Tua Tagovailoa spent much of Saturday running away from Mississippi State’s defense. He finished the afternoon pedaling a stationary bicycle on the sideline.
Alabama’s sophomore quarterback, the Heisman Trophy frontrunner, was pressured from the first play. He completed 14 of 21 passes for 164 yards with a touchdown and an interception before he was driven to the turf at Bryant-Denny Stadium or the last time late in the third quarter of the top-ranked Crimson Tide’s 24-0 victory.
He got up slowly, limped off the field and did not return.
Tagovailoa did not take another snap. Alabama coach Nick Saban indicated in his postgame news conference that he didn’t think the player could have returned to the game, but a spokesperson clarified that the coach misspoke and that Tagovailoa could have returned.
“He got hit low a few times out there today,” Saban said. “I think he got hit in the front of the knee and not the back, which is where his initial (previous) problem was. I think he’s OK.”
Saban noted that the National Football League has rules against hitting quarterbacks low, but passed on commenting on the hits the sophomore from Hawaii took.
“Football is football and it is what it is, and we need to do a better job of protecting our quarterback so people don’t get a chance to hit him,” the coach said.
Alabama’s line did a poor job of that. Tagovailoa rarely had the chance to look downfield, electing to get the ball out of his hand quickly when he could rather than have time to let plays develop.
“I just don’t think we protected well enough to make the plays at times,” Saban said. “On too many occasions he had pressure even if he had to move in the pocket and way too many sacks.”
There were four sacks in all, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. He dropped back to pass 27 times and was pressured or chased out of the pocket on 14 of them. He was hit no less than seven times.
“I don’t think we lost the battle,” right tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. said.
Alabama had only allowed six sacks all season coming into the contest. That number increased to 10.
“They threw a whole lot of stuff at us,” Wills said of the MSU defensive rush. “We’ve just got to pick it up and make sure that we keep it clean and protect. They definitely brought some new stuff.”
With backup quarterback Jalen Hurts still recovering from an ankle injury, Mac Jones finished the contest under center. He completed 3 of 6 attempts for minus-1 yard.
“Tua’s one of the best players on our team, so I feel like if they can take that out then they have an advantage,” said tight end Irv Smith Jr., who caught five passes for 70 yards. “It’s not right people going for his leg, but it’s football.
“They were doing a lot of pressures on us and they kept attacking us. We had the answers to pick it up, but I feel like we didn’t do a great job on that.”
What Alabama didn’t do, at least not often, was switch to maximum protection to use tight ends and running backs to build a wall around the quarterback.
“You never want to see your quarterback on the ground, but it is what it is,” Smith said. “He’s a tough guy.”
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