Ex-Alabama wide receivers Amari Cooper and Julio Jones both remember the one game that propelled them as stars for the Crimson Tide, a match-up against the Georgia Bulldogs.
Cooper’s moment came in 2012 as a true freshman in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game. Georgia’s secondary seemingly had no answers for him, as he totaled eight receptions for 128 yards and a touchdown. Cooper averaged 16.8 yards per catch and his score came on a 45-yard reception from quarterback AJ McCarron in the fourth quarter.
The Crimson Tide would go onto defeat the Bulldogs 32-28, securing an SEC championship and a national title in 2012. Cooper finished the year with 1,000 yards and 11 scores.
Jones, like Cooper, earned his moment as a freshman. It was in 2008 when Georgia unveiled its black jerseys “Blackout Game” as a threat to Alabama. Jones and the Tide weren’t fazed, as he accounted for 94 receiving yards and a touchdown on five catches. His score came on a 22-yard pass from quarterback John Parker Wilson in the second quarter.
Alabama defeated Georgia 41-30 that year, but Saturday could see the light shine on a new star, true freshman and Florida native Calvin Ridley.The 6-foot, 188-pound Ridley is starting to come into his own as a sure-handed receiver and playmaker.
He has gained consistency each week, and in the absence of Robert Foster (shoulder), Ridley is leading wideouts in practice. He recorded his first collegiate touchdown reception against Louisiana-Monroe last week, and stands at 17 catches for 125 yards with a touchdown.
Ridley may be asked to block more due to weather conditions predicted for this week; however, he will have multiple opportunities to excel in the passing game. If he can create separation from Georgia’s defensive backs, Ridley will then be difficult to stop in the open field.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban named Ridley as one of few young players that will see increased playing time. He caught three passes in week one against Wisconsin, but a bigger stage awaits the freshman in Athens, Ga. If Jacob Coker plays sharp, Saturday could be huge for Ridley.
Stephen M. Smith is a senior analyst and columnist for Touchdown Alabama Magazine.