Nick Saban not second-guessing decision to let Tua Tagovailoa play

Nick Saban is not second-guessing his decision to allow Tua Tagovailoa to play in Saturday’s game against Mississippi State.

Tagovailoa, Alabama’s star quarterback, was a game-time decision ahead of the game in Starkville due to the high-ankle sprain he suffered back on Oct. 19. A hobbled Tagovailoa was able to gut it out against LSU on Nov. 9 and the status of his ankle was monitored throughout the week.

Once gameday rolled around, Tagovailoa was deemed healthy enough to play. Late in the first half, however, Tagovailoa ended up going down with a season-ending hip injury.

When asked about it on Monday, a somber Saban said at his Monday press conference that Tagovailoa’s ankle was not an issue and that he is not questioning his decision to let the junior suit up.

“The guy was healthy. He didn’t have a problem with his ankle. It certainly didn’t look like he had a problem with his ankle, which would have been the only reason not to play him in the game,” Saban said. “It’s an SEC game. Typically, you play the best players on your team at every position, so why wouldn’t we play him?”

Saban said if he had the benefit of hindsight, he would not have played any of the players who were injured against the Bulldogs, including defensive lineman Raekwon Davis and receiver Henry Ruggs in addition to Tagovailoa.

“If I knew he was going to get hurt, I wouldn’t have played him. If I knew any player was going to get hurt, I would have taken Raekwon out, I would have taken Ruggs out, I would have taken them all out. Unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of hindsight. So I’m not second-guessing the fact that we played him,” Saban said.

“What if we wouldn’t have played him and not won the game? How can you assume that you would win a game by not playing your best players? I’ve never done that and don’t intend to it in the future. That’s the only way you can be fair to players and that’s the only way you can be fair to the team. Tua absolutely wanted to play in the game and did everything he could to play in the game and to get ready to play in the game. He’s our number one quarterback. I don’t know, if Aaron Rodgers was able to play in the game would they not play in the game? I don’t know how else to do it.”

Saban: ‘I’m hurting’

Saban said Saturday that the possession when Tagovailoa got hurt was going to be his final drive of the game. The Tide had a 35-7 lead before halftime, but the coaches thought it would be worthwhile to keep Tagovailoa in the game to run the two-minute drill before inserting backup Mac Jones into the game for the second half. On the third play of the drive, Tagovailoa had to scramble to avoid pressure, was tackled hard by two MSU defenders and ended up dislocating his hip.

Tagovailoa had successful surgery on Monday morning in Houston. Saban said he’s spoken to Tagovailoa twice. Tagovailoa’s spirits were high, his coach said.

“I talked to Tua. I feel bad. I’m hurting. I called him on Saturday night to cheer him up and he cheers me up. I call him last night because I’ve been sitting in that room for 10 hours [Sunday] watching film. I call him to cheer him up, and he cheers me up. This is a guy that has great spirit,” Saban said.

“He’s very positive about everything he does and the effect he has on other people. I think he’s been a great ambassador for college football in terms of the class that he shows and the way he goes about what he does and how he affects other people. I don’t think there’s any way that any of us can say we won’t miss that spirit that he has.”

Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) listens to instructions from head coach Nick Saban during a timeout in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) listens to instructions from head coach Nick Saban during a timeout in the first half against Mississippi State. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Saban: Tua is ‘a fabulous person’

Not long after the severity of Tagovailoa’s injury became public, many wondered what the future would look like. Tagovailoa is a highly touted NFL draft prospect who some thought could be the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft. Saban was not ready to go there, though. He said their top priority is Tagovailoa’s health and well-being.

Saban did, however, reflect on what Tagovailoa’s legacy will be at Alabama and how much he has meant to Saban personally.

“You want to be fair and honest with all players and you’d like to say you treat them all the same, but that’s probably not the case. I can think back to four or five players that I actually truly could say I really love those guys as people with the way they did things, the contribution they made and how that affected other people. Tua would be one of those four or five guys,” Saban said.

“He’s just a fabulous person. A really good player. He really cares about his team and his teammates. Never had one issue or problem with him since he’s been here. He’s worked hard, he’s supported his teammates when he didn’t play. He supported Jalen [Hurts] when he didn’t play. Jalen supported him when he didn’t play. I can’t say enough good things about him and his family and the impact they’ve had on the program here.”

Now the Tide will move forward with Jones at quarterback for the remainder of the season. Jones played after Tagovailoa was injured vs. Tennessee and then made the start vs. Arkansas. For the season, Jones has completed 45-of-65 passes for 566 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.

Alabama, No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings, hosts Western Carolina, an FCS program, on Saturday before traveling to Auburn for the Iron Bowl on Nov. 30.

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