Does Tua's injury mean more, gasp, running the football for Alabama?
It has been close to 72 hours since the most talked-about ankle in the 2019 college football season went haywire, and here in the Department of Silver Linings, we have been thinking about all the ways the injury to Tua Tagovailoa could actually help the Alabama Crimson Tide this season.
That’s what we said: help. As in the opposite of hurt, which is what Tagovailoa was in the 2nd quarter against Tennessee.
Now, before you break out the Yellow Pages to get us here at the DoSL committed, let’s offer a caveat (that’s a “yeah, but …” for the Auburn fans out there …): Tagovailoa’s injury doesn’t really help the Tide in any way. But in a backward way, taking away perhaps the most potent player in the game could have positive benefits.
For one, and this is for all the old-school types out there, subtracting Tagovailoa from the Crimson Tide offense starting this week (and hopefully only this week) against Arkansas could mean RUNNING THE FOOTBALL MORE. BTW, we all-capped that here at the DoSL because we hear that being yelled more often than we care to in reference to this pass-happy Tide offense.
Because Mac Jones is, shall we say, limited in comparison to Tagovailoa when it comes to the Art Of The Throw, this is bound to happen anyway against the Razorbacks — who are pretty much consistently awful at everything and will only provide a token challenge to whatever the Alabama offense musters up.
But running the ball will most certainly be Priority De Uno on Saturday night. Establishing Najee Harris and Brian Robinson Jr. behind the blocking of Alabama’s strong offensive line. Alabama actually showed positive glimpses of this when Jones was pressed into service last week against Tennessee — as Harris recorded a 105-yard rushing night with 2 touchdowns.
“I thought Najee (Harris) really ran the ball well in the game. The offensive line did a good job on the direct runs,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said after Saturday’s game. “That really was helpful to us. This is the first time we really had to grind one out. We really had to make plays.”
That was Harris’ 2nd consecutive 100-yard game and 3rd in 4 games.
Punching an opponent’s defense in the mouth, between the tackles, is exactly what Saban wants more of in the 2nd halves of games — even if it comes at the expense of hitting the edges.
“I thought they did a good job, especially on the direct runs. We seem to have more trouble running the ball on the edges, trying to run the ball on the edges,” Saban said. “The direct runs were really good for us. If we do that, that means our backs are getting north and south. I thought they did a really good job of that.”
In particular, left tackle Alex Leatherwood played well against Tennessee. The 6-6, 310-pound junior was selected as the SEC’s Offensive Lineman of the Week for the first time in his career. Leatherwood anchored an Alabama offense that averaged 6.4 yards per play on the night, including 140 rushing yards, and he opened holes for a 5.2 yards per carry average on 28 carries from the Tide running backs.
Another facet of what Alabama needs in Tagovailoa’s absence is some old-fashioned, punch-you-in-the-mouth defense. That request is a bit trickier, as the Tide was gashed on the ground a couple times by the Vols despite allowing just than 231 yards of total offense.
Still, Terrell Lewis is improving weekly at linebacker, with the redshirt junior matching fellow linebacker Anfernee Jennings with 7 tackles, adding a team-high 2 sacks (-20 yards) and 3 tackles for loss (-21 yards). The sacks matched his career-high mark, while the 3 tackles for loss were a new career-best for Lewis.
Those are two things that Crimson Tide fans could well see against Arkansas under the super-cool light show at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday night. But be careful about assigning too much value to what anyone sees Saturday because, again, it is Arkansas across the field from the No. 1 team in the land.
Getting into the off week as healthy as possible should be priority No. 1 for Alabama, and hoping that Tagovailoa — who is on a non-weight-bearing scooter after “tightrope” surgery to fix his high ankle sprain — would be able to begin rehab during the off week and eventually prepare for the highly anticipated Nov. 9 matchup against No. 2 LSU in a late-season battle for SEC West supremacy.
“The surgery was successful. There’s no real timetable for his return, but the expectation is he will be non-weight bearing for several days and then he’ll be able to come back as his rehab allows him,” Saban said Monday. “We’re hopeful that in a 10-day period, he’ll be back being able to do active-type rehab, and we’ll see how it goes from there. But these things are pretty unpredictable at this point.”
Unpredictable, indeed. Running the rock and playing strong defense against Arkansas would certainly go a long way toward injecting some stability into an unstable Alabama world.