Editor's note: Each day this week we'll review the five biggest plays or moments of the season for the Alabama Crimson Tide. Yesterday, we looked at Eddie Lacy's 177-yard rushing day against Missouri.
AJ McCarron and the Alabama offense had become accustomed to operating without a go-to target in the passing game. Since Julio Jones left to become a star in the NFL, the Crimson Tide have been good at receiver but not great. There was no one to look to when the game was on the line and a play needed to be made.
Enter Amari Cooper. Like his predecessor, Cooper wasted no time making an impact at receiver. The freshman from Miami stepped onto the scene at Alabama and became McCarron's primary target on offense within a few weeks.
By Week 7, at Tennessee, it became clear Cooper was here to stay. Senior tight end Michael Williams was already drawing historical significance from Cooper's 167-yard, two-touchdown performance in Knoxville.
"He can be one of the greatest," Williams said of Cooper. "I don't want to put that on his head but you see it. Before long, y'all would start saying that always. Y'all can see what he has. You see the talent. As long as he keeps his head straight, I think he'll be one of the greats."
Williams was right. Cooper's talent was obvious at Tennessee. His speed and ability to get behind defenders was clear on his first touchdown grab. His ability to go up and get the football was evident on his 54-yard reception with a defensive back draped on his shoulders. He put it all together on his second touchdown of the game, a 42-yard reception that sealed the victory for Alabama.
"He's had some big plays all year long," Saban said after the game. "He caught eight passes against Ole Miss. We think he's an outstanding player. He's just a freshman and he's gotten better and better every week. He's really learned to be very consistent. He plays fast and he plays hard."
Cooper hasn't slowed down since. He leads all receivers in receptions (53), yards (895) and touchdowns (9). Impressive for a player that entered the season as a backup and was playing high school football at this time a year ago.
Now, Cooper is coming full circle his freshman season with a return trip home -- to compete for the national championship. Alabama will meet Notre Dame in Miami.
"It's a dream come true," Cooper said after the SEC title game on Dec. 1.