After a few weeks coming off the bench, Tristan Cooper earned himself a start at the spur safety position for last Saturday’s Homecoming game against Oregon. It may be hard to keep him out of that spot for the rest of the season.
The junior was a key piece for an Arizona Wildcats defense that had its best performance of the year, rattling Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert and holding him to a season-low in passing yards.
He also brought the pain to Ducks star wideout Dillon Mitchell, laying him out on a short pass attempt over the middle during the third quarter of Arizona’s 44-15 win.
Tristan Cooper laid out Dillon Mitchell. pic.twitter.com/8ckDqOuuLx— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) October 28, 2018
“That’s by far the hardest hit I’ve seen since I got here,” sophomore linebacker Tony Fields II said. “By far.”
Cooper was credited with a pass breakup on the play, his fourth of the season, which is third-best on Arizona. On Tuesday he was still amazed it happened.
“That’s the safety’s dream,” he said. “I was like, you know what, I don’t think this quarterback is going to throw that. This is terrible if he throws it, but he lobbed it up. I didn’t want the pick, I didn’t want the touchdown, I just wanted the hit.”
Twitter exploded after the hit, comparing it to one by ex-Arizona safety Will Parks against Oregon State’s Jordan Villamin in October 2015. Cooper remembers that play, which happened during his senior year of high school in El Paso, and it somewhat influenced his decision to sign with Arizona in February 2016.
“I didn’t really know much about Arizona until I saw that,” Cooper said. “I just remember he leveled him with his shoulder. It was terrible, it looked like that guy died.”
Cooper believes Parks’ hit was much better than his, partly because he didn’t have to be as worried about getting called for targeting as defensive players are nowadays.
“When my hit came, I was looking at him and was like, should I put my helmet in?,” Cooper said. “But if I get this targeting call I’m out for the (first) half of the next game. It was a great hit, I liked it, but I wish it was like in the old days when we could lead with our helmet.
“I don’t really like the targeting call, I think it prevents us from playing football at times.”
Arizona has yet to be called for targeting this season.
“Our coach always tells us to get our head in front of the ball,” he said. “When we do drills, any hitting drills, (safeties coach John Rushing) says keep your head up, see what you hit.”