Tua Tagovailoa’s injury looms large over College Football Playoff race

Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was carted off the field at the end of a second quarter of a blowout victory at Mississippi State on Saturday and left the stadium in an ambulance. It’s realistic to wonder whether the Crimson Tide’s College Football Playoff hopes exited with their star quarterback.

Tagovailoa injured his right hip after taking a hit from two Mississippi State defenders late in the second quarter. Tagovailoa was a game-time decision to play against Mississippi State, as the effects of his right ankle injury on Oct. 19 still lingered.

Saban couldn’t offer any kind of early update on the severity of the injury, but Tagovailoa will miss the rest of the season with a dislocated hip and a posterior wall fracture. Not only was Tagovailoa carted off the field, but ESPN’s Molly McGrath reported that he was “screaming in pain” after the hit from Mississippi State’s Leo Lewis and Marquiss Spencer.

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Alabama’s team orthopedic surgeon Dr. Lyle Cain issued a statement late Saturday night, confirming a right hip dislocation and saying the quarterback “is undergoing further testing to determine the best course of treatment.” Cain also said Tagovailoa is expected to make a full recovery.

The first priority here is Tagovailoa’s health — both in the short and long term. He was airlifted back to Alabama shortly after suffering the injury.

Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) is carted off the field after getting injured in the first half against Mississippi State. (AP)
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) is carted off the field after getting injured in the first half against Mississippi State. (AP)

Everything Alabama needed to happen in terms of the tenor of the game in Starkville unfolded. They led 35-7 at the time of the injury late in the second quarter and delivered an authoritative 38-7 road victory in a conference game.

There are two ways Saban will be second-guessed for what unfolded on Saturday. The first will be for Saban leaving Tagovailoa in during a blowout, especially because he entered as a game-time decision. But it’s not unusual for teams in blowouts to have their starting quarterback finish the half. “That was going to be his last series,” Saban said at halftime.

Saban said that the staff was pondering putting in backup Mac Jones, but decided to give Tagovailoa one more series to give him some practice in the two-minute drill. It’s unclear whether Tagovailoa talked his way back into the game for one more series, or if giving Tagovailoa some reps in a two-minute situation guided Saban’s decision-making.

The other way Saban will be questioned will come from playing Tagovailoa at all. Mississippi State has careened back to becoming the low-rung SEC pushover it was prior to Dan Mullen’s arrival there. Playing Mac Jones would have likely resulted in a blowout of a similar manner. If Tagovailoa’s ankle was tenuous enough to make him a game-time decision, why bother playing him at all?

Any potential injury to Tagovailoa will be damaging to Alabama’s already-fickle College Football Playoff hopes. The fifth-ranked Crimson Tide already have a flawed case for the College Football Playoff committee, as they have no quality wins so far this season and only the potential to get one.

Alabama has no wins over teams currently ranked in the Top 25. Their most notable performance came last Saturday in a 46-41 home loss to LSU. This has led to snickering around the sport, giving the perennial power Crimson Tide credit for losing.

The potential loss of Tagovailoa will loom over the rest of Alabama’s season. The Tide would likely be an underdog at Auburn to close the season if they play without Tagovailoa. The Tigers have one of the country’s best defensive lines and have shown the ability to slow down some of the country’s best offenses.

It’s impossible not to wonder how a Tagovailoa injury diminishes Alabama’s playoff argument even if they beat Auburn and finish 11-1. There’s real potential for the Tide to be in comparison with one-loss conference champions from leagues like the Big 12 and Pac-12. These are thorny arguments with little comparative data. Without its best player and starting quarterback, Alabama’s argument would be significantly weaker. 

It was a grisly day for the Crimson Tide on the injury front. Three other key players – star receiver Henry Ruggs, standout defensive lineman Raekwon Davis and defensive lineman DJ Dale – left the game with injuries. (Davis and Ruggs are both potential first-round picks. No update on the severity of their injuries was immediately available.)

Saban has been consistent throughout his career of playing available players when healthy. He said in his halftime interview, “I don’t worry about players getting hurt.”

On a dark day in Starkville, the final image of Tagovailoa will be a Mississippi State banner shielding the media from filming his entrance into the ambulance.

Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) is carted off the field due to an injury. (USA Today)
Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) is carted off the field due to an injury. (USA Today)

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