STARKVILLE, Miss. — Tua Tagovailoa’s 2019 season is over — and possibly his University of Alabama football career — but that’s not the only cloud of doubt hanging over the football team.
Mac Jones is taking over the Alabama offense after Tagovailoa’s season-ending hip injury, but UA also has questions about two starting defensive linemen, Raekwon Davis and D.J. Dale, and wide receiver Henry Ruggs III going into its final two regular season games, at home against Western Carolina and an Iron Bowl on the road.
Ruggs’ bruised ribs, Dale’s twisted knee and Davis’ sprained ankle come with good timing, with the Western Carolina game up next. UA does have a history of giving regular players rest when needed in this game: Shyheim Carter missed last year’s game against The Citadel and three starters missed the 2017 game against Mercer.
Thus, if the injuries nag for a few days, UA could deploy a different lineup against Western Carolina. But if they’re more serious, that could be the case against Auburn.
On defense, the injuries take UA’s defensive line rotation down to senior Tevita Musika, sophomore Phidarian Mathis and freshmen Byron Young, Justin Eboigbe and Christian Barmore. Mathis has shown the ability to play both nose guard and end, giving UA some options in a limited rotation, but it remains limited in both bodies and experience.
“We try to be next man up. We try to keep going no matter who does down, no matter what happens,” safety Xavier McKinney said. “I think at halftime, we’re trying to sharpen up what we’re already doing and try to get better at that.
“We got to have guys where everybody’s doing their job. If everybody does that, we’ll be able to execute well.”
UA could get a big boost in that regard from the return of LaBryan Ray, who has been out since the South Carolina game with a foot injury. Saban said it would be at least six weeks from then that Ray could start the process of returning to football activities; Ray has yet to be seen on the practice field, two weeks after that six-week period, and Saban has yet to put a timetable on Ray.
The offensive change will be obvious in scheme more than personnel.
As UA hands the offense over to Jones in the coming weeks, it’s possible the offense adjusts. According to secstatcat.com, 35 of his 252 passing attempts (13.8 percent) travelled 20 or more yards through the air, but only 7.6 percent of Jones’ passes did the same.
Those numbers could be heavily influenced by the situations Jones has mostly played in: late in blowouts. The one exception was his start against Arkansas, but UA had a 28-0 lead in fewer than 20 minutes, so Jones has yet to be put in a situation where he is needed to test defenses deep consistently.
Saban was complimentary of Jones both after the Mississippi State game and throughout the week leading up to the spot start against Arkansas.
“I thought Mac played well,” Saban said. “I talked to Mac (Friday) night, I talked to Tua (Friday) night and they both knew exactly how we were going to play this game today, relative to how Tua was (Saturday). Mac was good with it.
“I thought Mac did a good job in the game. I thought he had the right mindset, he practiced well all week and I think he was well prepared for the game.”
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson