As the nation girds for Saturday’s LSU-Alabama game – this year’s Game of the Century between two of the top three ranked teams in the nation – a tighter focus has been placed on the quarterback position.
We admit this is kind of simplistic. So many factors play into the outcome of a game like this. Paying too much attention to players who will not directly compete against each other, in the blood and guts sense, seems to be absolute idiocy.
Still, if things play out the way we suspect, not only will the winner solidify its status as the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoffs scenario, but the winning quarterback – Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa or LSU’s Joe Burrow – will move ahead of the other in the Heisman Trophy race.
And that’s worth spending an afternoon on the couch. Right?
Of course, for that to happen, Tagovailoa will have to play. And until Wednesday, there seemed some doubt the Crimson Tide’s athletic training staff would clear him because of the badly sprained ankle he suffered three weeks ago.
But on Wednesday, Alabama coach Nick Saban sat down with ESPN and said Tagovailoa was coming along just fine and that there was a good chance he will play.
“It’s still day-to-day, and you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow or the next day, but he’s moving around well and throwing the ball with confidence,” Saban said. “His mobility will be the big question, but every day that’s improved dramatically.”
Tagovailoa seems to be a quick healer. He was operated on Oct. 20 after injuring his right ankle the day before against Tennessee. He had the exact surgery last season after banging up his left ankle in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia. And after taking a few weeks to heel, he was back to guide the Crimson Tide in its Playoff games against Oklahoma and Clemson.
Even though Alabama beat Arkansas 48-7 in the one game Tagovailoa has missed, it’s certain it will be much better off with their quarterback back.
Let’s take a quick comparative look at Tagovailoa and Burrow: Tagovailoa is the nation’s second-leading passer with a 74.7 completion percentage for 2,166 yards and 27 touchdowns to just two interceptions. Burrow has completed 78.8% of his passes for 2,805 yards and 30 touchdowns to four interceptions. The two are generally considered the top quarterback prospects available for the NFL Draft.
Perhaps the most positive thing going for the Tagovailoa is he’s feeling much better than he did at the same point in last year’s rehab. Saban said there hasn’t been an extraordinary amount of soreness and swelling, something he attributes to his right foot not being his plant foot when he’s throwing. That takes a lot of pressure of the injured ankle.
“He knows what to expect now, and you could tell with his rehab,” Saban said. “Sometimes the first time a guy gets hurt, they’re even afraid in rehab and are asking, ‘Am I doing too much? Am I doing enough? It hurts, should I keep doing this?’
“But even in rehab, Tua was so much more aggressive because he knew the outcome. He already had it before, and his body also knew what to expect. It’s a lot like if you never had a stint before in your heart, you’d be scared to death the first time they did it. But if you had to do it a second time, you’d probably be a lot more at ease.”
Obviously, there are two more days of practice before the game is played in Tuscaloosa, which means there’s always a chance Tagovailoa could aggravate the injury. But Saban said his workouts to this point show no signs of strain or discomfort.
“But we’re not asking him to do everything he would in a game. He’s not scrambling for a first down. He’s not getting chased by a defensive end or any of that stuff, so it’s a little bit controlled,” Saban said.
Should there be a setback, Alabama would turn again to Mac Jones, who played very well against Arkansas. Tagovailoa’s brother, a freshman, is the third-string quarterback.
“I’m not going to put Tua in a situation that could be detrimental to him or his future, Saban said.
So all Alabama can do right now is sit back and wait and hope all remains on course.
“You hate to take his competitive spirit away from him, but he will not give up on a play,” Saban said. “He should have never gotten hurt on the play he got hurt on. I told him, ‘Throw the ball away. You can’t be Superman. You can’t be trying to make plays that aren’t there.’ He just won’t give up on a play, which you love that competitive spirit. But we also want him to make smart decisions.”
What’s certain is, if Tagovailoa and Burrow are both in the game, this Alabama-LSU game is going to be one to be remembered.