Amari Cooper stars at wide receiver for Alabama, and has expectedly had a tremendous season. Everyone knows this, but not everyone knows how Doran Grant, Ohio State's best corner, will fare when attempting to counter Cooper in the Sugar Bowl.
Any time that a team has to face the second runner-up for the Heisman there is cause for concern, but Ohio State did shut down another Heisman runner-up in their last game. If Ohio State's rush defense plays anything like they did against Wisconsin, then Alabama will have to lean heavy on the Blake Sims and Cooper connection. Can Grant effectively limit Cooper's production? Let's look at some of Grant's previous outings against top receivers.
Grant against Big Ten receivers
Grant helped the Buckeyes hold a talented Maryland receiving corps to 244 yards, including just seven catches for 52 yards from Stefon Diggs. Grant Specifically had five tackles (four solo) and his first interception of the year.
The next game where Grant lined up against a high level wide receiver was the Ohio State-Michigan State game. Grant and the Buckeyes did a great job limiting Tony Lippett. Lippett caught the ball five times for only 64 yards and no touchdowns. To put that into perspective, Lippett came into that game with four straight 100+ yard performances against Big Ten opponents and a touchdown in three of those four games. Grant had four solo and six total tackles in the Michigan State game.
Then came The Game. Michigan visited Ohio State trying to get their sixth win, and Grant was set to float around and follow Michigan's most daunting receiver. Grant had a tough day against the 6'5, 230-pound receiver/tight end monster that is Devin Funchess. Funchess had dealt with injury through his Big Ten year, but he had his best game against the Buckeyes. He grabbed 7 catches for 108 yards, which included a 45 yard ball when Grant was covering him down field. Grant did have 8 tackles, most of them on Funchess in the game though.
How does it add up?
Grant leads the defensive backfield as a senior captain, and he has done a good job this season. Luckily for Grant's sake, Amari Cooper is not as large of a receiver as Devin Funchess, but Cooper has arguably an even greater skill set.
In the Sugar Bowl, I imagine the Ohio State coaching staff will have Grant keeping an eye on Cooper throughout that game because Eli Apple, a good redshirt freshman but still a freshman none the less, will not be an ideal candidate to cover Cooper. Grant has done a good job this season of not allowing too many yards after catch for the big receivers he has faced. This all being said, Grant is a good cornerback, but he is not a great one. And that could be magnified by going against the best wide receiver in all of college football.
Cooper will get his
Cooper has gone for more than 100 receiving yards in seven games, and over 200 in three of those. Blake Sims will find Cooper, and he will find him in the endzone, which Sims has done 14 times this year.
Grant will have his work cut out for him, but luckily Cooper only has two inches and 17 pounds on Grant. In order to take on Cooper though, he will just have to stay true to his assignment because Cooper is a tremendous route runner. Grant has five interceptions this year, but against Cooper he cannot attempt to jump routes or anything fancy. Cooper will burn whoever is covering him if the guy tries to get fancy on defense.
Grant can do this, but it will not be easy. Cooper had 224 yards and three touchdowns against Auburn, who is a pretty good defensive team. It is clear that Cooper will get some yards, but it is up to Doran Grant to limit him and give the Ohio State offense more chances to get on the field.