Alabama football: Elaborate ruse of Tagovailoa's injured ankle for LSU week
We don’t believe in conspiracies here at College Football HQ. There isn’t a wise guy in the ref’s earpiece telling him which way a 50-50 pass interference call should go. Players don’t lay down. Coaches don’t tank to prove a point/make some extra dinero on the spread.
As a matter of rule, what you see is what you get.
That said, there is one irrefutable fact this week as No. 2 Alabama prepares to meet No. 1 LSU in the sport’s latest Game of the Millennium…
You will have no idea of the health and good fortune of Tua Tagovailoa’s right ankle until Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
Unlike conspiracies, subterfuge is an integral part of any savvy football coach’s arsenal. Whether it is Bill Belichick in New England or Biff the Plumber who coaches the local Pop Warner squad, coaches would just as soon negotiate their contracts without an agent rather than be remotely truthful about the health of their star players.
Exhibit A: Don’t bother ever asking Belichick about Tom Brady’s head/ankle/shoulder/back/calf. Brady’s head could be in the middle of being sewn back onto his neck in the next room, and Belichick would mumble something about how Tom Terrific is good to go for Sunday.
The same holds true for college’s Belichick, the always-lovable Nick Saban at Alabama.
Here’s what we know is true: Tagovailoa hurt his right ankle against Tennessee on the Third Saturday in October. The school announced that Alabama’s sweet Hawaiian prince underwent the same “tight-rope” surgery to repair a high-ankle sprain that he had after the SEC Championship Game last season on his left ankle.
That surgery was deemed a success because, as we all know, any surgery that involves the patient living to see the next day is a success on some level. Beyond that … crickets.
Tagovailoa was on the sidelines during Alabama’s blowout win over Arkansas the next week that somehow dropped the Crimson Tide from No. 1 to No. 2 in the rankings. He had a walking boot on. His foot was propped up on a stool. ESPN showed all this approximately 48 times once the game was decided.
Since then, though, Tagovailoa might as well be a ghost. The Tide returned to practice last Wednesday and it was said that Tagovailoa did as well … though he was not spotted during the brief media viewing portion of the proceedings.
“Tua took some snaps today in practice and did a few things on air, was not involved in any team situations,” Saban said after said practice, ramping up his trickiness just enough for the situation.
“I can tell you that his mentality has been really good, in terms of how he’s working the things that he’s doing and how he’s progressing and his attitude toward trying to get back on the field and trying to progress, so that’s always a good sign.”
What does that actually mean?
Saban later tipped what will surely be the hand he plays all week long leading up to the Tigers visiting Tuscaloosa: Tagovailoa will be a “game-time decision” as to whether he plays or whether the Mac Jones Era continues for another week.
Earlier in the off week, during his annual appearance at the Monday Morning Quarterback Club of Birmingham, Saban elaborated — as much as he cares to do, of course — on Tagovailoa’s situation.
“We’ll just have to see what he can do and evaluate his mobility and his performance. You can’t really predict any of those things, you’ve just got to let it happen and see how it goes,” Saban said. “I think Wednesday will probably be the first day he’s back on the field. He’s been on an AlterG (treadmill) now and progressing well on that, which is usually the protocol for how we bring players back that have lower extremity-type injuries.”
“I’ve got no crystal ball, I don’t know how he’s going to do in Wednesday’s practice. I don’t know how he’ll do after that. So is it fair to say I don’t know? Well, I don’t know. Nobody knows.”
No matter who is behind center for the Crimson Tide on Saturday against LSU, they will be doing so without an important offensive weapon. Starting tight end Miller Forristall will be sidelined for approximately 6 weeks as he recovers from throat surgery. Forristall, who has caught 3 touchdowns this season, injured his throat during the victory over Arkansas.
Though we know about Forristall, no one — maybe not even Tagovailoa’s family — will ultimately know about Tagovailoa’s health until the last possible second. Don’t expect B-roll of him rolling out in the pocket with a black no-contact jersey on. Don’t expect him to even be made available to the media all week long.
Saban will try to keep the secret as long as possible, to keep LSU guessing down to the very end.
He’s not going to tell you, after all, so quit asking.