TUSCALOOSA — For the third straight week, all eyes are on Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and his still-recovering right ankle.
Not that much has changed in that department.
No. 1 Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC) remains in a bit of a holding pattern regarding the availability of its Heisman Trophy-contending gunslinger ahead of the biggest game of the season in a showdown against No. 2 LSU (8-0, 5-0 SEC) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on CBS.
"If he can play in the game it'll be a game-time decision," head coach Nick Saban said Monday, echoing the same talking point he's had regarding Tagovailoa for the last week. "He did practice two days last week. We'll see where he's at today and then we'll manage the reps accordingly."
Despite returning to practice Wednesday and Thursday during Alabama's bye week, Tagovailoa remained fairly limited in what he was able to do, throwing only against air and not participating in any team-oriented activities against his own defense.
"He looked good for what he did, the coaches kind of held him to a limited standpoint, and he knows himself (better) than anybody, so we'll see what comes this week," junior right tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. said of Tagovailoa on Monday. "
Added junior receiver Jerry Jeudy: "He looked pretty good, he was out there and felt comfortable. He did everything he needed to do. It's just a day-by-day (process) to see how it goes."
Still, the always-smiling Hawaiian southpaw hasn't allowed his limitations to bring down his usual up-beat attitude, even as he continues to go through an arduous "rapid" rehabilitation process meant to expedite his return to the field.
"He's always been super positive, so even with his injury he's been positive," Wills said of Tagovailoa. "He goes in there, gets his rehab, gets his treatment in, and then comes out to practice. And no matter if he's participating or not, or in the game or not like (against Arkansas), he just comes out with the same energy, from a positive standpoint, and keeps everybody uplifted."
Whether or not he plays Saturday will ultimately be determined by how much improvement Tagovailoa can make practice to practice this week, with his expected on-field reps dependent on how he responds to the previous day’s workload.
"When I say that, we cannot predict ... if he goes out there today and looks good, then his rep count is going to go up and we're going to prepare his as if he'll have an opportunity to play in the game," Saban said. "If he has a setback during the week, you can't really control that, but that would change the plan."
Saban added both the starter and backup quarterbacks, in this case sophomore Mac Jones, trade practice reps fairly evenly through the first three practices of the week anyways, so whether Tagovailoa is fully cleared to return to active duty shouldn't have any effect on how passes are split up the first couple of days of the week.
"The way we practice Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, both quarterbacks (Tagovailoa and Jones) are going to get pretty much the same (number of) reps," Saban said, "and that's probably how we'll manage it this week in terms of preparation."
Tagovailoa returned to practice last Wednesday, exactly 10 days after undergoing a state-of-the-art tightrope ankle surgery on Oct. 20, though he was severely limited according to Saban. If he were to take the field Saturday against LSU, it would be 20 days post-surgery, one of the quickest turnarounds following the tightrope procedure ever for a skill player.
And while there is a general confidence and expectation that Tagovailoa should be available in some capacity against LSU, his approach hasn't changed much throughout this endeavor and his teammates certainly seem to appreciate it.
"He's a leader on the team, people look up to him, players look up to him, coaches turn and see where he's at and what he's going to say before a drive to get that thing going," Wills said, "so no matter whether he's in or out, he still has the same outlook on what's going to happen."
President Trump to attend: First ESPN's College GameDay, then the SEC Network's SEC Nation. Now it appears the latest Game of the Century will get the official presidential stamp of approval Saturday.
President Donald Trump, an administration official confirmed, is expected to be among those in attendance for Saturday's Alabama-LSU that is expected to be the first No. 1-versus-No. 2 regular-season game since the top-ranked Tigers came to Tuscaloosa in 2011.
Trump has made it a habit of attending major national sporting events of late, visiting Nationals Park for Game 5 of the World Series on Oct. 27 between the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros. Trump also made an appearance at this weekend's UFC 244 on Saturday at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
This won't be the first Alabama game Trump has attended. The president was also introduced prior to the 2018 College Football Playoff national championship game between Alabama and Georgia in Atlanta's Mercedez-Benz Stadium, but left before halftime when the Bulldogs led 13-0. Behind then-freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the Crimson Tide rallied back to win the game 26-23 in overtime.
Rankings: At Alabama, rankings don’t mean much … until they do.
Whether it was Saban calling LSU “the No. 1 team in the nation” or multiple Crimson Tide players acknowledging Alabama had slipped out of the top spot in at least one national poll, the idea that Saturday’s latest “Game of the Century” features the rival Tigers in the vaunted No. 1 spot is not lost on those around the Mal Moore Athletic Complex.
“We’ll be playing what is the No. 1 team in the nation who’s playing at a very high level right now,” Saban said Monday morning. “(LSU is) very explosive on offense and still have one of the best defensive teams in the country. … We’ve had a lot of great games with these guys. I think everybody’s been ranked in the Top 20 since 2007.”
With the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season set to be released Tuesday night, Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC) and LSU (8-0, 5-0 SEC) entered the week as dueling No. 1s, with the Crimson Tide hanging tough atop the USA Today coaches poll this week, but the rival Tigers holding steady atop the Associated Press Top 25 poll for the second week in a row. Since the CFB Playoff poll is the only ranking system that is utilized when determining bowl selections in the postseason, Tuesday’s 8 p.m. announcement could effectively render both the AP and coaches polls null and void.
Still, until that happens, Alabama has already seemingly identified as the lower ranked of the two premier programs ahead of Saturday’s highly anticipated SEC West matchup. In fact, the ramifications of the 1-versus-2 showdown have even helped elevate some of the energy around the facility this week.
“Just because we're playing undefeated, they're No. 1, we're No. 2, so there's a lot more energy (this week),” Tide junior receiver Jerry Jeudy said Monday. “People (are) just ready to go out there and play and compete.”
Asked a follow-up, Jeudy appeared to backtrack quickly.
"Um, we don't really worry about No. 1, No. 2, for real,” Jeudy added. “So, we're not really focused on who's No. 1, who's No. 2. It's all about how you're playing and how you win."
Alabama mostly healthy: In case there was any concern to the contrary, Alabama running back Najee Harris “is fine” after the junior wasn’t visible during a brief viewing period during last Thursday’s practice.
Harris left the previous game against Arkansas one carry into the second half not to return after “barely twisting his ankle,” but has been a regular participant during bye week practices last week.
Meanwhile, the only other player on the Alabama’s injury report that could be qualified as “questionable” is freshman kicker Will Reichard (hip), who has missed three of the last four games and may not be available Saturday. Junior tight end Miller Forristall (throat) is expected to miss the rest of the regular season after undergoing throat surgery on his voice box for an injury suffered against Arkansas.
“Will Reichard is the only that would be questionable still for this game,” Saban said. “We talked about Miller Forristall last week. He’s out of the game and will be out for several weeks. Other than that I think we’re OK.”