TUSCALOOSA — Despite a lingering right knee injury to Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama coach Nick Saban says he has no intention to sit or limit snaps for the star quarterback this week against The Citadel.
“No. … No. Why would we do that? I mean … this is not an important game or he doesn't need to play?” Saban said Monday morning. “I think we need to do a better job the people playing around him, doing what they're supposed to do so he doesn't get hit. And he needs to do a better job of stepping up in the pocket and getting rid of the ball, which he had several opportunities to do.
“Some of these hits could be avoided just by better execution, and I think that's what we're going to focus on, not trying to take a guy out of the game so he can't improve or do what he needs to do to get better.”
Tagovailoa suffered a reported right quad injury late in the third quarter of Saturday’s 24-0 win over then-No. 16 Mississippi State when Bulldogs cornerback Cameron Dantzler went low and hit Tagovailoa just above his previously-injured right knee with his helmet for the team’s fourth sack of the game.
"I think Tua could've gone back into the game if he needed to,” Saban said Saturday immediately following the game. "He got hit low a few times out there. I think he got hit in the front of the knee, not the back, which is where his initial problem was."
Tagovailoa has taken a bit of a beating in recent weeks as No. 1 Alabama (10-0, 7-0 SEC) has faced two of the league’s premier defensive fronts, surrendering five of the team’s 10 sacks allowed this season against LSU and Mississippi State.
Like Saban, junior left tackle Jonah Williams said the number of sacks surrendered is a bit of a misnomer, and is a direct result of missed opportunities by both the offensive line and the quarterback.
“I think they were very aggressive on defense, especially after the first two drives when we moved the ball pretty easily, and they kind of went into aggressive-mode,” Williams said Monday. “And when they do that there’s a lot of opportunities that are open that maybe we didn’t take advantage of. … So some of it is scheme, some of it is (the offensive line) not playing as well as we can.”
Tagovailoa, who has started every game this season, originally suffered a “sprained” knee last month against Arkansas, briefly returning to the field before exiting prior to the fourth quarter in the 65-31 blowout win Oct. 6.
A week later, Tagovailoa was forced to leave the Missouri game early in the third quarter after appearing to aggravate the knee injury following an awkward slide, requiring a few minutes to pick himself up off the turf after receiving on-field attention from team trainers. Tagovailoa went directly to the medical tent, where he and his parents remained for several minutes before exiting, though Tagovailoa never returned to the field.
The next week, Tagovailoa played most of a 58-21 win at Tennessee, throwing his third 300-yard passing game of the season and four touchdowns through just 32 minutes of in-game action. Afterward, in his first postgame availability of the season, Tagovailoa acknowledged he still feels the injury when he makes certain movements in a game.
“I don’t feel it every play. There’s just certain movements that I make when I can feel it,” Tagovailoa said Oct. 20, “but other than that, it’s just one of those things you have to play through.”
Alabama’s once-loaded quarterback position has been a source of concern the last several weeks with junior backup and one-time starter Jalen Hurts missing the last two games after undergoing a “minor” medical procedure on a sprained right ankle suffered against Tennessee.
Despite dressing out against LSU and Mississippi State, Hurts did not participate and appeared highly limited during pregame warmups. Redshirt freshman quarterback Mac Jones has taken all the backup snaps in place of Hurts, including in the first quarter against LSU after Tagovailoa was hit below the belt and had to sit out a play.
Hurts remains “day-to-day,” according to Saban, but is making “good progress” in his rehabilitation.
“Jalen’s day to day. He’s definitely getting better,” Saban said Monday. “Tua’s OK. He’s going to be able to practice, so that’s not an issue. Mac (Jones) is getting a lot of reps, so I think he’s getting better.”
In spite of the obvious injury concerns, Saban made it clear he has no intention to further protect any of his walking wounded by resting them this week against Alabama’s annual pre-Iron Bowl FCS opponent.
“Whatever the guys can do, we’re going to have them do and get as many reps for them as we can,” Saban said. “As a coach, it’s a little difficult sometimes to manage guys that are injured because regardless of what the medical circumstance is, the player has to be confident that he can do to go out there and do his job well. And that’s something that we can only evaluate as we go through the week’s practice.”