Calvin Ridley entered Alabama after being the No. 1 receiver in the ESPN 300 Class of 2015 rankings. After three games this season -- including the Crimson Tide’s only loss -- he had 13 receptions and was averaging less than 7 yards per catch.
But it’s as if a light switch was flipped after Alabama’s third game, a 43-37 loss to Ole Miss. In the games since, Ridley has been quarterback Jake Coker’s favorite receiver, leading the team in targets in 10 of 11 games and entering Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game with more than 1,000 receiving yards.
Ridley has 66 receptions for 906 yards and six touchdowns in his past 10 games. During that stretch he has been responsible for 44.4 percent of Alabama’s receiving yards, the second-highest rate in the FBS.
When targeting Ridley on passes thrown 20 yards or more downfield during that 10-game stretch, Coker has completed eight of 14 passes, including four touchdowns, matching his total number of completions to all other receivers on passes of that length.
Ridley’s average target distance over the past 10 games is 9.1 yards downfield, farthest among Alabama receivers.
Good company as freshman
Ridley is the first freshman to lead Alabama in receiving since 2012. That season, Amari Cooper became the first freshman in school history to have 1,000 receiving yards.
Cooper ended that season with three consecutive 100-yard receiving games, including the BCS Championship Game against Notre Dame. Ridley could match that feat with 100 yards against Clemson. (And Ridley had 90 receiving yards against Auburn in the game before his streak started.)
Not surprisingly, Coker’s statistics have improved along with Ridley’s. Coker has completed an FBS-best 73.1 percent of his passes over his past 10 games. He has completed at least 60 percent of his passes in each of those contests, the third-longest active streak in the FBS.
On throws 15 or more yards downfield in the past 10 games, Coker has completed a Power 5-best 61 percent of his passes. His improvement on such throws is also reflected in this stat: He was off-target on 16 percent of his passes in his first four games compared with 7 percent in his past 10 games.
The Coker-Ridley connection was probably at its best in the Cotton Bowl against Michigan State. With Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry held to 75 yards rushing, Coker completed eight of 10 passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns when targeting Ridley.