In Saturday's deluge in Athens, it looks like Alabama's offense found something. Or more, accurately, someone.
With no more Amari Cooper, Alabama has been in dire need of a new, big-play, deep-threat wide receiver this season. Somebody to help Jake Coker stretch the field and keep opposing defenses from stacking the box against Derrick Henry.
It hasn't been an easy search process.
Robert Foster did have lots of potential to be that guy, but he went down with a serious shoulder injury against Ole Miss and is likely done for the season. ArDarius Stewart has been serviceable through this first part of the season, but nothing extraordinary. Richard Mullaney has great hands and quickness, but he's more of an underneath, possession-type receiver. Cam Sims is working his way back after a spring knee injury.
Then there's Calvin Ridley.
The highly touted freshman out of Coconut Creek, Fla., began turning heads in Tuscaloosa during fall camp. He was targeted a few times in the first couple of games, but he was playing mostly behind Foster.
When Foster went down, Ridley was the guy next in line to fill the void. Maybe in the second half of the Ole Miss game and in the ULM game the following week Ridley was kind of feeling his way around, warming up to his new role. Sort of settling in. Against Georgia this past Saturday in Athens, Ridley was brilliant.
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The 6-foot-1, 188-pounder was sure-handed, and he was explosive. And when he burned the Georgia secondary and hauled in a high-arcing, 45-yard touchdown pass from Coker on a deep post route in the second quarter, he looked oh so Amari-esque. Ditto on the nifty 50-yard catch-and-run he had in the first quarter that helped set up the game's first points — a 29-yard Adam Griffith field goal. Ridley's performance earned him SEC Freshman of the Week honors.
"We hoped that (big-play receiver) role would happen with really three guys this year — Robert Foster, ArDarius Stewart and Calvin Ridley — and Ridley showed us enough early in camp and so forth that we thought he could emerge as being one of those guys," head coach Nick Saban said Monday. "With the circumstances as they are (Ridley) has gotten more opportunities, and he's responded very well to it."
Yeah, maybe Bama has that missing piece of its offense now — a dangerous, big-play, wideout. Like Cooper used to be for the Tide. And Julio Jones before him. Ridley finished Saturday's game with five catches for a career-high 120 yards, becoming the first true freshman receiver to post a 100-yard receiving effort since, you guessed it, Cooper did it three years ago against Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game.
The scary part for future Alabama opponents is that Ridley is probably just now scratching the surface of his vast potential. Remember, he is a true freshman. This time last year he and his Monarch High School teammates were prepping for Taravella High School.
For a little perspective, through his first five games of his true freshman season at Alabama in 2012, Cooper had 17 catches for 222 yards and three TDs. At the same point in his Alabama career right now, Ridley has more catches (22) than Cooper, more receiving yards (245) and just one less TD reception (2).
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Suffice it to say, No. 3 is well on pace to becoming something special at Alabama.
"He doesn't make a lot of mistakes," Saban said of Ridley following Saturday's game. "He made a really big play today and has played well all year. I know he dropped one last week, but you kind of live and learn. He's a very confident guy that I think is very focused and really prepares well and shows a lot of maturity for a freshman."
Saturday's Georgia game provided pretty good proof of that. With more proof likely to come.
— Written by Erik Stinnett, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Stinnett is an experienced college football beat writer who has been covering Alabama since 2009.
(RIdley photo courtesy of Getty Images)