Tuesday, January 1, 2013
How they measure up: Receivers/tight ends
By Alex Scarborough
Editor's note: Every day from now until kickoff in Miami, TideNation will break down the matchups position-by-position. Today we'll look at the battle of the wide receivers and tight ends.
True freshman Amari Cooper has become Alabama's best big-play wide receiver.
Alabama: First it was Chris Black who went down with a shoulder injury, then it was DeAndrew White who tore up his knee, followed by Kenny Bell who broke his leg against Auburn. Inconsistency plagued the Alabama receiving corps through no fault of its own. Even the starters couldn't stay healthy for stretches of the season. Kevin Norwood, Christion Jones and Amari Cooper all nursed injuries at one point or another.
Freshmen like Marvin Shinn and Cyrus Jones have been pressed into service and delivered mixed results. The coaching staff even toyed with the idea of bringing Black back for the final two games of the season.
"We haven't had a lot of continuity at receiver," coach Nick Saban said. "We've got guys playing different positions, Amari Cooper was out the LSU game, Kevin was out the last game. We have a lot of different circumstances going on."
Throughout it all, Cooper has emerged as the go-to target. The freshman who enters the title game with 53 catches for 894 yards is close to breaking Julio Jones' records for receptions and yards for a rookie receiver. He's dazzled with highlight reel touchdowns, most recently connecting with AJ McCarron for the game-winning score in the SEC championship game.
But continuity has been an issue, and not just at receiver. Michael Williams has been a constant at tight end, though he's failed to produce much in the passing game. The senior is fourth on the team with 21 receptions and three touchdowns. His counterparts -- Brian Vogler and Kelly Johnson -- have combined for just six catches and no touchdowns.
Notre Dame: In many ways, the Notre Dame passing game is the opposite of Alabama's. Unlike UA, the Fighting Irish have a first-year starter at quarterback who doesn't take many shots downfield. The result has been plenty of passes to his tight end and not so many to his receivers.
Good thing for Everett Golson he has Tyler Eifert to throw the ball to. The all-world tight end is a matchup nightmare at 6-foot-6 and 251 pounds. He's hauled in 44 receptions and four touchdowns this season.
"He’s a big target," UA cornerback Dee Milliner explained. "He can change every game with different matchups. With his size and how athletic he is and the way he goes up and gets the ball and stuff, he can change it up and make it challenging for different matchups. We just have to watch him and be alert for him on the field."
Eifert is joined by junior T.J. Jones (5-11, 190), sophomore DaVaris Daniels (6-2, 190) and Robby Toma (5-9, 185). Jones is the primary target on the outside, trailing Eifert by one reception, though he's never had a 100-yard or multiple-touchdown game in his career.
Final Verdict: If the matchup comes down to who is the biggest threat, it's Notre Dame and Eifert. Alabama has struggled to contain tight ends at times, and Eifert is miles better than any the defense has seen all season. He's a likely first- or second-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft and there's not a single defender that matches up well with him. Adrian Hubbard and Nico Johnson are big enough, but not quick enough to cover him. C.J. Mosley has the best sideline-to-sideline speed, yet he's much smaller. Alabama's cornerbacks will face the same dilemma, as will the safeties. Eifert will likely draw two and three defenders, opening things up for Jones and Co. to make plays downfield. While Cooper can certainly draw eyes to his side of the field, it's hard to argue that he means more to his team's success than Notre Dame's All-American tight end.