Alabama’s first half consisted of an inefficient rushing attack, a missed field goal and a quarterback who completed only 39 percent of his 28 throws.
Then there was junior wide receiver Amari Cooper.
The news was dire for LSU long before Tigers’ sophomore Trent Domingue kicked off the contest.
Hours before the opening whistle, reports surfaced that LSU sophomore cornerback Rashard Robinson wasn’t going to dress out for Saturday night’s contest because of a violation of team rules.
Robinson, who was the likely man to match up against Cooper, was replaced by junior cornerback Jalen Collins.
Alabama took note early, and it took advantage often.
Senior quarterback Blake Sims targeted his 6-foot-1, 210-pound receiver 11 times in the first two quarters, completing six passes for 72 yards and a score.
But it wasn’t the halftime stat line that was the most telling of Cooper’s impact on a 10-7 Crimson Tide lead; It was the timing of his receptions.
Trailing 7-0 heading into the second quarter, Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin needed a spark after converting only one of five third-down attempts.
Cooper proved to be the catalyst for a sputtering offense in a hostile environment.
On the Crimson Tide’s opening drive in the second quarter, Sims connected with Cooper twice on third down: once for a 20-yard gain and another for an 11-yard pickup. Cooper’s effort was negated by a 27-yard missed field goal by sophomore kicker Adam Griffith.
The next time Cooper trotted back to the line of scrimmage, he didn’t let his special teams unit be responsible for putting points on the scoreboard.
With the ball on the LSU 32-yard line, Alabama coach Nick Saban elected to keep his offense on the field on fourth-and-4. Sims found Cooper open for a 9-yard gain.
Two plays later, Cooper ran a quick slant, beating Collins and making the easy reception.
The Southeastern Conference’s leading receiver then bounced off LSU cornerback Jalen Collins, spun around and sprinted to the end zone for the 23-yard score.
The reception made him the all-time receiving yards leader at Alabama, eclipsing D.J. Hall’s previous mark of 2,923 set in 2007.
“It’s always great to be something at your school that nobody else has done,” Cooper said. “I’m very proud of that, but I want to keep building off it.”
And as quickly as he turned the tempo of the Crimson Tide’s offense, Cooper disappeared.
After both squads exited their locker rooms following halftime, Alabama hardly had an opportunity to continue its momentum on offense.
Both teams combined for a total of three possessions in the third quarter. On Alabama’s lone drive, Cooper caught one pass for a 7-yard gain.
It was Alabama’s only gain of the quarter.
Suddenly, there was no spark. There was no catalyst. And Alabama’s offense stalled in the process as the Tigers tied the game on a Colby Delahoussaye 35-yard field goal.
Cooper made only one more reception, a 4-yard catch and run on a screen pass with roughly six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. He ended his night with two dropped receptions late in the fourth.
“They just did the same thing they did in the first half, pretty much,” Cooper said. “They just played man-to-man. They had a good defense.”
Instead, it was senior wideout DeAndrew White who was the Tide’s knight in crimson armor, making two catches in the second half for 22 yards, including the game-winning 6-yard score in overtime to propel Alabama to a 20-13 victory.
“I tried to step up no matter if (Cooper) has a good game or a bad game,” White said. “I tried to have his back and help him out. We both struggled for most of the game, but he needed me to pick him up, and I picked him up.”