When Alabama’s Tua Tagavailoa went down and didn’t get up last week my heart sank. Head down, on his hands and knees, he was bleeding from the nose and mouth, obviously in great pain. He was fighting back tears. I was terrified.
I prayed out loud about football for the only time in my life that didn’t involve a game I had money on. Oh, God, don’t let him be dying. That’s how bad it looked.
Full disclosure: I graduated from The University of Alabama and worked for the athletic department when I was in school. I hope I developed a reporter’s professional distance in a long career of being a reporter, but I am still grateful to the University, its athletic department and the people there who helped me grow up – sort of – and are largely responsible for every honest dollar I’ve made in my life, few though they may be.
So when I’m not on the clock, I’m for Alabama. That’s my alma mater. I’d be a disloyal, sorry individual unworthy of anybody’s respect if I were not. That’s how I was raised. That’s the world I live in, and I’ll own it.
I admire athletes who play to win and honor the game, and I like the college game more than the NFL, which lost me several years ago. I like Joe Burrow, I like Bo Nix, and that Trask kid from Florida for stepping in when the starter went down. Justin Fields, at Ohio State, Jalen Hurts, of course, at Oklahoma. I really liked poor, old Johnny Manziel, and hated to see his own demons consume him.
But Tua was special. Not only because he was crazy talented, and not just because he was playing for Alabama, my home state that doesn’t get a lot of good ink for a lot of good reasons.
A kid from Hawaii ended up here and brought the family. It was cool. After the game, when the stands were empty, they all went down to the field and sang hymns together. As somebody who has always related religion to football, I like that.
Tua showed those of us in his adopted state the spirit of Aloha, which means hello and goodbye, of course, but which literally means “divine breath:” love, peace, compassion, kindness.
Never more than when, while he awaited major surgery to fix his mangled hip, a video surfaced of him playing the ukulele and singing. That’s how you do it.
He lives in joy and reminded us that football is, after all, just a game – but sometimes is can be something more. Football was his platform, which he used to demonstrate a really good way to live.
He was a great ambassador for his team, his school, and the college game itself. He was admired by his oft-beaten opponents – when he was carted off the field for the last time, Mississippi State fans stood and gave him the “cowbell salute,” standing up and cheering and clanging those damned bells. I heard they’d never done that for a player not wearing their team’s uniform. That’s a hell of a thing if you think about it.
Tua’s the only person who could make me want to give Nick Saban a hug. The coach, who is, you know, kind of a bastard, was heartbroken and hurting, and said as much in a wavering voice at his Monday news conference.
The bottom line, Tua’s got class, something sorely lacking today in sports and America in general.
He was born to it. He’s a champion, and he shared his gifts gladly to all.
They say he’ll be all right. That he’ll get well, and may be able to play again. Hey, God. Me again… A little help.
November is a witch goddess who in her kindness blesses disciples of college football with the glorious, cold, blue autumn afternoons we all remember when we remember the games of November. We only remember the good stuff: the spice and heat of hot wings and icy bourbon on the tongue, the warm metal of the hood caressing our asses where we sit and take it all in. A parking lot barely in sight of the stadium knowing there’s a long, jostling walk ahead joined with the drunk, the crazy and the screaming, traffic-dodging, slow-moving herd. At last inside the cathedral of pain, soothing with bourbon from the smuggled flask, behold: the warriors arrive, pouring out of the home-side tunnel and onto the field. A hundred thousand voices roar so loudly the 200-member marching band loses, and becomes only a brass pulse in the maelstrom or sound, and look! Up in the sky! Roaring warplanes appear from nowhere in attack formation, screaming 50 feet over the stadium so low the hot wash of air blows your hat off your head.
Damn, it’s exciting. A spectacle seen nowhere but in America that puts all other sports related mayhem to shame: the running of the bulls in Spain is a croquet match by comparison; the drunken thugs of Manchester United rioting in the Piazza San Marco in Venice, the citizens of Rome on their feet as gladiators bleed in the dust of the coliseum, chanting “Nunc autem eum occidere“, echoing in eternity.
But then the damned witch of November rides in cackling on the icy wind, smites your players, who fumble, throw interceptions, miss blocks and tackles and suddenly, all that once was glorious and gold transforms into a flaming pile of shit.
The College Football Playoff Committee tries to make sense of chaos, fails
Like Eric Bana as Hector impaled on the sword of Achilles-playing Brad Pitt before the walls of Troy in a so-so 2004 action movie, old warrior Alabama fell to the ascendant LSU last week. The Crimson Tide, which has been a disorganized mess all season but still did pretty good because the players are all NFL prospects, played its worst first half in modern memory, and LSU struck like a bayou alligator dismantling an unsuspecting family of carefree otters. They turned three unforced Alabama turnovers into 17 points and led 33-13 at the half.
Bama’s offense got it together in the second half and made a run, but the defense continued to mostly look over at the sideline tying to decipher the signals from their frantically gesticulating coaches while LSU snapped the ball and Joe Burrow threw another bullet to another wide-open receiver who had made another member of the Alabama secondary, twist, turn, jump, break-dance and fall down. (Note to Bama coaching staff: Defenses do a lot better when they are facing the other team, not you).
Alabama only lost by 5, which looks better than it was. At no time did Alabama even get possession of the ball when they came within one score of taking the lead. The defense couldn’t get a stop when they had to have one, and barely got any at all.
The resultant rankings for the College Football Playoffs produced great consternation – Alabama fell from No. 3 to No. 5, which the haters felt was not punishment enough. One-loss Oregon, which lost to Auburn on a last-second pass in the first game of the year, is sixth. LSU took over the top spot after Ohio State beat Maryland 73-14. Football karma may catch up to the Buckeye because he went for an onside kick and recovered it leading 52-7, which is just a shitty thing to do.
Clemson can stop whining, now that it’s ranked third the week of the great showdown with Wake Forest, which is probably the third or fourth best team in the egregious ACC and a 34-point underdog.
Georgia is ranked No. 4, that lone fluky loss to South Carolina the only gray mark. This has created the situation where Alabama fans have to cheer for Auburn to upset Georgia, because that’ll move Auburn into the top 10. Alabama has played one ranked team – at home – and bled out under the flashing disco lights of Bryant-Denny Stadium. But the reasoning is, if Alabama can beat Auburn at Auburn – which is anything but a foregone conclusion – it’ll be a win over a semi-decent team, which will improve the optics.
Undefeated Minnesota is ranked 8th and Undefeated Baylor is 13th, proving the little guy gets no love in America, where members of the College Football Playoff Committee and ESPN officials familiar with TV ratings know that a final four of LSU, Clemson, Minnesota and Baylor will attract fewer viewers than “The Beverly Hillbillies – the Missing Episodes” on Roku.
Alabama at Mississippi State, Noon, ESPN
Alabama’s a 21.5 favorite going on the road to Starkville, where Bulldogs Head Coach Joe Moore has put together a 12-10 composite record the last two years and is on thinner ice than usual for a Mississippi State coach. Running back Kylin Hill leads the SEC in rushing with a little more than 1,000 yards and 114 yards per game. Anything good on anybody’s offense presents a true and present danger to Alabama’s defense, which has a lot of talented guys running around like a kicked-open anthill. There’s probably a slightly better chance for me to play quarterback for Alabama than Tua Tungavailoa, whose Heisman hopes are pretty much out the window, even though he’s a really good passer, but always gets hurt before big games.
Nick Saban said he suspended a player for this game for not going to class. Nobody knows who it is. Bama fans have called the prayer chain to ask God not to let it be Najee Harris, the personification of the Alabama running game; after him there is no other.
No. 11 Florida at Missouri, Noon, CBS
The Gators have a slim chance of elbowing their way into the SEC Championship Game if Auburn and Texas A&M beat Georgia the next two weeks. It could happen – but don’t put any money on it. Florida’s a 7-point favorite over Mizzou, which has put together an ugly 5-4 record studded with things like a loss to Wyoming, a 7-point loss to Vandy and a 29-point loss to Kentucky, a convincing 34-14 win over South Carolina, the team that beat Georgia, but a convincing 27-0 loss to Georgia its ownself. At one point in the season I might have thought Florida was flaky enough to lose to Missouri, but I don’t feel that way now. The Gators should win – but should and will are two different things with these guys. Call it a landmine game.
No. 4 Georgia at No. 12 Auburn, 3:30 p.m. CBS
Georgia’s incentive to beat Auburn is clear – best shot at getting in the playoffs with two losses if LSU beats them in the Championship Game. Auburn’s incentive to beat Georgia is more ephemeral – you beat your second-biggest rival raising the hopes of your greatest rival, whom you can then beat at home and crush their souls, fuck up their recruiting and rightfully declare yourself the slayer of the Nick Saban Dynasty. At least until next year.
Georgia’s a three-point favorite, which I guess means somebody thinks Georgia kicker Rodriguez will have a good day. His toe was a killing machine last year, right up to the SEC Championship Game, when he missed a 30-yard field goal that would have given the Dawgs a 17-point lead over Bama, but he shanked it, and the Tide came rolling back to win. He missed an OT field goal against South Carolina, the game Georgia lost this year. He’s not like Alabama’s kickers. He’s not bad. He’s good but sometimes has bad days. He better hope today’s not one of them, because putting up any kind of points against Auburn will be crucial. Auburn’s got a very good defense, and is built to take down an offense like UGA’s.
Georgia’s got a better defense, I beg your pardon. They have not allowed a rushing TD this year. They’ve shut out three teams this year. Georgia is the last team on earth playing God’s football – let the defense beat on the other team’s offense, control the ball on offense, run the clock. The only drawback is that Georgia’s run game has not blossomed the way I thought it would this season. It’s good, but it’s not dominating. D’Andre Swift has great numbers – 921 yards going into today’s game, 6.3 yards per carry, 7 TDs, 15 catches for 170 yards and one TD. He’s the kind of guy, though, who could bust loose late in the season and become America’s hero. So, we’ll see.
No. 2 Ohio State at Rutgers, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
Here’s another godawful Big Ten game that will end badly for Rutgers, a hopeless amalgamation of sorrow and futility in shoulderpads and cleats. Rutgers is a 34-point dog, but anything less than 60 should count as a loss for tOSU.
But the Buckeyes’ lazy days are over after this. They close out the season against Penn State and Michigan, both of which suck, but are good in the context of the Big Ten.
Indiana is playing Penn State this week – the Hoosiers are ranked 24th, which is different from the way things usually are. No. 15 Michigan plays Michigan State and should kill them and make barbecue out of them, but don’t bet on it. Michigan is half-assed.
Wake Forest at No. 3 Clemson, 3:30 p.m., FOX
Wake Forest is one of the better teams in the ACC, but they’re still pretty awful. Clemson, at last back in the CFP Top 4 and whine-free, is a 5 touchdown favorite, which sounds about right. The Tigers seem to playing their best ball of the year, and peaking at the right time is something Dabo Swinney teams do real well. But it’s hard to tell, because it seems like a lot of these ACC schools have football because people need something to do until basketball season starts.
No. 8 Minnesota at No. 20 Iowa, 4 p.m., FOX
Minnesota spent a lot of emotional energy taking out Penn State last week. They lit up the Nittany Lions offense in ways somebody not familiar with Big Ten defenses would have thought impossible. The Golden Gophers do pitch the ball around and roll up and down the field. But now they have to go play a pretty decent Iowa team, who has only lost to Wisconsin, Michigan and Penn State, all closely. So they’re almost as good as those guys, and Minnesota, well, they eked out wins over San Diego State, Fresno State and Georgia Southern to start the year. How good are those GGs? This one will be another indication of their playoff worthiness.
No. 1 LSU at Ole Miss, 7 p.m., ESPN
Well, here’s the thing about Ole Miss. They lose a lot, but have been losing by fewer points than they did earlier in the season. They lost by 11 to Missouri, 7 to Texas A&M and 6 to Auburn. Auburn played LSU close. I guess I’m trying to build up some enthusiasm for this turd, but the fact is, LSU is probably going to stomp them flatter than a runned-over nutria rat on Pontchartrain Drive in Eden Isle.
No. 10 Oklahoma at No. 13 Baylor, 7:30 p.m., ABC
Can Oklahoma save the world from an undefeated Baylor waltzing into a semifinal demolition at the hands of Ohio State or LSU? It’s not that done a deal, because the Bears, unlike anybody else in the Big 12, sort of play defense a little bit. That could be enough to be the difference. But win or lose, these two teams could meet again in a few weeks for the Big 12 Championship Game because they have this wonky deal where the top two teams just play each other and the winner gets a trophy.
The highest echelons of college football have put a damper on the best teams in the country this week.
The College Football Playoff committee kind of screwed up the whole “Game of the Century” thing when they dropped Alabama and LSU below Ohio State in their first ranking this week. It’s tough to bill 2 vs. 3 as the anything of the century – but that was before the NCAA came down on No 1. Ohio State’s marvel defensive end Chase Young for taking money from some guy the summer before his freshman year. Young said he paid back the guy, whom he describes as a family friend.
The latest version says he borrowed money from somebody to fly his girlfriend to the Rose Bowl last year and paid it back by April. I don’t think it matters. The NCAA screws up more things than the CFP committee. Kirk Herbstreit tweeted Saturday morning that it would be four games but could be reduced – that would put an end to his regular season. The last two games are against Penn State and Michigan. The NCAA voted about two weeks ago to allow college athletes to make money off their name – but not until 2021, which won’t help Chase.
Or will it?
It looks like Alabama’s QB Tua Tungavailoa is going to play after surgery for a high ankle sprain 20 days ago when a Tennessee guy fell on top of him. In two years as the Tide starting QB, Tua has one good joint left below the waist – he sprung a knee early last season, then had a high-ankle sprain on the other ankle in the SEC Championship Game after sucking all afternoon, which paved the way for current Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts to come in and enable Georgia to choke in a big game again.
Here’s the deal on Tua: Once he started getting dinged up last year, he wasn’t as amazing as he was when he was unhurt. I understand that. I’m not as good as I used to be either because I’m old and can’t drink as much. Tua was also facing better competition late in the season. I’m not so sure I could make that excuse.
So how good will he be against LSU? Last year, Tua, who is like Grandmother’s delicate, lovely fine china cup that you take out only when the preacher comes to dinner and Christmas morning breakfast, was pretty chipped up against LSU. The Tigers aimed low when they tackled him, and it seemed to piss him off. He ran for like, a 40-yard touchdown on his bum knee, and Alabama won by a score of many to nothing. I guess it pissed off Alabama’s defense even more because LSU’s offense was helpless.
But that was the old LSU offense that got squelched. This is the new, super awesome sexy cool, bodacious splendid LSU offense that amassed victories over Texas (5-3, probably set to get beat by Kansas State today, and overall pretty half-assed, though they were ranked high back then); Florida (5-2, which got its ass kicked by every decent team it’s played and almost lost to Miami and Kentucky, who are terrible); and Auburn (good defense, no offense at all, beat Oregon but almost lost to them and seems to be deteriorating, almost losing to the egregious Ole Miss last week).
Joe Burrow is a hell of a quarterback, and I would much rather have a beer with him than with Tua, who probably doesn’t drink. But if I had to pick sides on the schoolyard, I’d pick the Hawaiian kid before I picked Joe. Even hurt. LSU’s got some hellacious wide receivers, and Alabama’s secondary has talent, but still neglects to cover opposition guys occasionally and doesn’t tackle as deadly as it used to back in the olden days, when Bama tackled guys and they stayed tackled. Watch out for poor No. 5 for Bama. Teams like to pick on him.
Both teams have flaky defenses after years of being dominating kill beasts that destroy offensive game plans and leave broken dreams in their wake. But I think Alabama’s has been getting better this season, and I’m not so sure about LSU. Their best pass rusher and general havoc-wreaker Michael Divinity got kicked off the team this week – my God, what did the guy do to get kicked off the team the week of the Bama game? Badass safety Grant Delpit got hurt at the end of the Auburn game, but that was two weeks ago and if he can walk, he’ll play. But if he’s not 100, Bama’s Four Wide Receivers of the Apocalypse will be on him like a largemouth bass on a wounded shad.
I will say that in the past few years, though he’s lost to Bama with alarming regularity, coach Ed Orgeron has had a good defensive plan for Alabama. Other teams copied him and either beat or gave Alabama fits the rest of the way. And yeah, Alabama’s schedule is backloaded with the good teams.
I reckon Ed’s defense, such as it is, will be well coached and will have a wicked scheme. If Tua plays lousy his first few drives, look out. He’s a confidence guy. This is the first good team Alabama’s played since the national championship game. Tua threw a pick-six on the first drive, and he never got over it.
Oh, both teams have a pretty good running back, and both wear No. 22, so that’ll be easy to remember (Clyde Edwards-Hillaire for LSU; Najee Harris for Bama). Clyde’s got 680 yards against better defenses and Najee’s got 640 yards against, you know, who he’s played). So if all else fails, Tua and Joe can give it to the big dog and let him eat.
Oh, yeah. President Donald Trump is going to be at the game, and officials told the crowd to get to the 2:30 p.m. local time game by 11:30 a.m. so they’ll have time to go through the security screening. Everybody should be really drunk by kickoff.
No. 4 Penn State at No. 17 Minnesota, ABC, noon
Coach P.J. Fleck has led Minnesota to a hell of a season this year, which means he’s at the top of the list for teams that’ll be firing their coaches here directly, despite his new seven-year extension with the Golden Gophers. See, they gave him a one-year extension each of the past two seasons, which is a school’s way of saying, we wish we had somebody better and the first time you slip up, you gone.
It could also mean his agent sucks. And their undefeated season definitely means they’ve played a lot of shitty teams so far. For instance, they beat San Diego State by 7 and Fresno State 38-35 in overtime in the first two games this year. Teams named for cities in California never seem to come up in championship conversations.
So this is a big game for Minnesota, and especially for P.J. If he wins this one, he could maybe get a job someplace warm. Not California, though. No, he better not go there.
Penn State is undefeated and has pulled out some close wins – against Iowa, Michigan and Michigan State, all of whom suck, but were rated high at the time. I really don’t know how good they are. They’re in the Big Ten, which is worse than the ACC, another reason Dabo Swinney is pissed that Clemson isn’t ranked higher, but let’s face it – the ACC really sucks, too.
On the whole, Penn State has played a better schedule than the Gophers, so I guess they’ll win. But I don’t know. Minnesota really lights it up on offense – like against Fresno State, wow.
Houston’s having a miserable season under first year coach Dana Halgorson, and this week’s trip to Orlando is not likely to help matters.
The dispirited Cougars are playing UCF – two Group of five teams that have been to New Year’s Six Bowls in the past four years. Both went to the Peach Bowl and won attention-grabbing games. UCF beat Auburn, which had upset Alabama, which then wedged its way into the playoffs and won the national championship that year. That started the Knights’ fake national title proclamations, pissing many people off, which was a big part of the objective. They had a parade and got rings and everything, which was slightly pitiful, but it did get the program national publicity, and UCF probably could have covered 14 against Bama that year. Houston, under then-coach Tom Harmon, beat the hell out of Florida State in 2015, which started the Seminoles’ fiery tailspin into Football Hell that persists to this day. Coach Willie Taggart is on a greased rail out of town, two years after Jimbo Fisher escaped that fate by taking over the Texas A&M program for $7.5 million a year.
Anyhow, UCF is going to wear their space-themed jerseys this week, so tune in early to see those sartorial masterpieces before they get all dirty running up a big lead on the struggling Coogs.
GEORGIA vs. FLORIDA in Jacksonville, FL, 3:30 p.m. CBS
Barring cataclysm, the winner will represent the East Division in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta on Saturday, Dec. 7.
Florida’s ranked higher because their one loss is better than Georgia’s. The Gators went to Baton Rouge and peed down their leg late in the game and committed game-turning turnovers that gave No. 1 in the nation LSU all it needed to win 42-28, which wasn’t as bad as it looks like.
Georgia went to South Carolina and strained like a Pekingese puppy passing a peach pit in a 20-17 loss. UGA has not been as awesome as it was in past seasons when it rolled over all foes en route to blowing leads and losing to Alabama in championship games.
But Georgia’s a 6-point favorite or so, and that could be about right if quarterback Jake Fromm and the offense show up, which is problematical.
Fromm said this week that the off week came at a good time, but Georgia fans shouldn’t look for big changes in the offense – except that they’ll do the same old shit better.
Fromm’s stat line is a lot less awesome than it was his first two years. He threw 24 touchdowns his first year, 30 last year and has totaled just 9 this year against three interceptions. The Dawgs are not passing as much this year, and the receivers have, for the most part, sucked. They do get receiver Lawrence Cager back this week, so let’s see if he can add a spark. They’re going to need it.
Running back D’Andre Swift has almost as many carries (110) as Fromm does passing attempts (123), and he’s got 752 yards and 7 touchdowns this year, which is good, but he’s no threat to win a Heisman Trophy.
Florida’s been resilient this season, fighting injuries much of the way. But they’ll get two defensive starters back for this game, linemen linemen Jabari Zuniga and Jonathan Greenard.
That’s big, because if the Gators can significantly slow down the Georgia running game, they can win this game. But maybe Fromm will snap out of his funk and the receivers will start getting, you know, open, and joyful shall the Bulldog be. Hint: Don’t bet on it.
MIAMI vs. FLORIDA STATE 3 p.m. CBS Sports APP
I’m including this game only because it’s so sad. These used to be two major badass teams in a clash that could change humanity’s timeline, and now you have to download an app so you can watch the game on your phone.
Both teams define mediocrity: Identical 4-4 records, both riding a 1-game winning streak. FSU coach Willie Taggart is probably not long for this position, but it’s not really his fault. Fortune spins the wheel and we are cast up and cast back down. Ozymandias, king of kings, gets his ass kicked and his statue is all covered up with sand and shit in the middle of the desert.
It’s a hard life wherever you go. Especially in college football.
OLE MISS at AUBURN, 7 p.m. ESPN
Well, here we are again. Auburn is playing for fun after losses to Florida and LSU. The Tigers gave LSU a fight, losing only 23-20 and were an onside kick away from having a chance to pull out a miracle win. Florida kind of beat their asses.
The good news: the Tigers have the home field the rest of the way. But wait! Two of those four opponents are Georgia and Alabama, who will beat your ass if you aren’t careful, and at who will likely be playing to hold onto a berth in the SEC Championship Game.
Ole Miss is at the point in a dismal season where you compare losses for signs of positivity, and in the last two games, the Rebels have only lost by a touchdown – to Missouri and Texas A&M. Neither has a defense anywhere near as good as Auburn’s.
If Auburn clicks and clobbers Ole Miss by 40 points or something, they’ll have confidence going into the Amen Corner of a brutal schedule. If the offense struggles, and Ole Miss is able to put some points up and maybe cover that 19 points – then, uh-oh. An Auburn slide could be on the way.
OREGON at SOUTHERN CAL, FOX
Oregon is the only team in the Pac-12 with a shot at the playoffs, and Southern Cal has incentive to win because the Ducks cruise into L.A. every year and make off with all the talented recruits. Trojans Coach Mario Christobal, who has engineered a flaky 5-3 record this season, would love to make a good showing and maybe even pull out a win, destroying the league’s hopes of getting any of the big money for playing in the four-team show.
Wisconsin at Ohio State and Auburn at LSU – defensive teams head like lambs to the slaughter in the new world of college ball
Today, we see the last two teams in America that even try to play defense taking on two of the best offensive teams since the Big Bang, playing on their home fields.
Wisconsin goes to Ohio State, and Auburn goes to LSU.
Wisconsin hurt me so bad, losing to Illinois. I had bragged on the Badger, getting those old-school unis muddy and blood-stained, tackling people and all, just like the olden days. Then they shit the bed. Illinois ran up and down the field like velociraptors on meth, and they kicked a last-second field goal and everything.
Ohio State will kill them.
Auburn will field what will be the last remaining decent defense to be faced by the rampaging Tigers of the Louisiana swamplands. Florida had a good defense. Joe Burrow shredded their ass and hung 42 on them, but got a big boost from the other quarterback, that Trask kid, accidentally throwing the ball to LSU guys.
Auburn has a great front four. So good that they really haven’t blitzed much, because the fat boys with high numbers do such a good job of winning the line of scrimmage and pressuring the quarterback, because they run like bats out of Hell. You know what I bet? I bet they blitz some today and say “There’s six of us and five of you, see what you can do with this.”
Because LSU has really good receivers, and they like to send everybody long. Auburn’s safeties will not be able to cover them one-on-one. So the front seven has got to put some heat on Burrow.
Auburn has a flaky offense, but LSU’s defense kind of sucks, which creates an atmosphere in which the War Eagle might thrive. Bo Nix, 12-year-old quarterback, with his baby face and agile athleticism, would be a good choice to play Spiderman in the next movie. He looks the part, and would probably be better than the regular guy. Bo, like child actors and young quarterback the word over, operates on confidence, momentum, sheer talent, and running around dodging defensive linemen until somebody gets open – a style of play that could really work against LSU. If he could complete a few passes early, if the running backs could you know, just get a few first downs on third-and-short and things like that, if they could score a few, maybe even take the lead. If Nix struggles like he did in the loss to Florida, start recruiting early.
Because Auburn is playing with a strong sense of desperation. WIth one conference loss, if they lose this one, they’re playing for fun the rest of the year. Also Auburn’s fans have the sort of relationship with Gus Malzahn kind of like largemouth bass have with wounded shad. They attack and eat them. Gus will be a wounded shad if he loses to LSU here with Georgia and the Crimson Tide remaining on the sked.
I don’t really think Auburn will win. But I bet they cover that 11.5-point spread.
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.
The national championship race got a lot more interesting in the second quarter of the Alabama-Tennessee game last Saturday.
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagavailoa has one of the best arms ever bestowed upon a human, but his ankles are straight out of the Family Dollar Store bargain bin. The Alabama superstar suffered an ugly, ugly rolled ankle against Tennessee which Nick Saban said is a “high ankle sprain” and he’ll probably be back “in a week or two” though he admitted he really didn’t know what the hell he was talking about when he elaborated. It was the same time last year, the seventh game, when Tua suffered a high ankle sprain against Missouri, another SEC team that didn’t have a prayer. He was never the same after that.
Last year, it was his left ankle, this year it’s his right. I don’t know if that makes any difference. Last year, he was able to play with diminished speed, mobility and passing accuracy until Georgia got him good in the SEC Championship Game, which paved the way for substitute Jalen Hurts to come in and save the day. Once again, an injury to Tua affords him great opportunity, this time to win the Heisman Trophy with his chief rival riding the bicycle on the sidelines.
The grim fact is, even a mild high-ankle sprain requires about six weeks to get completely well. A moderate injury takes six-to-12 weeks. A severe one requires surgery, like Tua got last December after the Georgia game, and he said himself that he didn’t feel well until May and gained 18 pounds from lack of activity, which would be a lot even for me. He’s Samoan-American, both of which are good at gaining weight.
So, Alabama lost its best defensive player and kicker – yes, kicker – to injury and now its best offensive player is in trouble for the foreseeable future. The good news is, the offensive line has looked competent since “Cornbread,” offensive guard Deonte Brown, returned after an unexplained suspension two weeks ago. Incidentally, he’s called Cornbread because he used to weigh 400 pounds and now tips the scales at a scant 320. These Bama boys can eat.
The running game is improving. Najee Harris is future NFL and Brian Robinson is close. They’ll be getting the ball more.
The defense will have to change the mind-frame of “hold them to 35 and we’ll win.”
Is Alabama still the SEC’s best team if Tua can’t return? Probably not.