Wisconsin at Ohio State, noon, FOX
What was once a semi-interesting game dived over the cliff of irrelevance last week when the BAD-gers showed up dressed in Wisconsin’s uniforms and inexplicably lost to Illinois. The GOOD-gers had compiled a 6-0 record before the collapse, and had looked pretty good doing it. However, the titanic struggle to get by the wretched Northwestern 24-15 two weeks ago was our first clue that all was not well. Ohio State, which is rolling, beat Northwestern 52-3 on Friday night last week, a powerful indication of disparity in the Big Ten. (Why does the best team in the nation play on Friday night? Does the Big Ten not have somebody who negotiates TV contracts?). Ohio State, which managed to rid itself of Urban Meyer after last season, looks born again hard under Ryan Day, the journeyman assistant who took his place and may turn out to be the Ed Orgeron of the Great Midwest. He can prove himself once again this season by not suffering an inexplicable loss that disqualifies the Buckeyes from playoff consideration, a frequent mishap of his predecessor. Early in the season, Wisconsin had the look of an old-school badass team that played savage defense and whose offense consisted primarily of handing off to running back Jonathan Taylor and cheering him downfield as he ran over and by everybody on the other team. Ohio State is not likely to fall victim to this sort of thing – their defense has improved every week and their transfer quarterback Justin Fields has been amazing, and might even have beaten out former Buckeye and current Heisman frontrunner Joe Burrow of LSU. LSU vs. OSU would be a good game. We might get to see it in January sometime.
Auburn at LSU, 3:30 p.m. on CBS
We will get to see Auburn play LSU right soon. This is one of the three upcoming games of which Gus Malzahn needs to steal at least one to keep the faithful, faithful on the Plains. The other two are Georgia and Alabama – one of which seems possible, since Georgia came apart against South Carolina and Alabama will be playing with an at least diminished Tua, who injured the only good ankle he had left last week when a giant Tennessee guy fell on it.
Auburn might have a puncher’s chance, because the Tigers do have a good defense – but so did Florida, and LSU hung 42 on them with ease. Florida had dismantled Auburn the week before, which might have been an outlier now that I think about it. Auburn might have just had a really bad day. A really, really bad day. OK, Auburn’s offense is not that good.
LSU’s defense has been giving up a lot of points – but much of that is because they’re exposed a lot. Joe Burrow and his offense go tear-assing down the field all the time and scoring touchdowns before the defense has had a chance to get a drink of water, and the rules require that you kick off to the other team when you do that.
Here’s something to look at – Auburn’s freshman QB Bo Nix runs about most sprightly when his protection collapses and nobody has gotten open yet, which happened a bunch against Florida. Take a look at how LSU handles that, then imagine how poor, old Tua will do against the same onslaught hopping around on a bad wheel, provided he can play at all 20 days after surgery that requires drilling two holes in a couple or three ankle bones.
Arkansas at Alabama, 7 p.m., ESPN
The nightmare of every Alabama fan and ESPN programming executive came true last week in the form of Tennessee defensive tackle Greg Emerson, who swam by 6-7, 330 pure freshman offensive tackle Evan Neal as Tua rolled left and right into the unblocked rusher. Tua almost scooted by, but Greg dove and got him by the right ankle, which he then fell on top of with the full force of a 309-pound man running full tilt. The slow-mo replays would have made you want to vomit even if you handn’t given Alabama minus 34. Tua spent the rest of the game riding in ambulances to the hospital and discussing options with doctors and his mom and dad in the locker room while second-stringer Mac Jones took over in unspectacular if serviceable relief.
By the next morning the worst had been confirmed. It was a high ankle sprain, just like last year, only this time it was the right one instead of the left. Tua had “tightrope” surgery on his ankle. The idea of the surgery is to drill holes in the ankle bones and weave some medically engineered string through them to hold everything together real good and speed healing. But damn. Getting holes drilled in your bones? That’s got to hurt.
I, too, have had a high-ankle sprain. I missed the bottom step going downstairs summer before last and the side of my foot rolled up to briefly touch the inside of my lower shin. I saw something like a flash of bright light, and when no dead relatives showed up to usher me into the afterlife, I realized that I was not dead, but my left ankle was, I believe the medical terminology is, “fucked up.” I didn’t have surgery, but I can say that now, about 18 months later, I am getting around all right on it, but am even slower than I was before the swelling went down, and have plans to never run again.
So, anyhow, for the foreseeable future, Alabama is Jones’ team. I have a feeling that all those people who have been saying that Tua’s passing stats are inflated because he throws it 10 or 12 yards to one of the Four Wide Receivers of the Apocalypse, and they run about 50 more to score. It’s harder than you think to look receivers open, to hit them in the hands in full stride and to check down to make sure you are throwing it to the one with the best chance of catching it and scoring.
Alabama’s going to become a running time for the time being. Give it to Najee and tell the OL to run block until Tua gets back, then pass block better than they did on the play he got hurt.
Alabama’s defense needs to keep other teams from scoring points, which is the objective. The days of holding them to 31 and letting Tua do the rest are over.