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75 Days ‘til Alabama Football: Amari Cooper dominates Auburn

The 2014 Iron Bowl was won with momentum on one catch, and a dagger on the next.

Auburn v Alabama Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Gus Malzahn/Gene Chizik Iron Bowls have tended to be weird affairs. Rarely do both teams show up on the field at the same time and play as well as they are capable of doing. In the 2014 Iron Bowl, it was the secondaries that decided to take the day off. But, still smarting from a late season loss a year earlier, Blake Sims and Amari Cooper refused to be on the wrong side of the ledger again.

The first half was a back-and-forth affair. Alabama looked to have a decent start to the game, and led 14-6 after one, highlighted by an 11-yard pass from Sims to Cooper and a workmanlike TD run by T.J. Yeldon.

The second period is where the wheels feel off. After four long completions from Nick Marshall to Sammie Coates and Quan Bray, Auburn was able to eke out two goal line field goals, a 34-yard toss to the endzone, and a 68-yard touchdown to outscore the Tide 20-7 for the frame -- with 10 of those points coming in the final 1:26 of play.

What was more troubling was that in a shootout where it looked like every score would be needed, Blake Sims tossed three first-half interceptions, and the secondary was being Kirby’d to death. Only a yeoman effort by the Tide goal-line defense had kept the halftime margin being smaller than it was. 26-21, bad guys..

The third quarter started, and it seemed to bode more of the same: Auburn took the opening kick, moved down the field with an efficient passing game, and easily cashed in on a 5-yard catch from Nick Marshall to Qaun Bray. 33-21, Barn.

This final game of the season was the only one where Nick Saban had seriously considered pulling the struggling sims for the stronger-armed Jake Coker. It was a close-run affair until Kiffin vouched for his guy, arguing to keep Sims in. Saban trusted Kiffin and relented. That’s when the pass-happiness of Alabama OC Lane Kiffin was unleashed.

It would prove to be a great decision.

Trailing by double digits with 11:05 left in the third, a struggling Sims and the best Alabama receiver of the modern age became Barner landlords — living rent free in the secondary and taking what they wanted.

The Tide moved down the field with a run-pass mix, when Sims spotted Cooper one-on-one against the safety on one of Kiffin’s favorite play: the deep post. 39 yards later, touchdown Alabama. 33-27.

Auburn again moved down the field, but again had to settle for a Daniel Carlson red zone field goal. 36-27.

The Tigers didn’t know it, but despite being up by 9, they had already lost the game.

By this point, the Tide offense had heated up. The deep strike from Blake to Cooper, gave Sims renewed confidence in his arm. The running game was humming with Yeldon, the Tide receivers were running free in the Barn secondary.

That’s when Sims’ dropped back from the Tide 25 and changed the entire game. Kiffin called his favorite play, the Sluggo, along the sideline (slant-and-go.) Lane Kiffins arms were in the air before the pass was thrown.

Sims’ much-maligned arm laced the ball almost 55 yards through the air, hit cooper in stride, and then Amari’s speed and a final powerful finish put him in the endzone.

Despite being up by two Auburn had just lost the ball game.

Alabama would go on and dominate the rest of the way: Derrick Henry running, DeAndrew White through the air, Blake Sims using his legs — The Tide were up by as many as 19 with 3 minutes remaining. Auburn got some pride-saving junk points, but by then, it was a foregone conclusion.

One of the most popular players in recent history overcame his struggles to finish 20/27, for 312 yards and 4TD in the win. While arguably the best pure receiver in Alabama history had a game for the ages, hauling in 13 catches for 224 yards, three scores and a 75-yard dagger in Malzahn’s heart. 55-44, good guys

75 days ‘till Alabama football

Roll Tide