Saturday night when the University of Alabama football team takes on the Mississippi State Bulldogs the real battle to keep an eye on will be the battle between Alabama freshman standout Amari Cooper and Jonathan Banks and Darius Slay of the Bulldogs.
Cooper, highly thought of by head coach Nick Saban during his media rounds through the summer in fall, started off his season slowly. After grumblings of his potential impact started to circle around the Tuscaloosa streets, a turf toe injury flared up, forcing the highly touted freshman to pump the breaks just a bit.
Although the Miami, Florida native was slowed, he started to make a name for himself under the bright lights of Bryant Denny Stadium during an evening showcase with the Ole Miss Rebels. It was that night Cooper’s chemistry with quarterback AJ McCarron was evident, reeling in eight passes for 84 yards in two scores. That night the crowd inside the stadium and the national audience saw only the beginning.
Then it was last Saturday when the Crimson Tide made their bi-annual trek to Knoxville, as the Tennessee Volunteers were introduced to Mr. Cooper; lets just say, they wont be friends any time soon. That night, in hostile territory, Cooper reestablished himself as McCarron’s favorite target and then some; this time with 162 yards on 7 receptions for 2 touchdowns.
To put in perspective what kind of impact Cooper has had on this Alabama, he has twice as many receptions as the closest receiver (Kevin Norwood with 14 receptions) and leads the team with 5 touchdown catches. It goes without saying, Cooper is an integral piece in Alabama’s offensive success.
Now the freshman will challenged unlike ever before with the combination of Jonathan Banks and Darius Slay. Both Bulldog defensive backs have dominated opposing wide receivers, and will match up almost identically to Cooper’s height-weight-speed ratio (Cooper stands 6’1 200lbs compared to 6’2 185 and 6’1 190lbs respectively).
While much of the talk surrounding this game surrounds seeing just how good both of these teams are, this will also be the game when we see just how good Alabama’s freshman phenom really is. This will be the game that we see if Cooper can elevate his game and make the plays necessary against two of the Southeastern Conference’s best defensive backs, each of whom have 4 interceptions this season.
While this game will feature two of the best teams in the country, the battle within the game that could decide the fate of these two teams, is the battle within the battle.