NCF Nation: Riley Cooper

McCluster, Cooper showing their stuff

January, 27, 2010
I'm not the least bit surprised that Ole Miss' Dexter McCluster has been impressive in the first two days of practice at the Senior Bowl. The guy is absolutely fearless and has the kind of game-breaking speed the pro scouts love.

[+] EnlargeMcCluster
Cliff Welch/Icon SMI Dexter McCluster has impressed scouts in Mobile.
Remember, McCluster feasted on SEC defenses the second half of the season and took a lot of hits along the way.

McCluster and Florida receiver Riley Cooper were two of the guys singled out by the Scouts Inc. crew for having good days on Tuesday Insider.

McCluster is an explosive playmaker no matter where you put him, and his speed makes up for his lack of size (5-foot-8, 165 pounds). He's also caught the ball well in Mobile.

Cooper, who's decided to concentrate on football and turned down the Rangers' baseball offer, has been impressive with his route-running, his ability to gain separation, and he also made a one-handed catch over his shoulder that had everybody talking.

One former SEC player who didn't receive high marks from the Scouts Inc. crew on Tuesday was Kentucky cornerback Trevard Lindley, who's been stiff in his hips and hasn't shown top-end speed or great athleticism. The Scouts Inc. crew thinks he may drop into the later rounds.

Another former SEC player who needs a good week is Alabama nose guard Terrence Cody, who weighed in at 370 pounds. Cody has to improve his endurance and demonstrate that he can make it through most of a game.

SEC all-bowl team

January, 12, 2010
Having had a few days now to digest the 2009 bowl season, here’s a look at the All-SEC bowl team:


[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images Tim Tebow torched Cincinnati for a career-high 482 passing yards and three TDs.
QB Tim Tebow, Florida
Broke Vince Young’s record for total offense in a BCS bowl game with 533 yards in the Gators’ 51-24 rout of Cincinnati in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Completed 31 of 35 passes for a career-high 482 yards.

RB Dexter McCluster, Ole Miss
Was there a better player in the SEC the second half of the season? McCluster rushed for 184 yards and two touchdowns in the AT&T Cotton Bowl win.

RB Mark Ingram, Alabama
Despite cramping up in the Citi BCS National Championship Game, the Heisman Trophy winner showed his grit and led the Crimson Tide with 116 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

WR Riley Cooper, Florida
Led the Gators’ offensive explosion in the Sugar Bowl with 181 receiving yards, including an 80-yard touchdown. Cooper averaged 25.9 yards on seven catches.

WR Brandon LaFell, LSU
The Tigers didn’t put up much offense, but LaFell had five catches for 87 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown. LaFell led all SEC players with 19 touchdown catches over the past two seasons.

TE Aaron Hernandez, Florida
His nine catches led all players in the Sugar Bowl, and he finished with 111 receiving yards. Hernandez opened the Gators’ scoring with a 7-yard touchdown catch.

OL John Jerry, Ole Miss
Helped clear the way for Ole Miss’ 193 rushing yards against an Oklahoma State defense that finished ranked 11th nationally against the run.

OL James Carpenter, Alabama
Combined with Mike Johnson to make the key block that helped spring Trent Richardson on his 49-yard touchdown run in the second quarter of the Citi BCS National Championship Game.

OL Justin Anderson, Georgia
The Bulldogs were playing without starting right tackle Josh Davis, and Anderson came off the bench in the second half to help give a much-needed lift to the running game.

OL Mike Johnson, Alabama
The anchor of an Alabama offensive line that paved the way for both Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson to each rush for more than 100 yards against Texas’ vaunted defense.

C Maurkice Pouncey, Florida
Spent more than five hours at Tulane Hospital with kidney stones and had several IV’s, but didn’t miss the start and led the way for the Gators up front.


DE Marcell Dareus, Alabama
Had the hit that knocked Texas quarterback Colt McCoy out of the game and also returned an interception 28 yards for a touchdown right before halftime.

DE Carlos Dunlap, Florida
Came back strong from his suspension in the SEC championship game with two sacks in the Gators’ Sugar Bowl romp.

DT Geno Atkins, Georgia
Pressured Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson relentlessly. Atkins finished with a sack and also blocked a field goal attempt in the second quarter.

DT Dan Williams, Tennessee
A rock all season long in the middle for the Vols, Williams ended his career with nine tackles, including a half a sack in the 37-14 loss to Virgina Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

LB Patrick Trahan, Ole Miss
His 34-yard fumble return for a touchdown sealed the game for the Rebels with 3:12 remaining. Trahan also had an interception on Oklahoma State’s next possession.

LB Jerry Franklin, Arkansas
Finished with 10 tackles and had a third-quarter interception that turned the game around for the Hogs. East Carolina was leading 10-0, but Franklin intercepted a pass and returned it 31 yards to set up an Arkansas field goal.

LB Eric Norwood, South Carolina
Wrapped up a record-setting career at South Carolina by leading the Gamecocks with 10 tackles in their 20-7 loss to Connecticut in the Bowl.

DB Walter McFadden, Auburn
Intercepted two passes in Auburn’s Outback Bowl win. McFadden’s first pick set up a touchdown, and he did the honors himself on the second one – returning it 100 yards for a touchdown.

DB Tramain Thomas, Arkansas
His 37-yard interception return for a touchdown tied the game in the third quarter. Thomas also tipped away a pass at the goal line in the final minutes that might have saved the game.

DB Kendrick Lewis, Ole Miss
Intercepted two passes in Ole Miss’ 21-7 Cotton Bowl victory over Oklahoma State. His big hit in the fourth quarter also forced the fumble that Patrick Trahan returned 34 yards for a touchdown to break the game open.

DB Chad Jones, LSU
Did a little bit of everything in his final game at LSU. Led the Tigers with eight tackles, including one for loss, while also forcing a fumble, breaking up a pass and blocking a kick.


K Alex Tejada, Arkansas
His 37-yard field goal in overtime was the difference in Arkansas’ 20-17 victory over East Carolina in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

P Spencer Lanning, South Carolina
In extremely cold conditions, Lanning punted seven times for a 42.3-yard average and had a long of 48 yards. He also doubles as the Gamecocks’ place-kicker.

KR Brandon Boykin, Georgia
Tied an SEC record with his third kickoff return for a touchdown this season, taking one back 81 yards to answer Texas A&M’s first touchdown.

Final: Florida 51, Cincinnati 24

January, 2, 2010
NEW ORLEANS -- Instant analysis from the Allstate Sugar Bowl, which Florida won 51-24 over Cincinnati.

Player of the game: There can be no doubt about this one. MVP Tim Tebow went out in style in his final college game, as the Florida quarterback passed for a career high 482 yards, completed 31 of his 35 passes and accounted for four touchdowns.

Stat of the game: Cincinnati had only 110 passing yards at the end of three quarters. This from one of the most prolific throwing and scoring teams in the nation all year. Florida's defense, however, was just too much for Tony Pike & Co. to overcome. This was a total domination, as the Gators led 37-3 early in the second half.

What it means: Cincinnati's 12-0 season now comes with a black mark at the end of it. The Bearcats were one second away from reaching the BCS title game but showed they were nowhere near worthy of being there. The Big East also suffered a credibility blow as well. Florida came out determined to make a statement and likely would have crushed most teams. But the Bearcats are the ones who incurred this embarrassment, and incoming coach Butch Jones knows he has some work to do, especially with the defense.

Record performance: Tebow set all kinds of Sugar Bowl records, including passing and total yards. His 533 total yards were also the most ever in a BCS game, surpassing Vince Young's spectacular 2006 Rose Bowl performance for Texas.

Unsung hero of the game: Tebow had the big numbers, but receiver Riley Cooper added seven catches for 181 yards, including an 80-yard score. The Gators receivers as a whole played as well as they have all season.

One team lost its coach to Notre Dame. The other is losing its coach -- at least temporarily -- to health concerns following this game. Has there ever been a BCS bowl game where there has been less talk about the game itself than Friday night's Allstate Sugar Bowl between Cincinnati and Florida? Big East blogger Brian Bennett and SEC blogger Chris Low take a closer look at the matchup and everything surrounding it.

Brian Kelly and Urban Meyer
US PresswireThe recent career moves made by Brian Kelly and Urban Meyer have overshadowed the Sugar Bowl.
Brian Bennett: Well, Chris, clearly Urban Meyer and Brian Kelly don't think the Sugar Bowl is that important, since Meyer tried to upstage it with his non-retirement retirement and Kelly couldn't be bothered to stick around to coach this game. You've been around the Gators. What's your sense in how they're approaching this game and how much motivation they'll have to play it after losing to Alabama?

Chris Low: Brian, an excellent question. The only thing missing now is for a bunch of players on both sides to take a leave and decide not to play in the game. That said, Florida has about seven juniors who are looking strongly at turning pro. That's never a good thing, because you never know for sure what their commitment level is for that last game -- assuming it is their last game. The best thing the Gators have going for them is Tim Tebow. He desperately wants to go out a winner and has had a pretty good hold on this team for the last couple of years. Typically, the Gators have followed his lead. But with no national championship to play for and so many unknowns concerning Meyer's future, this has an uneasy feel to it if you're of the orange and blue persuasion.

BB: Of course, Cincinnati has its own distractions, with Kelly's departure and interim coach Jeff Quinn taking the Buffalo job. But I get the sense that the Bearcats are focused and motivated for this game. Unlike Florida, they really have something to prove. They can show that they can win without Kelly, that they can beat a big SEC power and they can finish 13-0 with at least a claim to being the best team in the country. Motivation only goes so far, though. Cincinnati is going to have to play a nearly perfect game, I think, to win. I actually believe that outside of Tim Tebow, Florida doesn't have nearly as many offensive weapons as the Bearcats do. Am I crazy on that point, Chris? And did the Gators' defense show some fatal flaws in Atlanta?

[+] EnlargeAaron Hernandez
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesAaron Hernandez has been one of Florida's most dangerous weapons.
CL: Sticking with the motivation theme for a moment, this will be the first game Florida has played since the end of the 2007 season where the Gators didn't have a national championship in their sights. Talk about reshuffling the deck. But, no, I don't think you're off at all about the lack of offensive weapons for the Gators. They have plenty of talent and plenty of guys who can run fast. What they don't have is an abundance of guys who consistently made plays down the field in games this season. Tight end Aaron Hernandez is a tough matchup for anybody, and the Gators will involve him in several different ways. Receiver Riley Cooper was Tebow's favorite target on the perimeter and made some big plays for the Gators. But all in all, it was much more of a grind-it-out offense this season, and as we saw in the SEC championship game, the Gators aren't real comfortable when they have to play from behind. To me, the key is whether the Bearcats can keep Tebow in a bunch of third-and-long situations. Do they have that kind of defensive muscle, Brian, to stuff the Gators on first down?

BB: In short, no. At least not if that defense plays the way it did down the stretch this season, when it gave up more than 36 points per game. The Bearcats are small up front and highly susceptible to being pushed around by bigger offensive lines, which the Gators have. Tebow could give them nightmares with a power option. Cincinnati is really built defensively to stop spread attacks with its speed, though its athletes probably can't match Florida's. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco would love to see the Gators play like they did against Alabama, when they pretty much abandoned the running game. But Cincinnati will likely have to score quickly and build a lead for that to happen. Arkansas gave Florida some trouble with its spread. How do you think the Gators' defense will stand up to the Bearcats' no-huddle, pass-happy system which is unlike most SEC offenses? Can they pressure Tony Pike, who gets rid of the ball so quickly from the shotgun?

[+] EnlargeMardy Gilyard
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesCincinnati has gotten big plays from Mardy Gilyard all season.
CL: It's hard for anybody to get that last impression of the Florida defense out of their mind. The Gators didn't do much of anything well defensively against Alabama in the SEC championship game. But in fairness, that was the exception this season. Charlie Strong's guys set the tone for the Gators as they sprinted out to a 12-0 regular season. When they needed a play on defense, they got it. I do believe Florida is well equipped to handle Cincinnati's up-tempo style. For one, the Gators get their best pass-rusher, junior defensive end Carlos Dunlap, back for this game after he was suspended for the SEC championship game. He's a force coming off the edge, but Jermaine Cunningham is just as good on the other side. And even if the Bearcats are able to get rid of the ball quickly and neutralize the Florida pass rush, the Gators have plenty of answers in the secondary. Strong won't be afraid to play man coverage with cornerbacks Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins, both of whom will be playing in the NFL at some point. There's a reason Florida tied for the SEC lead with 20 interceptions. The Gators had 13 of those during the final six weeks of the regular season. Heck, even middle linebacker Brandon Spikes has four interception returns for touchdowns over the last two seasons. In short, this is a Florida defense that gravitates to the football.

BB: It's a formidable defense, Chris, and as much as I've been impressed with Cincinnati all year, I'm not sure the Bearcats can match athlete vs. athlete, especially without the game-day wizardry of Kelly. They are going to have to get some special-teams magic from Mardy Gilyard, get their offense to put Florida on its heels early and hope that the Gators really don't care much about this game. I see the Bearcats hanging tough early but losing by about two scores in this one. How do you see this playing out?

CL: The Tebow factor is just too much for me to pick against the Gators. He will make sure they're ready to play even if a few of his teammates happen to be thinking more about NFL dollars than the Bearcats. I look for the Gators to get out of the gate quickly on offense and then break the game open with a big play in special teams. There are so many ways they're capable of doing that, too, with a blocked kick, punt return for a touchdown or simply setting up short drives for themselves with their superior punt game. Cincinnati will score some points in this game, but I have Florida winning going away ... by at least 17 points.
Posted by's Chris Low

Florida’s Urban Meyer conceded that the pressure was getting to the Gators two weeks ago following their shaky 29-19 win over Mississippi State.

In particular, he was talking about the struggles on offense.

But sometimes, pressure can be a good thing, especially if you have the right kind of people leading the way.

The Gators responded with one of their most efficient offensive performances of the season last Saturday in a 41-17 rout of Georgia.
 Douglas Jones/US Presswire
 Riley Cooper (11) hauled in two touchdown passes in Saturday's win over Georgia.

Granted, they didn’t put up 500 yards of total offense. They didn’t have 35 points by halftime, and there weren’t two or three guys breaking loose on 60- and 70-yard touchdowns.

That was last year.

This is this year.

And this year, the way Florida played offensively in Jacksonville is what this team is capable of when the Gators are on top of their game and everybody’s involved.

It also helps when Tim Tebow plays like Tim Tebow.

He lit up the Bulldogs with two touchdowns passing and two touchdowns rushing, the 11th time he’s done that in his career, but only the first time this season.

Senior receiver Riley Cooper got things started with a pair of touchdown catches, the second one a sensational one-handed grab, and Tebow was also able to spread the ball around. He completed at least three passes to four different players.

He also didn’t turn the ball over, and neither did anybody on Florida’s team.

That’s coming a week after Tebow threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns in the Mississippi State game.

As much as anything, the Gators regained their confidence offensively, which should serve them well during this stretch run. They’ve clinched the Eastern Division title and a second straight trip to the SEC championship game, and will be big favorites in every game they play the rest of the way until they get to Atlanta.

What’s more, they have something to build on offensively and not so much a long list of questions to answer about what’s wrong with the offense.

“These kids feel and hear all this stuff going on,” said Florida first-year offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, who had also come under some fire in recent weeks after the Gators began to look increasingly vulnerable on offense.

“You’re sitting here and having a hell of a year and listening to all this stuff, and it’s like, ‘Wow, it can tug at you.’ This team rallied and worked hard, put their nose down, believed and had faith in what we were doing.”

It might be premature to say that the Gators are all the way back offensively.

But when you take into account how good this team is on defense and special teams, Florida doesn’t need to be a record-setting offense to win the national championship.

The Gators just need to be good enough, and they’re going to be hard to beat if they keep playing the way they did offensively on Saturday.

No pressure for the Gators

September, 19, 2009

Posted by's Chris Low

What’s the pressure like for Florida as the Gators try to carve out their place among the greatest college football teams of all-time?

Senior receiver Riley Cooper said the only pressure the players feel is what they put on themselves.

“We don’t really feel the pressure, but we definitely put pressure on ourselves every week to prepare hard no matter who we’re playing and take it week by week,” Cooper said. “If you do that, trying to beat that team that particular week, then good things are going to happen.

“We don’t look at it as trying to win another national championship. We look at it as trying to win that week.”

Florida enters the Tennessee game having won 12 straight games. The Gators are looking for their first 13-game winning streak in school history.

Posted by's Chris Low

 Dale Zanine/US Presswire
 Wideout Riley Cooper hasn't missed a beat for the Gators.
Riley Cooper doesn’t know what he would have done had the Texas Rangers told him "no" in August.

Florida coach Urban Meyer doesn’t know what the Gators would have done without Cooper.

“I’m just glad the cards played out right and that I’m here,” said Cooper, who’s been Florida’s leading receiver in the first two games with 10 catches for 187 yards and a touchdown.

Without Cooper, even with Florida’s wealth of talent, the Gators’ receiving corps would look pretty shaky right now.

“Thank God he came back,” Meyer said following Florida’s season-opening 62-3 rout of Charleston Southern. “We’re struggling right now if we don’t have Coop.”

How close was it?

Cooper doesn’t really want to know and neither does Meyer, for that matter.

After being selected by the Texas Rangers in the 25th round of June’s amateur baseball draft, Cooper requested that he be allowed to play his senior season of football at Florida before reporting to the minor leagues.

The Rangers offered him a reported $250,000 contract.

“That was the toughest part, the waiting,” Cooper said. “I told Texas that’s what I wanted to do, and they took a few weeks to get back to me. I was sitting there biting my nails and nervous about not knowing what was going to happen, if they would let me do it or not.”

When he got the answer he was hoping for, one of the first people he called was his roommate, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.

“He didn’t put any pressure on me during the whole deal, but he’d call and tell me that he was praying for me,” Cooper said. “He knew how much I wanted it to work out.”

For a guy who went all spring and all summer and didn’t play any football, the 6-3, 215-pound Cooper certainly hasn’t looked rusty. He’s emerged as the Gators’ go-to receiver and is also one of their most physical blockers at the receiver position.

Go back and watch him help clear the way for Jeffery Demp’s touchdown last week while blocking without his helmet.

Surprisingly, despite playing baseball all offseason, Cooper said his timing on the football field came back pretty quickly when he joined the Gators for preseason practice in August.

“The big thing was getting back into shape,” Cooper said. “Baseball shape and football shape are completely different. So getting back into shape was the main thing. But running routes and some of the other things took a day or two, and I was right back into it.”

There’s still some uncertainty hovering over this Florida receiving corps heading into Saturday’s game against Tennessee. Cooper has been the one constant, which is why Meyer was so ecstatic to get him back.

In both the SEC Championship Game and BCS National Championship game last season, Cooper made key plays. He also has a nose for the end zone. Of his 40 career catches, 10 have gone for touchdowns.

“I knew with Percy (Harvin) and Louis (Murphy) leaving that I would have to play an expanded role,” Cooper said. “We’ve still got a lot of young guys at receiver. They have a bunch of talent, but some of those guys have to get in the playbook a little bit more and start getting after it.

“We don’t have a lot of depth. But the younger guys are doing a lot better with that stuff. They’re bringing their books home. They’re getting a lot better in practice and making plays. We definitely have more work to do. If I said we didn’t, I’d be lying to you.

“But we’re getting there.”

Cooper to the rescue for Gators

September, 12, 2009

Posted by's Chris Low

It was a rainy mess in the first quarter in the Swamp, and I mean a mess.

Emmanuel Moody and Tim Tebow both lost fumbles, but Tebow has thrown two touchdown passes to lead the Gators to a 14-3 second-quarter lead. He just threw one to his roommate, Riley Cooper, a 36-yard strike in the back of the end zone.

The Gators have to be loving the fact that Cooper put off pro baseball for another year. He's easily their best receiver right now. Tebow's first touchdown pass was to Deonte Thompson. That's after Thompson dropped a wide-open pass early in the game. Thompson also dropped a touchdown pass in the opener.