Does Alabama stand a chance vs. LSU if Tua Tagovailoa is less than 100 percent healthy?

Ed Orgeron's emergence. Joe Burrow's dominance. Alabama's omnipotence. College football's eminence. Yeah, there's all that in Alabama-LSU, but let's boil it down to the main thing: Tua Tagovailoa's transcendence.
 
He is everything for the No. 3 Crimson Tide. The heart. The soul. The arm. The quarterback key to another national championship. First, he has to beat No. 2 LSU. That is, if he plays. 
 
Not that anybody doubts he will. When asked this week whether Tagovailoa -- officially a game-time decision with a high-ankle sprain-- will play, Orgeron, LSU's coach, said, "Sure."
 
It's a question of health, then, with Tagovailoa less than three weeks removed from a surgically repaired ankle. 
 
Before you watch, bet or agonize over Saturday's latest Game of the Century, ask yourself this: Can Alabama win with Tagovailoa at less than 100 percent?
 
Given his incredible talents, can 85 percent of Tagovailoa beat LSU? Can he move around enough at 80 percent? God forbid, will they stick him out there as a statue at 75 percent?
 
No matter your answer for the junior almost certainly playing his final season, this week, his mobility is an underdog. 
 
It's reasonable to assume Tagovailoa probably won't be 100 percent. We've seen how he looks soon after ankle surgery. There was something missing the night of Jan. 7 in the College Football Playoff National Championship. Tagovailoa was playing his second game since tightrope surgery on his left ankle. He was mostly stationary, throwing off that tender back leg.
 
Proof? On Alabama's third offensive play of the game, Tagovailoa threw a Pick Six. The resulting 44-16 loss was Nick Saban's worst at Alabama. 
 
The quarterback is expected to play 20 days after surgery on his right ankle. That's 11 months after having the same procedure on the other leg.
 
Last week, we told you that the regular recovery time for such a surgery is 8-12 weeks. That's for mere mortals. Tagovailoa is coming back in less than three weeks attempting to beat the No. 2 team in the country.
 
The kid is a gamer. No doubt about that. But after his rocket arm, it's his escapability that makes him special.
 
Last year, the Tide became a pass-first team. The offense was refined this season, becoming a shining example of how to run a spread. They don't defend particularly well. They don't run it all that well (eighth in the SEC, in fact).
 
But they can throw the hell out of it with Tagovailoa. Simply put, the less mobile he is in that pocket, the better chance LSU has on Saturday.
 
If you've ever turned your ankle playing basketball, you know the feeling. Now factor in surgery and three weeks' worth of rehab.  The result? We'll know soon enough, the moment Tagovailoa has to dodge an LSU linebacker. 
 
He is not a runner, per se, but when fully healthy, he's one of the most creative in and out of the pocket. That's what helps his main targets -- Alabama foursome of star wide receivers -- get open. 
 
Alabama's receivers lead the country in yards after catch, and it isn't even close. Alabama's 1,855 YAC is No. 2 to Washington State, according to Sports Info Solutions. Stunningly, that number alone is more than 53 teams have in total receiving yardage all season.
 
There is no better foursome in the country -- perhaps ever. Stopping Jaylen Waddle, Jeremy Jeudy, Devonta Smith and Henry Ruggs III is like trying to cut down a line of advancing soldiers. You can eliminate one, but there are hundreds more (yards) behind them. 
 
The Alabama Four are gaining 57 percent of their total receiving yards after catching the ball. The FBS average is 48 percent. The nation's leader in receiving yardage -- Omar Bayless of Arkansas State -- has only a 37 percent YAC rate.
 
Equally stunning: The Tide average almost a first down after each catch (9.7 yards YAC!).
 
Tagovailoa's presence means so much because Bama is in the running for another national championship with its "worst" defense (16th nationally) since 2007. It is playing several freshman on both sides of the ball.
 
To believe in Alabama without Tagovailoa, you have to believe in backup Mac Jones. To believe in Alabama with Tagovailoa at less than 100 percent, you have to believe he has enough superhuman left in him.
 
Certainly, his superpower -- that mobility -- will be diminished. No offense, Mac, but Tua is the only guy on the roster who fits in a cape.
 
Tagovailoa is a force of nature who was meant for this moment. Consider that, during recruiting ,his legend had already made it to campus in advance. Before he stepped into the huddle, Saban had basically changed the offense a couple of years earlier to accommodate him.
 
These three weeks, he has gone from surgery to questionable to game-time decision in Saturday's showdown against the Tigers (SEC on CBS, 3:30 p.m. ET).

Forget any exact information on Tagovailoa's availability. Las Vegas has spoken. Alabama seemingly wouldn't be a 6.5-point favorite if Tagovailoa wasn't going to play at something close to full strength.  
 
But we don't know that for sure. Despite missing a game, Tagovailoa is tied for third nationally with 27 touchdown passes. The guy on the other sideline -- LSU's Burrow -- has 30.
 
Did somebody order a shootout?
 
The receivers, infused with Tagovailoa, are the key to Alabama's big picture aspirations. Through scheme, injuries and talent, the deepest part of Alabama evolved from running back a couple of years ago to receiver this season. 
 
Not surprisingly, the Tide lead the country in yards on slant routes (502), according to SIS. To the naked eye, that is the program's go-to route. Not only can the Alabama Four catch, they can catch in traffic and have the speed to break any given slant route into a touchdown. That fits right with the modern game. Add a generational quarterback, and the Alabama Four should have an award category carved out for themselves.
 
Together, they've caught 141 of Alabama's 191 passes. In 2009, when Saban won his first title in T-Town with Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, the Tide completed 212 passes all season. This Bama team has as many as seven games remaining.
 
That would include a potential College Football Playoff run, which may not be in the cards unless all of what we know as Tua Tagovailoa is available.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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