By now, the words “game-time decision” are such a permanent part of the Alabama football lexicon they should be used in all semi-official Crimson Tide communications.
The fight song for this weekend, for instance, could include the phrase “Go teach the Bulldogs/that it’s a game-time decision.” If things go well in a home game and an a capella version of “Dixieland Delight” breaks out, an overeager first date might sing loudly about “a little turtle dovin’ on the Mason-Dixon Line,” only to receive the response “It’s a game-time decision!,” which would not only pass the Bryant-Denny censors but would very possibly be true.
That’s not a knock on Alabama head coach Nick Saban. What else he supposed to say this week when he gives a Tua Tagovailoa update? Saban doesn’t even wait for the question at his press conference anymore. He just goes straight to the update, like Financial News Network starting every program by reading the NASDAQ numbers. If he did have the gift of prophecy, Saban probably wouldn’t tell anyone on Wednesday, not just because he’s engaging in some old school cloak-and-dagger stuff but because he will know more on Friday than he knows on Wednesday.
Tagovailoa is recuperating but no one recuperates in a straight line, particularly not someone who spent the weekend dodging (and occasionally not dodging) some burly bruisers from LSU. There is soreness in his surgically repaired ankle, and swelling. Neither is surprising. He’s practiced less this week leading up to the Mississippi State game. That has fostered speculation. That’s not surprising, either.
The advice pouring into Saban from Alabama fans (not that he hears it) has ranged from using Tagovailoa as usual against Mississippi State to shutting him down completely for two weeks so he will be as healthy as possible when Alabama meets Auburn. Some of that isn’t fair to Tua. He’s a person, not a character in Call of Duty. So Saban has not ruled Tua in or out, but did have some interesting things to say at the end of Wednesday’s press conference.
“Is the guy prepared to play?” Saban asked, speaking in general terms about injury management. “Can he go do his job because he did what he needed to do? We have to manage lots of positions that way. We have guys that can’t go full speed ahead all week long, and they’re able to practice in some situations and some situations they’re not.
“Obviously, we’re not going to play somebody in the game that’s not capable of playing,” Saban said. “We’re not going to play somebody who hasn’t practiced enough to … do his job effectively. So, we have to make a couple decisions: Is the guy physically ready to play? And that’s the medical staff’s decision. But I’ll never play a guy unless that guy feels like he can play and do his job.”
There are also variables involved in using backup Mac Jones, who played well as the starter against Arkansas, throwing for 235 yards and three touchdowns while completing 18-of-22 passes. However, to make this kindly, Mississippi State is far better than Arkansas, and differs defensively.
“There’s a lot more pressure, a lot more stunts,” Saban said. “They probably pressure you about 50 percent of the time. They’ve got a lot of stuff that they do on third down. So, this is a much more challenging preparation, I think, for (Mac), but he’s done a good job of handling it. He’s smart, and we’ll see how he plays in the game. I can’t tell you whether a guy’s going to play good or bad. We just try to prepare him the best we can, and most of the time, the guys that practice good play pretty well. And he’s practiced pretty well so far this week.”
That does not answer the “game-time decision” because Wednesday is not Saturday. But it might be a peek behind the curtain at just how Alabama is approaching the upcoming game.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt
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