coming. Obviously, I’m going to be covering him but you know I’m excited for it.”
Hargreaves was unsure on Monday morning whether or not he would be following Cooper all over the field or not. They’ll put the game plan in place early this week, and the sophomore wasn’t sure what it would be when he spoke to the media.
Against Kentucky, Hargreaves said the game plan was to keep him as the boundary cornerback while Brian Poole was the field cornerback as much as possible. That could change if needed against Alabama without much of an issue for Hargreaves.
“We’ll see what Coach Muschamp wants to be able to do,” Hargreaves said. “We’ll see how that works.”
Hargreaves said he knows Cooper and has talked to him on Twitter. Cooper and Poole also met during the Under Armour game and remain friends.
“He’s a great player,” Hargreaves said. “We both knew this was coming. He’s excited, I’m excited, we both know the magnitude of the game, and it’s going to be a great matchup on Saturday.”
DRISKEL RUNNING: The offseason built Kurt Roper’s offense into one that would use Jeff Driskel’s athleticism and rushing ability. Through the first two games, he has seven rushing attempts, keeping the ball incorrectly during some read plays. However, Driskel was also quick to point out that some plays that look like read plays might not actually be.
“The defense that we played against Kentucky had a lot of double overhangs, where it's hard to get the ball outside,” Driskel said.
There were still designed runs, including a quarterback power the Gators used in the red zone that Driskel almost took to the end zone. Muschamp wasn’t clear about how much Driskel will carry the ball in the future, but it will change weekly.
“We’ll continue to work that as a week-by-week process as far as how many carries he’s going to have,” Muschamp said.
DEEP BALLS A PROBLEM: The Gators took shots down the field early in the game against Kentucky, but Driskel overthrew open receivers. That will need to change going forward if the Florida offense wants to avoid facing eight-man boxes.
The Gators saw multiple one-on-one matchups on the perimeter. Kentucky brought heavy pressure throughout the game and forced Driskel to get rid of the ball in a hurry. That’s a big reason why Demarcus Robinson tied the school record with 15 catches. He can beat man-to-man and make plays after the catch.
But when Driskel does try to stretch the field with his arm, he knows he has to improve them and connect.
"I had some open guys, just got to give those guys a chance,” Driskel said. “That's something that we'll get corrected. I'm not too worried about it. I know I did miss a few, but I'd rather me miss the open receivers than not have the open receivers. We're going to get that corrected, and I'm going to have to do that in order for us to be successful down the road."