NCAA Football

No Matter Who Plays QB, Alabama Must Get Amari Cooper the Ball Early and Often

Alabama fans probably have plenty of opinions after Saturday’s 41-0 win over Florida Atlantic—a game that was cut short due to lightning.

Blake Sims and Jake Coker both took meaningful snaps in a game for the first time this season, and each had their ups and downs. Plenty of conclusions will undoubtedly be drawn from their performances. And both will probably get another crack at it next week when Alabama hosts Southern Miss.

But there’s one aspect of the offense that is pretty crystal clear at this point, with no room for debate: Amari Cooper is a good wide receiver. Keep getting him the ball.

Cooper caught 13 passes for 189 yards and a score on Saturday, propelling the Crimson Tide to a big win against the overmatched Owls. His 13 catches tied an Alabama school record set by D.J. Hall against Tennessee in 2007.

Cooper has been a major factor in both of Alabama’s games in this young 2014 season. New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has clearly put an emphasis on getting the ball to Cooper for multiple reasons.

His plan to get Cooper involved has helped out the new quarterbacks immensely.

Cooper has been the go-to wide receiver for both Sims and Coker early on. Kiffin has set up the quarterbacks with quick screens and slants his way, throws that can help a young quarterback get into a rhythm early in a game.

Almost 75 percent of Cooper’s yards Saturday came on screens, swing passes or slants. The first play against West Virginia was a screen to Cooper. On Saturday's opening drive, Cooper came in motion on a reverse that he ran for 20 yards.

Cooper described his mentality when he catches a screen pass last week.

“When you get the ball, as soon as you catch it, you want to run full speed and react off of instinct,” he said. “You don't want to look for any defenders like that. That's what I try to do.”

He did plenty of that on Saturday. FAU defenders frequently gave Alabama’s receivers six- or eight-yard cushions, and the Crimson Tide took advantage. All Cooper had to do was make a man miss—which he did several times—and he was off to the races.

His presence gives this offense a workhorse to go through, an asset that has been vital with a new signal-caller under center.

Even following an up-and-down 2013, during which he had play through a foot injury, Cooper still brought along a lot of hype into this season. He lit up defenses his freshman year to the tune of 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns. But last season, the nagging foot injury slowed him down for much of the season. Cooper finished strong with 100-plus-yard performances in Alabama’s last two games of the season.

There will be no doubting this year, though, whether Cooper is one of the elite receivers in college football. He’s touched the ball 26 times already this season for 339 yards. That pace doesn’t figure to be slowing up any time soon as Alabama continues to work Sims and Coker into its offense.

There's no debating that the game plan of utilizing Cooper as much as possible sets up Alabama for plenty of success on offense.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats come from CFBStats. All recruiting information comes from 247Sports.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Despite Early Struggles, Penn State Will Be a Force in Big Ten Conference Play

It hasn’t been pretty. Anything but, in fact.

They needed a field goal on the game’s final play to defeat Central Florida. And Saturday’s home opener against Akron was marked by sluggishness and turnovers in a 21-3 victory.

But make no mistake: Penn State will make waves in the Big Ten this fall. 

Due to the ongoing sanctions associated with the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the Nittany Lions are not eligible for postseason play. But James Franklin’s bunch has enough talent to make life miserable for the league’s deeper, more experienced teams and win a game or two that it wasn’t expected to entering 2014.

On Saturday, sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg followed up his program single-game passing record against Central Florida by going 22-for-36 with 319 yards and three touchdowns against two interceptions. It was his sixth career game with 300-plus yards, tying a Penn State career record.

Hackenberg must improve his decision-making: a fourth-quarter red-zone interception thrown off his back foot drew the ire of ESPN color analyst Ed Cunningham.

“You can’t make that throw,” Cunningham said on the ESPN2 telecast. “Not in the fourth quarter. Not when you’re up 11.”

But his arm strength and mobility are impressive, and he has a pair of talented receiving targets in sophomore Geno Lewis and redshirt freshman DaeSean Hamilton.

Against Central Florida, the pair combined for 338 yards receiving. According to Mark Wogenrich of The Morning Call they became the first pair of Penn State receivers to finish a game with more than 150 yards receiving apiece.

They had solid follow-ups Saturday: Lewis had six catches for 98 yards, while Hamilton had seven receptions for 69 yards as Penn State pulled away late from an improving Terry Bowden-coached Akron team. In addition, junior tight end Jesse James had 57 yards and two touchdowns. 

An improving Nittany Lion defense held the Zips to three points while forcing a pair of turnovers. While the Lions’ linebacker corps has some questions outside of senior Mike Hull (who had 11 tackles and a sack Saturday) and sophomore Nyeem Wartman, the defensive line and secondary are improving.

With Rutgers, UMass and Northwestern on the schedule next, the Lions could easily be 5-0 entering an Oct. 11 visit to Michigan.

The Lions will avoid Big Ten West contenders like Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin and will also host Ohio State (on Oct. 25) and Michigan State (in the Nov. 29 regular-season finale).

With Ohio State starting freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, Happy Valley should be very hostile. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see the Lions’ defense give Barrett and the Buckeyes a major challenge.

And after taking Vanderbilt to three consecutive nine-win seasons, Franklin has proven his mettle in difficult situations.

Penn State can’t go to a bowl this season. But that doesn’t mean you won’t hear from the Nittany Lions this fall.

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Sam Houston State vs. LSU: Live Score and Highlights

After an emotional win against Wisconsin last week, LSU opens its home schedule Saturday night when it faces Sam Houston State. The game will kickoff at 7:30 p.m. ET and will air live on the SEC Network.

The Tigers currently have the nation's longest regular-season nonconference winning streak at 46. They are also playing in an expanded Tiger Stadium that now holds 102,321 fans.

Sam Houston State comes in the game as the No. 13 team in the FCS. The Bearkats are coming off a 51-20 win against Alabama State last week.

Be sure to come back to this live blog as soon as the game kicks off for the latest scoring updates and highlights.

 

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Arkansas State Players Have Terrific Unintentional Jersey Name Combination

The Arkansas State Red Wolves were lining up on offense against the Tennessee Volunteers when two of their players were standing side-by-side and gave us this terrific jersey-name combination.

The two players are Jemar Clark and Darion Griswold, and together their last names are "Clark Griswold," the main character from "National Lampoon's Vacation."

[Twitter]

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Jake Coker's Upside Is Obvious in Week 2, but He Is Still Not Ready

Jake Coker will be Alabama's starting quarterback. It's just a matter of "when."

The much-discussed transfer from Florida State finally got meaningful snaps in Alabama's 41-0 win over Florida Atlantic on Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa.

Splitting time with starter Blake Sims, Coker completed 15 of 24 passes for 202 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.

Sims, a senior who is familiar with what head coach Nick Saban wants to do, completed 11 of 13 passes for 214 yards, two touchdowns and no picks.

Is it fair to compare statistics between the two signal-callers?

Not at all.

Measuring how each grasps the game is more important.

Alabama's coaches know that Sims can manage a game successfully, and most of his completions were short passes where the receivers broke free for yards after the catch.

It was clear from Coker's appearance and, more importantly, the game offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin called for him, that the staff wants to find out what Coker can do that Sims can't, specifically consistently stretch the field. 

The verdict?

The jury is still out. 

Coker overthrew a couple of deep passes early and forced some throws into double coverage, but then tossed a touchdown pass to fullback Jalston Fowler and threaded the needle through two defenders to tight end Ty Flournoy-Smith down near the goal line that went off of Flournoy-Smith's fingertips as the rain began to come down.

ESPN.com insider Travis Haney puts into perspective Coker's performance against the Owls.

You can def see arm strength/command of huddle for Coker, but also obvious he's pressing at times. Trying to hit tiny windows, overthrowing.

— Travis Haney (@TravHaneyESPN) September 6, 2014

It's clear that Coker has the potential and is Alabama's quarterback of the future, but the future isn't now. This is Sims' job because he is smart with the football and delivers the ball on time and on target. He also has the added benefit of athleticism not only to be a threat as a runner, but to create time behind the line of scrimmage while keeping his eyes downfield.

Sims is a winner. He did it last week against West Virginia and did it again on Saturday afternoon. If Alabama plays defense like it did against the Owls, that may be enough for the Crimson Tide to remain a contender for the College Football Playoff.

If, however, Coker can prove to the staff that he can do the same while also providing the deep threat that Sims lacks, he's going to be the guy.

When will that be?

Saban was reluctant to name a starter after the game.

It could be next week against Southern Miss, or it could be next year after Sims graduates.

Coker has the potential but just has to click. With Sims moving the offense and Coker still struggling with inconsistencies, the latter's time isn't now.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report and co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Follow @BarrettSallee

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McNeese State vs. Nebraska: Score and Twitter Reaction

Nebraska avoided what could have been one of the biggest upsets of the 2014 college football season, surviving a 31-24 battle against McNeese State.

Ameer Abdullah made the big play for the No. 19 team in the country, totaling 150 yards from scrimmage with two touchdowns, including the game-winning 58-yard catch-and-run with 20 seconds remaining.

Tommy Armstrong also had a big game with 242 passing yards and 131 rushing yards, but Nebraska was not able to pull away from the No. 6 team in the FCS rankings.

As ESPN Stats and Info noted, this game was not supposed to even be close:

Darren Rovell of ESPN compared the financial difference for the two programs:

Despite this advantage added to a massive home crowd, McNeese State hung around.

Derrick Milton got the Cowboys on the board first with a nine-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. The Cornhuskers scored 14 unanswered points and looked ready for more in the red zone, but a huge play by the McNeese State defense tied it up, as described by Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports:

Nebraska pulled ahead 24-14 heading into the fourth quarter, but the visiting team did not give up. McNeese State cut the lead to three when Tyler Bolfing turned a quarterback sneak into a one-yard touchdown with 13:45 remaining. 

CBS Sports then pointed out McNeese State had a chance to take the lead:

However, the Huskers held the underdogs to just a field goal, keeping it 24-24 with time running out. After the two sides traded punts, Nebraska turned to Abdullah with the game on the line. He ended up coming through with a 58-yard touchdown reception that could go down as one of the best plays of the year.

Everyone seemed to be impressed with the individual effort on the play:

This gave the home team the lead with 20 seconds left, and the defense took care of the rest to hold on for the narrow win.

While Nebraska is likely not thrilled with the close score, improving to 2-0 on the season was the most important thing.

On the other hand, there is no shame for McNeese State in this loss. The Cowboys fought hard and will clearly become one of the top teams in the nation at the FCS level this season.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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Watch Tennessee's Josh Smith Hurdle Defender for Big Gain

Tennessee wide receiver Josh Smith made a highlight-reel hurdle on Saturday vs. Arkansas State, setting up a five-yard score for Justin Worley. Will this be the best play of the day?

Watch the video to see the sophomore wideout embarrass Arkansas State defensive back Rocky Hayes.

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Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah Scores Game-Winning 58-Yard TD vs. McNeese State

Senior running back Ameer Abdullah has been a huge part of the Nebraska Cornhuskers offense over the years, so it's only appropriate that he stepped up for his team on Saturday when needed most.

With his team tied against McNeese State late in the fourth quarter, Abdullah danced, juked and swerved his way to a 58-yard game-winning touchdown. Here's the entire play that ended in the huge score.

Will Brinson from CBS Sports tweeted a picture to show just how close Abdullah was to going down.

[Vine, Twitter]

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Watch Blake Sims Break Two Defenders' Ankles on This Sick Run

The Alabama Crimson Tide took on Florida Atlantic this week. Check out Alabama quarterback Blake Sims make two sick moves on his way to a nice gain for the Crimson Tide offense.

Is Sims the real deal? Watch the video and let us know!

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Cold Hard Fact for Saturday, September 6, 2014

Fact: Since 1966, the Michigan State Spartans are 5-0 as a Top 10 team versus a Top 10 opponent.

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light.

Source: ESPN Stats & Info

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Mississippi State DE Preston Smith Makes Beautiful 1-Handed Interception

Considering he's a 270-pound defensive end, that's one heck of an interception.

During their game against UAB, Mississippi State senior Preston Smith was dropping back in coverage when he made an incredible one-handed interception, the first of his college career.

[Vine, Twitter]

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Oregon Football Reveals 'Sonic Boom' Helmet and All-Yellow Uniforms vs. MSU

The Oregon Ducks have a huge matchup against the Michigan State Spartans on Saturday night, and as always, they're coming out in some sharp uniforms.

For Saturday's game, the Ducks will be wearing their "Sonic Boom" helmets as their high-powered offense takes on Michigan State and their "No Fly Zone." The rest of the uniform is yellow with some silver on the gloves.

The Ducks also posted these close-ups of the uniforms on Instagram.

[Twitter, Instagram]


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USC vs. Stanford: Live Score and Highlights

Stanford 10, USC 7—Halftime

No. 14 USC is battling No. 13 Stanford in an important early-season Pac-12 matchup.

ABC is carrying the meeting, and Bleacher Report is providing live scoring updates and in-game analysis. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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USC vs. Stanford: Live Score and Highlights

Stanford 10, USC 7—Mid 3rd Quarter No. 14 USC is battling No. 13 Stanford in an important early-season Pac-12 matchup. ABC is carrying the meeting, and Bleacher Report is providing live scoring updates and in-game analysis...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Central Michigan Punter Ron Coluzzi Gets Trucked on Attempted Tackle vs. Purdue

The Central Michigan Chippewas have played quite well on Saturday against the Purdue Boilermakers, but their punter might think twice before he tries to tackle another returner.

During the first quarter, Central Michigan punter Ron Coluzzi tried to tackle Purdue's Frankie Williams, but instead got completely trucked over.

[Twitter, Lost Lettermen]

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Tennessee's Josh Smith Hurdles over Arkansas State Defender

The Tennessee Volunteers are starting the season strong with a 1-0 record and a 24-12 lead at halftime against the Arkansas State Red Wolves.

During the first half, sophomore wide receiver Josh Smith got a chance to run the ball on a reverse and completely hurdled over an Arkansas State defender.

Here's another angle of the hurdle.

[YouTube, Vine, h/t Twitter]

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Penn State's Christian Hackenberg Doesn't Seem Happy on Phone with Coach

The Penn State Nittany Lions only have a 7-0 lead over the Akron Zips at halftime, and sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg seems frustrated so far.

During a call with his coach, Hackenberg looked upset and appeared to tell his coach, "I don't know what the **** we're doing".

[Vine, h/t Adam Lefkoe]

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Sooners' Julian Wilson Destroys Tulsa WR with Huge Hit, Celebrates Appropriately

The Oklahoma Sooners are having no problem dominating the Tulsa Golden Hurricane thanks to big plays on both sides of the ball, including this massive hit.

During the second quarter, senior cornerback Julian Wilson completely leveled Tulsa wide receiver Derek Patterson, then proceeded with an appropriate celebration after such a big play.

[Vine, h/t Twitter

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Western Illinois' Bonehead Kickoff Play Results in Safety for Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Badgers were already huge favorites in their Week 2 game against the Western Illinois Leathernecks, and plays like this aren't going to help the underdogs pull off an upset.

On the opening kickoff, Western Illinois running back Kyle Hammonds bobbled the return, and the ball bounced out of the end zone to the 1-yard line. For some reason, the junior decided to bring the ball back into the end zone and take a knee.

While it was originally ruled a touchback, the call was reversed and Wisconsin was awarded two points for the safety. Here's another angle of the blunder.

[VineYahoo Sports]

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Alabama's Blake Sims Smokes FAU Linebacker with Nasty Juke

The biggest storyline for the Alabama Crimson Tide football team this offseason was figuring out who would take over at quarterback for AJ McCarron: veteran signal-caller Blake Sims or Florida State transfer Jake Coker.

Sims appears to have locked up that spot, and plays like this show why.

GIF: Blake Sims fake/juke http://t.co/jznwVbJZJk

— Marcus (@_MarcusD_) September 6, 2014

During Week 2 of the college football season, Sims smoked FAU senior linebacker David Lozandier with a filthy juke to pick up a nice chunk of yards. In the first quarter alone, Sims racked up two passing touchdowns and a seven-yard rushing score as well.

[Twitter]

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