The Monday After: Tua Tagovailoa's ankle injury shakes up the national title picture
Plus, what does Clemson have to do to impress AP voters?
Jalen Hurts ain't walking through that door. At best, Tua Tagovailoa might limp through it. On a Saturday that saw its second major upset in two weeks, with No. 6 Wisconsin losing to Illinois on the road, the most significant loss of the weekend occurred hours later. No. 1 Alabama beat Tennessee 35-13, and though Tagovailoa may have been smoking victory cigars with his teammates afterward, Alabama's future looks as cloudy as the locker room they celebrated in.
Tagovailoa left Alabama's victory during the second quarter with what was diagnosed as a high-ankle sprain. It's the same injury he suffered last season, though, as Nick Saban was quick to point out after the game, it's the other ankle this time and required a "tight-rope" procedure to repair. Saban expects a "full and speedy recovery."
Now, Alabama might have to successfully navigate a tight rope without the player that's redefined its offense in recent seasons. Without him, Alabama becomes an entirely different team, which means Tua's injury doesn't just affect the Tide, but the national title race. While Saban has already ruled his QB out for next week's game against Arkansas, nobody is worried about Arkansas in Tuscaloosa. With or without Tagovailoa, that's a game Alabama should win. It's the game after Arkansas that matters. The date everybody has circled on their calendar.
Nov. 9 vs. No. 2 LSU
Saban says Alabama expects Tagovailoa to have a full and speedy recovery, but how speedy is realistic? The one-to-two week time frame seems more than a bit optimistic for a high-ankle injury. Not that I believe Tagovailoa won't play against LSU. I'm almost certain he will, but will he be 100 percent? Will he even be at 80 percent?
Tagovailoa suffered the same injury to his left ankle during the first quarter of the SEC Championship Game against Georgia on Dec. 1 last season. He stayed in the game a bit longer until his left tackle Jonah Williams stepped on his right ankle. Then, with two hurt ankles and a myriad of other injuries he'd been dealing with all season, Tagovailoa made way for Jalen Hurts. Hurts' Alabama career then came full-circle as he led Alabama to a comeback win against Georgia.
Afterward, Tagovailoa had the tight-rope procedure on his ankle. Alabama's semifinal against Oklahoma was four weeks after the SEC Championship. A few days before that game, in the media circus leading up to it, Tagovailoa admitted to reporters that he was closer to 85 percent than 100. He then went out and torched Oklahoma, completing 24-of-27 passes for 318 yards and four touchdowns. He would look far more bothered a week later against Clemson, as he completed 22-of-34 passes for 295 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. So, one has to wonder if his performance against Oklahoma was more a result of an Oklahoma defense that was one of the worst in the country last season instead of just Tagovailoa's magnificence. When banged up against two top defenses in Georgia and Clemson, Tagovailoa did not look like the Tua of old.
The LSU game is in three weeks. If Tua was 85 percent after four weeks last season, it's hard to imagine him being healthier after only three this year.
In other words, this injury has the potential to change the entire 2019 season. If Saturday night was any indicator, Alabama isn't beating LSU without Tua. It simply doesn't have the offensive firepower without him.
While Mac Jones did lead a touchdown drive, he was only 1-for-3 on the drive for 18 yards. The 10-play scoring drive featured six runs by Najee Harris, and it was Slade Bolden who came in and threw the touchdown pass to cap it off. Jones finished the night completing 6-of-11 passes for 72 yards, good enough for an average of 6.5 yards per attempt. Tagovailoa is at 11.2 yards per attempt on the season. Clearly, this Alabama offense isn't as explosive without him, and in a season when LSU is suddenly the most dangerous offense in the country, it will have to be.
Upset of the Week
OK, I mentioned Wisconsin losing to Illinois briefly, but we have to go more in-depth on it here. Because, honestly, where the hell did it come from? Wisconsin was a 30.5-point favorite in Champaign on Saturday, and it lost to an Illinois team that hadn't beaten a top 10 opponent since knocking off No. 1 Ohio State in 2007. While that was a major upset in its own right, that 2007 Illinois team ended up playing in the Rose Bowl. The 2019 Illinois team that beat Wisconsin on Saturday will not be in Pasadena. If anything, it's hoping this upset win can propel it to the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit.
According to ESPN Stats and Info, Illinois' win was the biggest upset in a Big Ten conference game since Northwestern beat Minnesota in 1982 as a 32-point underdog.
It gets even more baffling when you dive into the box score. Illinois beat Wisconsin on Saturday despite never running an offensive play in the red zone. Its three touchdowns on the day were a 48-yard pass, a 43-yard run and a 29-yard pass. The Wisconsin defense had allowed one play of greater than 40 yards all season before Illinois had two against it. Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters completed only nine of his 21 pass attempts for 174 yards and the two touchdowns. Remove those two big plays, and he was 7-for-19 for 97 yards. Wisconsin's offense ran 19 more plays, had 105 more yards, and held the ball for nearly 41 of the 60 minutes of game time.
But it also turned the ball over three times, including twice in the fourth quarter. Illinois turned those three turnovers into 17 points, and 17 points are rather significant in a 24-23 game.
It's also an upset that could have a significant impact across the Big Ten and elsewhere. While I don't know how many people had been considering Wisconsin as a national title threat, it was undoubtedly a Big Ten contender. This week's showdown in Columbus was setting up to be a battle of two undefeated teams. Now everybody is wondering whether or not Minnesota is the favorite in the Big Ten West, and if a Ohio State win over Wisconsin next week will even mean that much. Then there's the Illinois side of the equation. After four straight losses -- including a home loss to Eastern Michigan -- the heat was turning up on Lovie Smith's seat. It was looking more and more likely that Rutgers would not be the only Big Ten job opening this winter. Now, after getting what Smith himself described as a "signature win," Illinois is talking bowl game, and it seems Lovie could be back for another year.
It's amazing what a couple of timely turnovers can do.
Runaway Freight Train of the Week
I didn't know a ton about TCU QB Max Duggan before this week. I mean, I knew he was a freshman, and that he was a quarterback, but there hasn't been a lot of reasons to pay close attention to the Horned Frogs in 2019. Then I saw this highlight from TCU's 24-17 loss to Kansas State and now I want to know everything I can possibly know about Max Duggan. What's his favorite color? What does he eat before games? How much can he squat? Would he promise to do something like this every game?
Stat of the Week
Pitt beat Syracuse on Friday night to improve to 5-2 on the season. That's great for Pitt, but what I love is how Pitt this season has been for Pitt. It's 5-2 while outscoring opponents 156-155. It doesn't get anymore Pitt than that. Pitt could be 2-5 while outscoring opponents 156-155, that's just the beauty of Pitt football.
Never change, you beautiful bundle of chaos.
Quote of the Week
We all know that Les Miles eats grass, but are we sure that's all he does? I feel like I'm high just reading that quote and trying to figure out what it means. Is Kansas a phrase? Is it a word? Is it a state? Is Kansas even a real place? Is any of this real? Am I real?
Video Game Glitch of the Week
Tell me you aren't throwing your Playstation or Xbox out the window if this happened to you in a game. You know you are. Everybody would, and everybody would be correct in doing so.
Also, I swear I'm not just including this highlight in the column because my name is in it. I'm including it because it's incredible, and it took place at roughly 2 a.m. ET on Sunday morning, so most of the world missed it. I want them to see it. My name being in the scroll is just a bonus.
Tom Fornelli Team of the Year Dropouts of the Week
Beginning in 2019, The Tom Fornelli Team of the Year Award, presented by The Tom Fornelli Foundation For Football Exceptionalism, is to be given out to one incredible football team that best displays the values of The Tom Fornelli Foundation For Football Exceptionalism. Every week, teams will be eliminated from the running for reasons. Those reasons are at the sole discretion of Tom Fornelli and The Tom Fornelli Foundation For Football Exceptionalism, which is comprised of Tom Fornelli and nobody else. Here are the teams eliminated from consideration in Week 6.
Gave you as an Off The Radar play on HQ and you let me down.
Don't think you'd have lasted this long if not for Ralphie.
Your coach is getting fined for his tweets.
Having a WR at QB should be more fun than this.
No reason to eliminate you, but no reason to keep you, either.
Boston College lost its QB and still crushed you.
There was once a time you claimed to be the best team in Illinois. Well, you lasted longer than the other two here at least.
Just haven't been the same since the loss of T. Boone Pickens.
I still think you're going to win a game. Use this as motivation.
Let me down during Wednesday Night #FunBelt.
I know your fans will point to who you've lost to, but you don't seem very good in your wins, either.
You lost as a 30-point favorite.
Teams remaining: 48 / 130
Teams eliminated last week: Army, BYU, Eastern Michigan, Florida State, Fresno State, Georgia, Memphis, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Ohio, Texas, Texas Tech, Toledo
For a full list of eliminated teams and the respective reasons, click here.
Stat of the Week II
Ohio State obliterated Northwestern 52-3 in Evanston on Friday night. In doing so, it became the first Big Ten team since the 1973 Buckeyes to start the season with seven consecutive wins by at least 20 points. Ohio State would tack on two more such wins to finish with nine straight that season. The streak would end the following week when Ohio State tied Iowa 10-10, but it still went on to beat No. 7 USC 42-21 in the Rose Bowl. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, that tie to Iowa would cost it a national title. They finished at No. 2 in the AP Top 25 poll behind 11-0 Notre Dame.
Salty Coach of the Week
Clemson did what Clemson's been doing most of the season on Saturday. It rolled past another opponent, beating Louisville 45-10, while barely having to get out of first gear. As a result, Clemson dropped in the AP Top 25 poll for the second consecutive week. Clemson fell from No. 2 to No. 3 last week after a 45-14 win over Florida State, but it could be argued that was due more to LSU beating Florida than anything Clemson did or didn't do.
This week the Tigers dropped from No. 3 to No. 4 as Ohio State passed them by after crushing lowly Northwestern. When asked about it on Sunday, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was perfectly Dabo in his response.
"We are winning by an average of 28 points, and last year this time we were winning by 28.7 points," said Swinney. "That 0.7 is elusive, and we're chasing that. It's probably the greatest 0.7 out there, but we'll keep working. I don't really worry about that stuff. We just try to take care of business week in and week out, work our tails off to get better, we've got a lot to improve. Everybody can have whatever opinions they want, it doesn't matter. What matters is us trying to close out October in a strong and get ready to try to win this division and win this league and whatever's after that, hopefully, we'll be positioned well."
First of all, I love that Dabo says he doesn't worry about this stuff right after giving us the 28.7 points stat. He has that stat ready at the drop of a hat, but clearly, he hasn't thought about it! Second of all, it's hard not to see where he's coming from. Clemson is dominating its opponents but being punished in the rankings because of what everybody thinks of its opponents. You'll notice that Clemson has not dropped in the Coaches Poll top 25, which highlights the different ways coaches and the media look at things. For the most part, coaches aren't going to punish a team unless it loses, or somebody else has played well enough to deserve being moved past that team. The media, on the other hand, is taking more of a "who have you beaten?" and "how well have you played" combination to its ranking methods.
Neither is an incorrect approach. The only thing that's incorrect is what our AP Voter of the Week did this week.
AP Voter of the Week
Going to keep this short, but The Monday After's AP Voter of the Week is once again The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Don Williams. Mr. Williams had 4-3 Texas A&M at No. 20 on his ballot this week. He was the only AP voter to include the Aggies on their ballot, and it's easy to agree with the other 61 voters.
Yes, I know Texas A&M's three losses have come to Alabama, Auburn and Clemson. There isn't a bad loss there. It's just, what's the win the Aggies have to justify being ranked with three losses? They've beaten 2-4 Texas State and a 4-3 Lamar team outside the SEC. They're two conference wins have come against 2-5 Arkansas and 3-5 Ole Miss. Those two wins have come by a total of 11 points.
At some point, the Aggies need to beat somebody to earn a spot in the top 25. Losing to better teams isn't how you get ranked.
College Football Playoff Projection of the Week
- Ohio State
Until the next Monday After!
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