It’s been a long time.
It’s been a long time, as in last season’s Bowl Championship Series final.
Cooper’s first touchdown catch of his sophomore season, on a 30-yard pass from AJ McCarron was daydream breaker in Alabama’s otherwise methodical, altogether expected 52-0 rout of Arkansas on Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Sure, the second shutout of the season and fifth straight game for the defense to give up a touchdown or less was nice, but it’s become a theme.
Running back Kenyan Drake’s darts and bolts showed his ball skills as he continues to emerge as that second back to complement T.J. Yeldon, but we’ve seen that.
Derrick Henry's 80-yard touchdown run was a nice treat for those who stayed around for the final minute.
But the bomb to Cooper has been the most noticeable void in Alabama’s offense this season, however. That’s why an otherwise conversational Bryant-Denny Stadium crowd roared when McCarron’s tear drop fell into Cooper’s hands Saturday.
It took six-a-half games to happen, but that McCarron-to-Cooper magic from Cooper’s freshman year finally resurfaced in his sophomore season.
That guy who outleaped Georgia’s Bacarri Rambo for a spectacular catch in the SEC Championship Game?
That consensus freshman All-American who made defenses pay for bunching against Alabama’s running game?
The one who came through when injuries took out DeAndrew White and Kenny Bell last season?
That’s Amari, the talent that emerged a year ago and was slated to explode this season. Until Saturday, however, Cooper had been largely a no-show.
Even with his end zone breakthrough Saturday, he still has just 15 catches for 229 yards and one touchdown this season. That’s way off his 1,000-yard, 11-touchdown pace of 2012.
He had just one play of 20 yards or longer headed into Saturday.
Reasons abound, starting with the returned health of White and Bell. Alabama has lots of good receivers and spreads the ball among them.
Cooper has fought nagging injuries. A foot injury slowed him in preseason. A toe injury sidelined him for the Colorado State game.
Then there’s the matter of how much Cooper’s performance last season scared opposing defensive coordinators. Who can forget that season-opener, when no less than Virginia Tech’s Bud Foster backed at least one safety 20, 25 even 30 yards off the line of scrimmage.
Alabama has lots of ways to beat people, but Foster and others were determined that the bomb to Cooper wouldn’t be one of them. Try and stop the run, and don’t give up the deep ball to Cooper. Make Alabama work down the field.
Cooper became a missing man, but he turned up safe a week ago. In his first start since the season-opener, he caught three passes for 64 yards at Kentucky.
He turned up sound Saturday, running down McCarron’s perfect lead across the field, to the corner of the end zone.
It’s hard to know how much more of that we’ll see from Cooper this season. If opposing defensive coordinators needed a reminder to keep a safety over No. 9, then they got it Saturday.
But it helps the pursuit of rings and things for Cooper to show he’s still there and still capable. Too, it’s just pretty football to see McCarron’s touch meet Cooper’s talent again.
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.