MIAMI — Outside of Nick Saban declining overtures to coach in the NFL, there may be no greater cause for extended Alabama football glee than tailback T.J. Yeldon and receiver Amari Cooper.
The two touted freshmen lived up to the hype in a hurry, with Yeldon amassing 1,000 rushing yards and Cooper compiling 895 receiving yards entering Monday night's BCS championship against Notre Dame. In Alabama's two comeback victories against LSU and Georgia, Yeldon caught the winning pass in Baton Rouge and Cooper caught the winner in the Southeastern Conference title game.
For them, future seasons can't arrive soon enough.
"It's going to be pretty scary for the defenses that are defending us," Yeldon said Saturday.
Yeldon needed little time to make an impact, rushing 11 times for 111 yards and a touchdown in the 41-14 opening rout of Michigan. The 6-foot-2, 216-pounder from Daphne, Ala., had a midseason surge that included 144 yards at Missouri and 129 at Tennessee, and he is coming off a 153-yard performance against Georgia.
That made him the first Crimson Tide freshman to reach the 1,000-yard milestone.
"T.J. obviously has had a very good year for us," Saban said. "To gain 1,000 yards as a freshman, I think is a pretty significant accomplishment. He had a good game right off the bat against Michigan, and consistency in performance with your players is always a goal and objective. He's shown quite a bit of maturity in being able to do that throughout the season.
"He and Eddie [Lacy] have made a pretty dynamic duo for us at the running back position this year, and we've been pleased with what he's been able to do."
Yeldon and quarterback AJ McCarron fumbled an exchange at LSU, and Yeldon fumbled in the 29-24 loss to Texas A&M. He received advice throughout the season from former Tide tailbacks Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, who was at the Texas A&M game and told Yeldon to put the fumble behind him.
When asked what he learned the most from his freshman year, Yeldon said, "I didn't know blocking was so important in college, but I've got the hang of it now."
Lacy, a redshirt junior, leads the Tide with 1,182 rushing yards, but Cooper has been Alabama's top receiving threat since erupting for seven catches for 162 yards and two touchdowns in the 44-13 win in Knoxville. The 6-1, 198-pounder from Miami added 136 yards against Texas A&M, 109 against Auburn and 128 in the SEC championship game.
"When you get a wide receiver of his caliber, the big challenge early on is not to give him too much to where he's playing slow," offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. "We really started with a small package for Coop, and it's kind of evolved as it's gone. Now he has the ability to do a lot of different things for us."
With 3:15 remaining against Georgia, Cooper got past talented cornerback Damian Swann for a 45-yard touchdown that gave the Tide a 32-28 lead that held up. It was a monumental play, though Yeldon's 28-yard score on a screen pass with 51 seconds left at LSU came with more desperation.
"I think we had a great impact on the team," Cooper said, "and I think our teammates respect us and our coaches respect us. I'm just glad we've had this opportunity to showcase our skills and help out."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...
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