Georgia Bulldogs: amari cooper
Today's Take Two topic: If you could pick an offense in 2013, which one would you take -- Alabama's or Georgia's?
Take 1: Chris Low
To me, the three best offenses in the SEC next year should belong to, in alphabetical order, Alabama, Georgia and Texas A&M. You couldn’t go wrong with any of the three. If I were picking one, though, I’d take the Crimson Tide. It starts with senior quarterback AJ McCarron, who knows that offense inside and out, also knows the league, and doesn’t make mistakes. In the past two seasons, he has thrown 46 touchdown passes and only eight interceptions. He also has been at his best in each of the past two BCS National Championships. There’s no substitute for having a veteran quarterback who delivers in the big games.
There’s no question that if the Bulldogs return to the SEC championship game for a third consecutive year, those defensive players will have made enormous strides to get them there. They return every key offensive player except receivers Tavarres King and Marlon Brown, but lose 12 important defenders.
So let’s take a quick look at five key players who will lead the rebuilding effort for Georgia’s defense this fall -- and then three more to watch for good measure.
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Well, Nick Saban and his gang of future NFL ballers proved to us once again that it is indeed Alabama's world, after claiming their second consecutive national title and third in four years Monday night. That ringing in your ears is just the sound of "Roll Tide" being repeated over and over in your head. I've learned there's nothing we can do about it.
But will 2013 bring college football a team that can really stop the Tide? I mean, REALLY stop Alabama from winning a third straight national championship? Well, ESPN's Mark Schlabach seems to believe that the road to Pasadena is paved in crimson and white, as he has Alabama No. 1 in his Way-Too-Early-Top 25 for 2013.
It's hard to blame him at this point. Sure, Alabama's offensive line won't be nearly as good with Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack leaving. And it will take even more of a hit if/when D.J. Fluker decides to turn pro. But with quarterback AJ McCarron, running back T.J. Yeldon (we're assuming Eddie Lacy and his sweet spin move are headed to the NFL), wide receiver Amari Cooper and a host of studs on the defense returning, Alabama will again be the team to beat.
But there are some quality teams in the SEC that will fight to dethrone Alabama, and Schlabach has four in his top 10. Texas A&M, which returns the Heisman-winning Johnny Football, ranks fifth, Georgia is sixth, South Carolina is seventh and Florida is 10th. The thing about all those teams is that they all return their starting quarterbacks, with Georgia's Aaron Murray being one of the best in the country alongside Johnny Manziel.
South Carolina will be one of the more balanced teams in the SEC next fall, and if Florida can actually find a passing game in 2013, watch out because that defense will still be fierce, even with a few junior defections.
LSU, checking in at No. 13, is the only other SEC team in Schlabach's top 25. The Tigers are expected to have a better offense, especially with Zach Mettenberger finally finding his comfort zone under center, but a poor offensive showing in the Chick-fil-A Bowl defeat to Clemson and the loss of junior running backs Michael Ford and Spencer Ware create an uneasy feeling around the offense. Plus, the defense just took a beating as a result of juniors departing for the NFL, especially up front. All-American punter Brad Wing also left.
The good news for LSU is that running back Jeremy Hill is returning, and he'll only be a sophomore.
It's a good list to start off with, but where in the world is Vanderbilt? The Commodores are coming off of a historic season in Nashville. There were nine wins that included a bowl victory, five conference wins and a seven-game winning streak. The quarterback and running back spots might be up for grabs, but Jordan Matthews is coming back, along with fellow receiver Chris Boyd. And most of the rest of the offense remains intact.
There was room for Vandy in there somewhere ...
Last month he led Booker T. Washington to the Class 4A state title and now he’s ready to get down to business in preparations for a signing day decision.
“It felt good to win state,” Thomas said. It was the main goal from the beginning of the season and it feels good to accomplish your goals, especially after coming up short the year before.
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No. 18 Bacarri Rambo
67 tackles, 3 INTs, 3 FF
Role in 2012: The 2011 first-team All-American returned to his playmaking ways in the secondary following a four-game suspension to open his senior season.
The good: Aside from Jarvis Jones, Rambo is the best turnover generator on the team, and that skill was in full effect during the Bulldogs’ second-half surge toward another SEC East title. He made huge takeaways in wins against Florida (an interception in the end zone) and Georgia Tech (a strip/fumble recovery at the Georgia 1 that he returned 49 yards to midfield). He finished fourth on the team in tackles, tied for first in interceptions and trailed only Jones with three forced fumbles.
The bad: Perhaps two of the Bulldogs’ most memorable defensive miscues -- a jump ball for a 42-yard completion to Damiere Byrd on South Carolina’s opening drive and a similar jump ball that Alabama’s Amari Cooper caught for a 44-yard gain -- were plays where the ball slid through Rambo’s fingertips. Plus he missed four games this season and one in 2011 while serving suspensions. Rambo is one of the most effective defensive playmakers of the Mark Richt era, but he’s also had his share of costly off-the-field issues.
Crystal ball: With one game left in his college career, Rambo is tied with Jake Scott for Georgia’s career interception record (16). If nothing else, he has shown a nose for finding the football while it’s in the air -- and that should help him land somewhere in the NFL. ESPN Scouts Inc. rates Rambo as a top-100 draft prospect and the No. 8 player at his position. Last week, however, ESPN’s Mel Kiper rated Rambo as the No. 2 senior safety prospect and said an NFL team will draft him “knowing he can start right away.”
No. 5 Damian Swann
47 tackles, 2 INTs, 3.5 TFLs
Role in 2012: Swann stepped into a starting role as a sophomore and immediately became one of the Bulldogs’ top playmakers in the secondary.
The good: Not only did he have a solid season as a cover corner, Swann also contributed in other ways. His sack and forced fumble early in the Florida game set up Georgia’s first touchdown. And he made two fumble recoveries against Ole Miss that helped the Bulldogs take control in that win. Overall he had an outstanding first season as a starter.
The bad: Unfortunately for Swann, the enduring image from his 2012 season will probably be Alabama’s Amari Cooper streaking behind him for the game-winning, 45-yard touchdown catch in the SEC championship game. It was one of the few times that an opponent got behind him and made a big play, but the stakes in that moment could not have been greater.
Crystal ball: Swann will be the only returning starter in Georgia’s secondary next season, so he will play a crucial leadership role as a junior. He started every game this season and played a key role in coverage and in blitzing and could help generate turnovers (as evidenced by his two sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries). The Bulldogs have numerous holes to fill on defense next season, but Swann will be a stabilizing force.
The sixth-ranked Bulldogs (11-2) will instead play No. 16 Nebraska (10-3) in the Capital One Bowl with far less at stake, although they can still become just the third Georgia team ever to win 12 games in a season -- a win that could send off a valuable senior class in the right way after they helped re-establish Georgia as one of the SEC’s top programs.
Let’s review our Georgia Power Rankings entering bowl season (last week’s rank in parentheses):
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Dogs pull off fake puntThe score: 0-0
The situation: Georgia faced fourth-and-10 from the Alabama 36 on the first play of the second quarter.
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Two players barely a year out of high school football would decide the fate of Alabama’s 2012 season.
Boy did it pay off.
“Two big plays by freshmen there,” senior center Barrett Jones said.
Big doesn’t even begin to describe them. You need more hyperbole for this one, like mammoth or gargantuan.
The first play came on third-and-5 at the 50-yard line. Georgia held a 28-25 lead, and it appeared that the Tide were squandering their great field position. With about four minutes remaining, quarterback AJ McCarron stuck the ball in T.J. Yeldon’s gut, and the frosh cut to the right side and barreled his way past the first-down marker.
It was a play everyone inside the Georgia Dome or plastered to a TV set knew was coming.
Yet Georgia’s defense, which had been giving up rushing yards like men give up beads at Mardi Gras, couldn’t stop the force that was Yeldon.
“He went out there and just ran people over,” offensive lineman D.J. Fluker said of the 6-foot-2, 216-pounder. “You can’t find that too often.”
It was a simple post play to the left side, where it’s better if Amari Cooper releases on the inside. He cut outside and stopped momentarily as he looked for McCarron. Once he saw the play was coming, he left a helpless Damian Swann in his dust before hauling McCarron’s perfectly thrown pass and waltzing into the end zone to give Alabama the winning score in a 32-28 victory.
“Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games, and I wanted to come out here and be a big-time player,” said Cooper, who finished with a game-high seven catches for 127 yards and the key score. “I envisioned it before it happened, and it came true.”
He probably envisioned it because it looked easy on film, as he and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier felt confident taking shots at the Dawgs.
“That’s what we want as receivers,” Cooper said. “We want to take those shots, and that’s what we did.”
It helps that Cooper, who goes by the nickname Hollywood because of his on-field skill, is an extraordinary athlete. Before his touchdown, his play of the night came when he went up top and snatched a 44-yard prayer from McCarron away from one of the most physical players in the game in safety Bacarri Rambo in the second quarter. After that, he spent the rest of the night sprinting past or cutting by Georgia defenders and bailing Alabama’s offense out in crucial situations.
“He’s able to do the things that you would think a normal freshman wouldn’t do,” Tide linebacker Nico Johnson said. “He’s making big plays in big games, like he did today.
“He takes it and runs with it and lives to that name. He’s something special.”
To Jones, Cooper just has a different gear than a lot of players. One moment he is side-by-side with a defender; the next, he’s gone -- with the ball.
“He’s one of the fastest people I’ve ever seen,” Jones said.
Cooper stretched the field and gave Alabama more running room, which helped free Yeldon, who entered the game with just three 100-yard performances but carried the ball a game-high 25 times for a backbreaking 153 yards and a touchdown. While giving Eddie Lacy the occasional breather, Yeldon helped Alabama register an SEC championship record 350 rushing yards Saturday.
“It’s like he’s been here three times himself,” Lacy said. “As a freshman, you can’t ask him to play any better than he did tonight.”
You can’t ask more from either. They did so much for Alabama in the biggest game of either's career. Yeldon had nine runs that resulted in first downs, while Cooper had three first-down plays. Together, they touched the ball 32 times for 280 yards and two touchdowns.
Johnson tells both Cooper and Yeldon before every game to play with purpose. On Saturday, they did that and then some. This is only the beginning for these fabulous freshmen.
“I’m glad they’re freshmen because they are going to be here for a while,” offensive lineman Cyrus Kouandjio said.
That has to be a scary thought for the rest of the league.
ATLANTA -- In what lacked the defense of a usual SEC game, No. 2 Alabama outlasted No. 3 Georgia 32-28 to claim the 2012 SEC championship. Alabama is now headed to Miami to face No. 1 Notre Dame in the Discover BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 7.
Alabama's game-winning score came on a 45-yard pass from AJ McCarron to a wide-open Amari Cooper with 3 minutes, 15 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
It was over when: After driving down to Alabama's 8-yard line, Aaron Murray threw a pass to Chris Conley at the 5-yard line that was tipped. Conley came down with the ball with 5 seconds remaining, but time expired before Georgia could run one last play.
Game ball goes to: If you looked up the word "workhorse" in the dictionary, you'd find a picture of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon next to it. Lacy rushed for 181 yards on 20 carries and had two touchdowns. He registered 176 of those yards through the first three quarters, averaging 10.4 a carry during that time. Alabama's offense was at its best when Lacy touched the ball the majority of times on drives. Yeldon, only a freshman, carried the ball 25 times for 153 yards and a touchdown. His first-down run on third-and-5 on Alabama's final scoring drive set up the Tide's game-winning touchdown.
Stat of the game: Alabama (12-1, 7-1 SEC) outrushed Georgia 350-113 and averaged 6.9 yards per carry in the process -- a new rushing record for the SEC championship game. Georgia (11-2, 7-1) averaged just 3.9 yards per carry. That makes three consecutive games in which Georgia's defense surrendered 300-plus yards on the ground.
Best call: On the first play of the second quarter, Georgia coach Mark Richt stepped out of his shell and called a fake punt on fourth-and-10 at Alabama's 36-yard line. Tight end Arthur Lynch took the snap and zipped a pass to cornerback Sanders Commings for 16 yards. Two plays later, Murray threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jay Rome to give the Bulldogs the early 7-0 lead.
What it means for Alabama: The win assures the Tide of making their second straight national championship game and third in four years. Alabama, which is second in the BCS standings, will face top-ranked Notre Dame in the Discover BCS National Championship Game in Miami.
What it means for Georgia: The Bulldogs will miss out on a BCS bowl game and could be headed to the AT&T Cotton Bowl to take on a Big 12 opponent. The last time Georgia was in the Cotton Bowl was 1983, when the Bulldogs beat Texas 10-9.
The Bulldogs’ veteran defense thoroughly dominated a line that had to replace three NFL draftees at first before offensive line coach Will Friend’s group finally began to make progress. And that process has continued during the regular season, with the line exceeding its coaches' modest expectations as the new lineup continued to grow more comfortable as a group.
“They’ve improved each week and we’ve got to keep going that way,” said Friend, whose players are among the biggest factors in Saturday’s SEC championship matchup with Alabama according to many analysts. “The season’s a long way from over and there’s still another month left, I guess, to keep improving and keep going. So they’ve gotten better, but at the same time we’ve got to be more consistent.”
The low point of the season was certainly Georgia’s 35-7 loss to South Carolina, when defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, in particular, helped whip the Bulldogs up front. That was a painful experience for the line, but it was also a valuable lesson for the group.
“It wasn’t that hard for them to realize what we had to work on and we needed to play better,” Friend said. “We try to be pretty honest with how we think guys played and I feel like they kind of respond better when you tell them the truth and tell them how you feel. So they knew.
“And of course, if you’ve got a good group, they know anyway, so they could tell and they saw what they needed to work on and it was just go back to work. It would have been no different if we would have played better.”
Alabama’s dominant defense is not particularly similar to South Carolina’s in structure, but it is even more effective when it comes to results. The Crimson Tide rank among the national leaders in every major defensive category and represents perhaps the biggest matchup challenge that Friend’s line will have faced this season.
“They’ve got a great defense,” Friend said. “Obviously the stats speak for themselves. When you put the tape on, you see how well they play the techniques and how hard they play and how physical they are. They’re well coached, they’re focused on what they’re doing, they play it just like their coaches want them to play it and they’re very impressive, so it’s a big challenge.”
2. Making plays at receiver: Both teams have suffered casualties at receiver this season. Most recently, Alabama lost Kenny Bell for the season when he broke his leg last week against Auburn. Georgia earlier this season lost Michael Bennett and Marlon Brown to injuries. Tavarres King has quietly had a big season for the Bulldogs with eight touchdown catches, and Malcolm Mitchell will also be key in this game with his ability to make big plays down the field. More than ever, Alabama will lean on freshman Amari Cooper in the passing game with Bell out. Cooper has eight touchdown catches and is averaging 17 yards per catch. Alabama coach Nick Saban is also prepared to pull the redshirt off Chris Black, who hurt his shoulder in August and underwent surgery. Black is healthy and wants to play in this game.
3. Denting Alabama’s defense: Alabama leads the country in scoring defense for the second straight season. One of the reasons why is that the Crimson Tide simply don’t give up big plays. They have allowed 89 plays this season that have gained 10 yards or more, which is nine fewer than any other Football Bowl Subdivision team. Opponents are averaging 1.9 drives per game against Alabama that reach the red zone, the lowest average among FBS teams. Running the ball in the red zone against Alabama has been nearly impossible. The Crimson Tide are allowing 0.82 yards per rush in the red zone this season, the lowest average in FBS. What makes this such an intriguing matchup is that Georgia has specialized in generating big plays on offense. The Bulldogs have 75 plays that have gained 20 yards or more, which ranks seventh among FBS teams. The only game this season that they didn’t have a play of at least 30 yards was their 35-7 loss to South Carolina.
4. Winning the big ones: This is a stage Alabama is accustomed to being on, and the Crimson Tide have been at their best in marquee games under Saban. They are 3-1 against nationally ranked teams this season and have won nine of their past 11 games against nationally ranked foes. Georgia, on the other hand, has faced just two nationally ranked teams this season. The Bulldogs beat Florida 17-9 and lost to South Carolina 35-7. Georgia has struggled the past few seasons against nationally ranked opponents, losing eight of its last 11 games to teams ranked in the Top 25. The win over Florida on Oct. 27 was Georgia’s first win against a top-10 opponent since the 2009 season and its first win against an SEC team ranked in the top 10 since beating No. 9 Florida 42-30 in 2007.
5. Forcing turnovers: It’s no coincidence that Alabama and Georgia lost the turnover battle in each of their losses this season. Alabama turned the ball over three times in its 29-24 loss to Texas A&M, which didn’t turn the ball over at all. Georgia had one turnover and South Carolina none in the Bulldogs’ loss to the Gamecocks. Which defense can force the most turnovers in this game? Alabama has scored 157 points off turnovers this season, the most in the SEC and fourth most in the FBS. For the season, Alabama is plus-14 and Georgia plus-9 in turnover margin. Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron has thrown just two interceptions all season, and both came in the Texas A&M loss. Murray has thrown seven interceptions this season but hasn’t thrown any in five of his last six outings. The exception was the Florida game when he threw three.
Sanders Commings, CB, Georgia: There wasn't much for Georgia's defense to be happy about in that 51-44 shootout with Tennessee, but Commings came up with some big plays for the Bulldogs. He intercepted two of Tyler Bray's passes, including the one to seal the game when he jumped in front of Bray's final prayer with only seconds remaining in Saturday's game. Commings also registered five tackles.
Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: The freshman receiver came through in a big way in the second quarter of Alabama's 33-14 victory over Ole Miss when he grabbed back-to-back touchdown passes from 16 and 12 yards out. Cooper was quarterback AJ McCarron's favorite target on the night, as he caught a game-high eight passes and led all receivers with 84 yards.
Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina: You can tell Lattimore is just getting stronger every time get gets out on the field. After carrying the ball just five times for 12 yards in the first half against Kentucky, Lattimore grabbed 18 carries for 108 yards and two touchdowns in the second half. For those counting at home, he finished the day with a season-high 120 yards. He also caught three passes for 16 yards in the 38-17 win.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: It was just another day for Manziel, as he and his teammates walked all over Arkansas' defense. The redshirt freshman wanted a victory badly, and he did all he could to secure the Aggies' 58-10 blowout. He completed 29 of his 38 passes for 453 yards and three touchdowns. He also carried the ball 14 times for 104 yards, including a long of 52 yards, and a touchdown.
Keith Marshall, RB, Georgia: Another freshman makes our list. Todd Gurley might have the better stats on the season, but Marshall was key to the Bulldogs' success Saturday, as he carried the ball 10 times for 164 yards and scored touchdowns from 75 and 72 yards out. His 72-yard scamper late in the third quarter eventually stood as the Bulldogs' game-winning score.
Mike Bobo, offensive coordinator, Georgia: Hats off to Georgia's playcaller. Bobo hasn't exactly been a fan favorite in Athens, Ga., but he made Tennessee's defense look silly with the way he game planned for Saturday. He helped the Bulldogs be extremely balanced in their plays and created the right mismatches to help Georgia run all over the Vols' defense. Georgia registered its third straight 500-plus-yard game by totaling 560 yards against the Vols. The Dawgs rushed for 282 yards and threw for 278. Through five games, there's no question that Georgia has the SEC's best offense, and Bobo's play calling and roster management has been a big reason why.
On to the league's wide receiver/tight end groups:
1. Tennessee: The Vols are equipped with two of the top wideouts in the league with Da'Rick Rogers, who was second in the SEC in receiving last year, and Justin Hunter, who might be the SEC's top deep threat. It sounds like Hunter will be 100 percent this fall after his ACL injury last year. Junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson is big, fast and possesses the big-play gene. The speedy Zach Rogers is back and is so is talented tight end Mychal Rivera.
You won't see any change really, but we have more confidence in some teams now than we did before:
1. Alabama: The Crimson Tide hauled in the nation's No. 1 recruiting class last week and not only did Nick Saban sign a handful of top-rated players, but he met all of Alabama's major needs with the 2012 class. There are a few freshmen who could make early impacts in Tuscaloosa, including athlete Eddie Williams (Panama City, Fla./Arnold), and wide receivers Chris Black (Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast) and Amari Cooper (Miami, Fla./Miami Northwestern).