MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It didn’t take long—only a few minutes of video from the Gold-Blue spring game, in fact—for Alabama receiver Amari Cooper to notice the oddity of West Virginia’s 3-3-5 stack defense.

“They play a pretty weird defense to me,” Cooper told reporters Tuesday. “I’ve never went up against that type of defense. It’s something that we’ll be working on all week to get used to.”

That weird defense is the design of West Virginia’s first-year coordinator Tony Gibson, who hopes to limit Cooper’s touches downfield and coral the preseason All-American when Alabama throws screens.

At 6-foot-1, Cooper shows the ability to outjump defensive backs on leaping grabs. Having posted three unofficial 40 times of 4.31, 4.35 and 4.38 last spring, he also has the speed to punish them after the catch.

NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks, who spent five seasons in the league as a player and eight as a scout, evaluated game video of Cooper from 2013, a sophomore season that was largely disappointing (team-high 45 catches, 736 yards, four touchdowns):

“He is already more polished than (Clemson’s) Sammy Watkins and (Texas A&M’s) Mike Evans as a route runner, and exhibits the explosiveness to be a difference-maker in any system … I can see Cooper thriving as a Roddy White-like playmaker as a pro.”

Of course the biggest mystery in Tuscaloosa involves which quarterback will be throwing passes to Cooper. He said that decision doesn’t influence the offensive play-calling, even though converted running back Blake Sims gives away five inches and significant arm strength to 6-5 Jacob Coker.

“No, it’s the same (offense) with both,” Cooper said. “Those guys do a good job with identifying the Mike linebacker and whatever they need to do to make the receivers hot.”

Watch out to see whether West Virginia pays special emphasis to Cooper—in particular, whether top cornerback Daryl Worley tries to matchup against him. Throughout spring, summer and preseason camp, the talk from Gibson, Worley and cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell regarded keeping the corners on a specific side, but that was somewhat designed to help them line up quickly against uptempo offenses. Alabama hasn’t shown a proclivity to go no-huddle, so WVU might be inclined to shift Worley in certain situations.

Even though Cooper made nine catches for 121 yards in the Sugar Bowl, the fact Oklahoma beat Alabama by two touchdowns on a neutral field gives Worley and his teammates optimism. After all, WVU played the Sooners to a 16-7 loss in Norman.

“It shows us anything is possible,” Worley said. “This team in our conference that we battled very closely ended up taking them down.”

One more scouting tidbit from Brooks regarding Cooper:

“If I had to cite a flaw in Cooper’s game, I would point to his occasional struggles against press coverage. Studying Cooper’s play against Virginia Tech, I noticed that he had a tough time separating from the Hokies’ Kyle Fuller on the perimeter. While Fuller is certainly an elite defender, as evidenced by his selection by the Bears with the No. 14 overall pick in May’s NFL draft, Cooper must be able to win consistently against the “hug and mug” tactics used by top cover corners.”

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama receiver Amari Cooper dropped from 59 catches and 11 touchdowns as a freshman to 45 catches and four TDs as a sophomore despite a similar number of targets.
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Comments

  • Cecil

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  • WVU 2014

    This game is going to be much closer than people think. Bama fans, players see this as a warm up game. 2 QB's playing 1 game, no rhythm and going against a D they have never seen and is "weird", lots of disguises under the 3-3-5. I think we go into 1/2 with a lead. But can we close it out!!??
    We will not get beat by 28 points and I will be putting my money where my mouth is :)
    EERS!! See ya in Atlanta

  • any major dude

    That's one reason I do not care for the shotgun. I think the running game works better when the QB is under center on quick hitters into the line. Old school. But we knew from the get-go there's nothing old school about the Mummy/ Leach/ Holgorsen offenses. It is what it is; hopefully instead of fighting fire with fire as they try in the SEC, we can fight fore with water.

    • Aaron

      It's become a staple of football and to be honest, with the growth of the game and the speed of linemen, it has been mandated that QB's operate in the shotgun. If you watch the NFL most teams have now gone to that style of football so it's not something that his going to change. I do like the pistol because it presents the opportunity for an old school tail back to use vision and hit the holes but overall, I just don't see the shotgun going away.

  • Ole Sasquatch

    vs. a 3-3-5
    I would run quick openers all day long.
    Much like Bernie Galiffa and Mike Sherwood did with Bob Gresham about 1970.
    A double team block to 1 defensive lineman and a very, very quick hand-off to an up back should get at least 4 yds. per carry.
    Line the running back up close to the line get it over to him within a tenth of a second.
    How you going to stop it?

    • Aaron

      Generally speaking, when QB's go under center, the defense adjust, same as they do if you crowd a back to the line. Regardless of the formations or sets, it's a game where the team that blocks and tackles the best wins.

  • ezd

    We will be able to stop the run effectively. We will still have seven defenders in the box or ready to get right into it. The key is play recognition from our backers and safeties. If they do a good job of recognizing run or pass we will be fine. And we have the depth and talent to rotate players and keep them fresh. And I think we got some really good run stopping backers and safeties. The 3 3 5 makes it harder for their offensive line to know who to block. Because there's one less DL that lines up the same everytime. We can have our extra guy running back and forth across the field if we want. We won't but that's why you will see two to three guys showing blitz all on one side when only one blitzes but that fraction of a second it takes the blocker to adjust to the right guy is all it takes if u got a good pass rusher.

  • FNP

    I assure you that Saban is going further back than the Spring game. He's looking at Casteels defenses while at WVU. I wouldn't say hes worried, maybe a little unsure of what he's going to see when his QB goes under center. When WVU plays these Huddle teams, they control ppl!

    • Aaron

      I don't think that will be the case Saturday. I think Alabama will line up and run a lot between the tackles. I won't be surprised to see Alabama run the ball 45-50 times against WVU.

      You have to remember, even with a returning All American candidate at QB, Bama still ran the ball 35 times a game last year and as much as writers are touting Kiffen's balance, Nick Saban is still the man making the final call.

      He might give Kiffen some leeway with a lead but if the game plan involves anything more than pound, pound, pound, I will be surprised.

      • FNP

        I think Kiffin was brought in to teach the QB's and to add a few wrinkles into the passing game. But you're right....they will run 40-45 times against WVU with a good number of play action passes.

  • WVU FAN

    Biggest thing that stuck out to me was this "Cooper must be able to win consistently against the “hug and mug” tactics used by top cover corners.”.... Can our WR's (Kevin White & company) consistently win the Hug & Mug Tactics used by Alabama's Corners? The guys with the whistles wearing Black & White will be silent when WVU's WR's are on the field in Atlanta; in Alabama's back yard.... Men you better be ready to fight for your life for the whole game!!!!!

    Today we fight!!!! I LOVE THIS GAME!!!!

    LETS GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!
    MOUNTAINEEEEEEEEEEEERS!!!!!!!

    • William101

      Anyone know which refs will be out there, Big 12 or SE Conference?

      • WVUDAD

        Being a neutral field game, I would expect neither, maybe B11 or ACC????

  • any major dude

    Look for WorleyCooper all day.

    In the SEC, they generally play 4 man fronts. Mano a Mano. I assume the idea here is to deprive UA of the short pass, and hope with their QB they won't do much long passing, 'cause I like our pass rushers, but unless we're stunting, the 3 man line won't get much pressure. That leaves the run, I hope Aaa is right that we can slow the run.

    When Casteel ran the 3 man front they still brought CBs and LBs a lot; I assume the 3-3-5 is how they will line up but there will still be plenty of realignment once the ball is snapped.

  • Big Larry

    Do these comments from Cooper mean that WVU has a chance?

  • GA DOME MAGIC

    '05 Sugar Bowl repeat???? Come on, BAMA not even SEC champs. Rollllll EERS!!!

  • John boy

    Once again changing the defense...this time reverting to the stack. I hope they've learned fast. Too many times ive seen defensive fall through the bucket after radically altering alignments. We will see

    • An actual athlete

      However I do understand your trepidation in another chance of alignment. Let's just hope it go's better than the switch to the 3-4.

    • An actual athlete

      I'm actually looking forward to going back to the 3-3-5. Our problem in the 3-4 was the second middle linebacker, we always have one good one, and one that wasn't quite ready. As long as kyle rose does his job at nose, nick k should be making tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage all day. Since nield went to the NFL we have been underwhelming at nose and our defenses have struggled. Also remember that when casteel ran the 3-3-5 we were very good against the run.

      • Aaron

        The thing with Casteel's defenses was that they ranked high when he had juniors and seniors that had played for a year or more in them and understood what he wanted. Also, Casteel was as good a coach as I have seen at making adjustments. Many a game an offense would have success in the first half only to be shut down in the 2nd half. Given the talent, I think he is one of the best DC's in the country.

  • TX Hunter

    I bleed blue and gold but I have to ask; does it really matter who starts at QB for the opposing team? We'll make him look like an All-Amercan by halftime whatever his last name happens to be. That doesn't mean I'm forecasting a shellacking at the hands of 'Bama either. By the end of this game, Sportscenter will be abuzz with talk about how/why Saban has lost the recipe in Tuscaloosa. Let's Go.....!

  • TruthTeller

    Yea all those receivers would look good with a senior QB throwing the ball BUT that is not the case in this game. Just like the difference between Geno Smith and Clint Trickett.
    Bama will not have their timing down and
    the QB will be running for his life in Atlanta.

    • Bammer Fan

      They'll only need to run to the nearest tailback.

      • roger

        Bammer Fan is right, they will only need to run to the nearest tailback, and Mountaineer linebackers are very good at running to the nearest tailback. :-)

        • Matt

          Gotta say one thing to a 335 defense. Its used pretty widely in high school football and with some success in college. Its usually used with teams who are fast and not big. 335 is not used to having teams that are as fast or faster than the 335 team defenses. Bama's wd r and running backs are as fast if not faster than most defenses let alone a smaller defense. Our backs are fast, powerful, and hard to bring down. Good luck on that 335. The err"s are not going to stop the running game with 3 linemen... Bama will run all over that...as far as the 5 db's..well yea guess you could say it will be harder to pass. That 335 will change pretty quick when Bama starts running through the line with 7 to 8 yards per carry...wont have to pass. Bama D is going to be stoping the run and our db's are more seasoned this year. Bama has a better pass rush than any year before so its going to be tuff for WV to score. Bama is so deep at the roster that they wear defenses and offenses out by the fourth quarter. I don't agree with the 27 point spread either, I think Bama will struggle a little in th first quarter until they find there rhythm. So if the eer's score they need to do it by half time. The second half will show just how dominating Bama will be. I think it will be rather close by halftime...17 to 10 Bama. By 4 quarter end Bama will be up by at least 14. BY the way Bama fans dont look at any game as warm ups. Each game is focused on individually WV is a step we need to win on the raod to number 16 BCS Champ. We dont just cheer for our team we here at alabama live football and that is our fan base mindset, to not just beat teams and have a good season but to win Championships. Yeah we droped two games to Auburn and OK last year. Auburn's game was back and forth until the field goal run back, they didn't dominate, but we didn't either. One of the best games to watch in a while between Bama and Auburn. Hats off to them they won....OK was much like AU the game went down to the forth quarter and a fumble turned the game to OKs favor. They didnt dominate either. They were the best team that day, hats off to them as well. But for those who think Bama is done with the runs and will slip into some sort of average game, man stop smoking that wacky weed and just check Bama history 79-15 under Saban...6 loses were the first year in 2007, Bama lost 3 more in a 10-3 season so 9 games in two years. 5 loses total in the remaining 5 years, three national titles, yeah Bama is slipping because of two defeats last year....right! better stop smocking on that wacky weed and clear your head. Bama will never be done! Bama is already a national household name, everyone knows who Bama is....so weather you pull for Bama or not you know who Bama is! Thats why they say....most teams play football while we at Bama live football! ROLL TIDE!

          • roger

            Thanks for the history lesson, but you forgot to mention the Bear, Willie Joe, or Musso. No Bama history lesson is complete without those names. Now, if this game were to be played on paper, the winner would be some accountants that either do, or do not smock(sp?) wacky weed. The game is not played by accountants, or for that matter, by condescending fans. The game is one game, on one Saturday, played by a bunch of tough nosed football players. This Alabama team, nor any team in your illustrious history, would stand a chance against the Tommy Frazier led Cornhuskers, but that really has nothing to do with Saturday's game does it? I ain't too damn smart, but, I suspicion history is called history because it has to do with things in the past.

          • Aaron

            And all it took to restore the Tide to their glory days was a West Virginia man.

          • rock solid

            BARF!