Auburn Football: How Will Tigers Defend Alabama WR Amari Cooper in the Iron Bowl?


Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has a lot of respect for Alabama, their new offensive coordinator, and the talent the Crimson Tide possesses on offense.

“He’s got a toy box full of toys over there,” Johnson said of coordinator Lane Kiffin during a recent press conference. “His system has been devised to take advantage of that talent. The way they’re spreading you out with all the speed, with all the multiple formations, they have a very, very versatile bunch of players, and utilizing them and getting everybody the ball.”

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Kiffin has a good track record of getting the ball to his playmakers. Reggie Bush and Marqise Lee come to mind while Kiffin was the OC then head coach at USC, respectively. But neither of those players may have been as good as one of his new toys: Alabama’s Heisman-caliber wide receiver Amari Cooper.

“I know everybody sees Amari Cooper,” Johnson said. “If you don’t stop him, you probably don’t have a chance, but even if you do stop him, you’ve still got a long day’s work.”

When thinking of defending an all-star receiver, the first thing that comes to mind is double-teaming him. Therefore, the question was asked.

“We’ll do it some, absolutely,” Johnson replied. “Of course, there’s a lot of different ways you do it. What everybody calls double-zone, just two deep, try to have somebody over the top, try to disguise what you’re doing.”

Sep 13, 2014; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Amari Cooper (9) after scoring a touchdown during the first quarter against Southern Miss Golden Eagles at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Meaning, don’t expect Auburn to double-team Cooper in the traditional sense of putting two cornerbacks on him. Instead, expect to see a lot of Cover 2 looks on the back end, some Cover 2 Man and perhaps Man Free (Cover 1) that will allow an extra defender to give extra help to the corner charged with defending Cooper in traditional one-on-one situations.

Basically, Johnson will often have more than one player designed to Cooper, but it won’t always look like it, and Kiffin, Cooper and quarterback Blake Sims will see a lot of different looks and need to process a lot of different information to determine how to get the ball to the receiver.

They’ve done a pretty good job so far.

“He’s had an outstanding season, one of the better receivers in the league, and he’s one of the biggest challenges going into this week,” cornerback Jonathon Mincy said. “We’re excited to go in there and compete with him.”

Through eleven games this season, the junior wideout has a career-high 90 catches for a personal best 1,349 yards and has eleven touchdown grabs. He needs one more to break the mark he set as a freshman.

And it won’t be the first thing Cooper has broken. Earlier this year, the Miami native became Alabama’s all-time leading receiver. He’s got 3,085 career receiving yards to date.

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  • As good as he’s been this season and throughout his three seasons in Tuscaloosa, Cooper has perhaps been even better against Auburn in his career than any other opponent. As a true freshman he had two touchdowns among five receptions and 109 yards. Last year, he had 178 receiving yards on six grabs, including a 99-yard TD.

    Expect Kiffin and Sims to keep that streak going Saturday when the 10-1, top ranked Crimson Tide host the 8-3 Tigers in the 79th Iron Bowl. Cooper exited Alabama’s 48-14 win last week against Western Carolina with an apparent knee injury. However, he is expected to play against the Tigers.

    Of course, Cooper isn’t the only player that makes the Alabama offense dangerous.

    “As great a player as he is, and it’s obvious they’re trying to get the ball to him, there’s some other guys that can really make plays,” Johnson said. “We can’t lose the attention to them, too.”

    Johnson has a busy week ahead of him developing a game plan to hold running backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, tight end O.J. Howard, and fellow receivers such as Christion Jones and Chris Black in check also.

    However, if Johnson and the Auburn defense can limit Cooper’s impact on the game, it’ll be a big step towards another upset victory over the Tide.

    Next: The Five Greatest Auburn Iron Bowl Victories

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