TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Before Saturday's Alabama-Florida game, Amari Cooper and Vernon Hargreaves III acted no different. Both players kept to themselves, showing no emotion despite the magnitude of the game. There was no trash talking when they lined up across from each other on that first play. There was a sense of respect.
It was no different after the game. Cooper finished with 10 catches for 201 yards and three touchdowns, clearly winning the individual matchup, but there to congratulate him afterward was Hargreaves. It didn't matter that Hargreaves was banged up and missed the final eight minutes. He knew he was facing one of the nation's best.
"He just said, 'Good game. You played great," Cooper told reporters after the game. "He's a very humble player. You can tell he comes from a good family.”
Looking back, both played well. Cooper is obviously on another level and showed why he's the better of the two, but Hargreaves didn't have a bad game despite what the stats might indicate.
Alabama found ways to move its top receiver around before the snap and match him up against somebody other than Hargreaves. On two separate plays in the first half, Cooper lined up in the slot with Hargreaves playing outside. The first play went for 37 yards, the second for 79 yards and a touchdown.
When the two were matched up in clear one-on-one situations, Cooper had five catches for 51 yards and one of his three touchdowns. His last score came with Florida's top cornerback on the sideline.
After the game, Alabama coach Nick Saban was complimentary of both.
“Coop did a great job in the game,” Saban said. “We have a lot of respect for their No. 1 guy [Hargreaves]. He is a very good player. But when you have matchups like that with two good players and you analyze the whole thing, both guys will end up making some plays.”
VH3 draws first blood: On its first play from scrimmage, Alabama used Cooper as a decoy and threw a long touchdown to Kenyan Drake on the other side. The next time the Tide got the ball, they ran to Hargreaves' side, and he was ready. Both he and safety Marcus Maye helped strip the ball from Drake, and Hargreaves was the one to recover it before going out of bounds. For the most part, Hargreaves played well against the run and finished with six tackles including one for a loss.
Cooper gets behind defense: How do you leave the SEC's best wide receiver wide open for a 79-yard touchdown pass? It came down to simple miscommunication. Cooper lined up in the slot with Hargreaves on the outside and Florida running zone coverage. The Alabama wide receiver took off on a go route, and because of a mix-up between defensive backs Brian Poole and Keanu Neal, the entire Gators defense had to watch as Cooper caught what might have been the easiest touchdown of his college career. It was simple pitch and catch.
The touchdown that wasn't: Cooper might have had four touchdowns Saturday if not for an offensive pass interference called against him in the third quarter. It was Cooper against Hargreaves, one-on-one, and the Alabama wide receiver gave a little shove before turning around and catching the ball. Once he caught it, he showed off his moves and maneuvered his way through traffic to find the end zone, but it all went for naught. Cooper caught another long pass with Hargreaves draped on him that was called back due to illegal formation.
Cooper shows why he's elite: If there was one play the NFL scouts will turn to when evaluating Cooper, it was his touchdown grab late in the third quarter. Backup quarterback Jake Coker had checked into the game, and it was once again one-on-one with Hargreaves, the matchup everybody wanted to see. Cooper ran a fade to the back of the end zone, and with the ball at its highest point, he went up and simply took it away from Hargreaves, who had good position on the play. It didn't matter who was throwing it. It didn't matter who was covering him. Cooper was catching that ball.