“It’s going to be a team effort,” safety Vonn Bell said of shutting down Cooper. “Coaches put the workload on (Grant). I tell my guys at the end of the day I’ve got you. I’m going to clean it up for you. He’s a workhorse, he’s going to work hard. It’s a big stage, it’s his last year and I told him to go get it.”
Cooper has hauled in an SEC record 115 passes this season, 42.9 percent of Alabama’s receptions on the year. He is unquestionably the Tide’s top target, but they do have other options in the passing game.
DeAndrew White is second on the team in catches and yards with 37 and 439, respectively. No one else on the Crimson Tide’s roster has more than 20 receptions, though tight end O.J. Howard has proven to be effective on third down and is averaging 16.4 yards per reception.
“They’re pretty dynamic as well,” cornerback Eli Apple said of the Tide’s receivers aside from Cooper. “White, he’s a pretty good receiver himself; he’s a very fast guy. They’ve got other guys. They’ve got two good tailbacks and then their tight end is in the middle of the field working the linebackers so they’ve got playmakers all over the board.”
Slowing the non-Cooper options down will fall largely on Apple as Grant is sure to have his hands full with the top receiver in the country, while Bell and fellow safety Tyvis Powell will be charged with helping both corners.
“They’ve got a lot of weapons,” Bell said. “They’ve got real good weapons, they’re coached well so it’s going to be a real good game.”
Charged with finding those weapons is Blake Sims, and the Alabama quarterback has proven adept at extending plays to with his legs, providing valuable time to find Cooper and one of his other options.
Whether it’s White, the speedy slot receiver, or Howard, the 6-6 tight end, paying too much attention to Cooper will likely result in one of the Tide’s other options burning the Buckeyes. But Ohio State is confident that they will be able to out-scheme what Alabama looks to do in the passing game.
“We’re very confident in our game plan,” Apple said simply.
That plan is a lot more than just the Grant-Cooper matchup.