Forde-Yard Dash: News, Notes and a Prediction for LSU-Alabama

What's the latest on Tua Tagovailoa's injury? Checking in from Tuscaloosa on what's being said ahead of LSU and Alabama's big showdown.
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Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (apology notes signed by Chris Petersen (21) available for Washington season-ticket holders who have seen the Huskies lose three Pac-12 home games):

MORE DASH: LSU vs. Alabama Storylines | The 21-Game Test | 5 CFP Rankings Questions

THIRD QUARTER

LIVE DASHING FROM TUSCALOOSA—THE TRUMP EFFECT?

Christopher Walsh of BamaCentral.com reported Monday that Alabama is making plans for President Donald Trump (22) to attend the game. If he comes, it will be the third major sporting event Trump has attended in the last couple of weeks, hitting the World Series in Washington, D.C., and the big UFC fight card in New York previously. Perhaps, like many Americans, the president is using sports to escape politics.

It hasn’t really worked, though.

Trump was loudly booed at the baseball game, and there was a mixed response at the UFC event. If he’s looking for a safe space and a crowd that seems more likely to cheer him, an Alabama home football game seems like a good choice. Trump carried the state by nearly 28%.

This hearkens back to another No. 1 vs. No. 2 regular-season college football game attended by a sitting president: Texas vs. Arkansas (23) in Fayetteville in 1969, with Richard Nixon (24) among those in the stadium.

The top-ranked Longhorns trailed 14-0 going into the fourth quarter before rallying to win, 15-14. Trump may hope the parallels end there, since Nixon eventually resigned amid impeachment proceedings.

PUTTING THE BULLSEYE ON LSU

The Dash was on location at Alabama Monday to hear Nick Saban (25) and several Crimson Tide players make carefully worded comments pertaining to a game you may have heard about.

If there was one interesting thing that came out of the Tide’s media availability, it was this: “We don’t really talk about rankings,” Saban said. That was after he twice noted in his opening remarks that LSU is ranked No. 1 in the nation by the Associated Press (26).

Alabama is ranked No. 1 in the coaches’ poll, but Saban didn’t mention that. For a reason.

“They’re No. 1, we’re No. 2,” said receiver Jerry Jeudy (27), using Saban’s same selective poll usage.

They do talk about rankings here. But only when it’s useful. This is one of those exceedingly rare occasions.

Make no mistake, Alabama is still favored by Las Vegas. Yet the Tide has been handed the gift of someone else wearing a No. 1 ranking, and thus an accompanying target of sorts.

Last time Alabama was the lower-ranked team in a regular-season game was 2015. It happened three times that year: No. 13 Alabama at No. 8 Georgia; No. 10 Alabama at No. 9 Texas A&M; No. 7 Alabama vs. No. 4 LSU. The Tide won all three games by two touchdowns or more, on their way to winning the national title.

The previous season, ‘Bama was ranked No. 4 when Mississippi State was No. 1. The Tide won that game as well.

Last time they lost a regular-season game as the lower-ranked team? Eight years ago as the No. 2 team against No. 1 LSU.

It happens so infrequently that even if ‘Bama doesn’t want to admit it, ‘Bama is happy to sample the intangible advantage of being the hunter instead of the hunted. While simultaneously extolling the virtues of all things LSU to the media.

Saban is so practiced at the art of complimenting his opponent that nobody can even remember the last time he provided bulletin-board fodder (if ever). Ed Orgeron, however, is a different cat.

"There'll be bigger games down the road for us,” the LSU coach said Monday, according to Glenn Guilbeau of the USA Today network. That’s a polar-opposite take from the standard Saban mantra that no game is bigger than the next game. Even if that next game is Arkansas.

Orgeron’s statement probably took about 30 seconds to reach Saban’s desk. Behind closed doors, Alabama will play every motivational card it gets, just like any other program.

THE TUA UPDATE WAS PREDICTABLY VAGUE

Anyone seeking specific information on Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s injured ankle (see First Quarter) wasn’t going to get much from Saban or the Tide players.

“We’ve been pretty consistent on the message with Tua,” Saban said. “If he can play in the game it will be a game-time decision. … If he goes out (Monday) and looks good, we’ll increase the rep count and there’s a good chance he’ll play in the game.”

Saban said Tua participated in a couple of practices last week, without being specific about what he did. He added that the team’s top two quarterbacks generally “get pretty much the same reps” in practice Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. That seems hard to believe in a normal week, but easier to believe this week with Tua working his way back and backup Mac Jones (28) coming off his first career start against Arkansas Oct. 26.

The Alabama players were unanimous in their description of Tagovailoa’s demeanor heading into the week.

“Tua’s always positive,” Jeudy said.

The prediction here: Tua will be Alabama’s starting quarterback Saturday. Level of effectiveness: to be determined.

But if he’s hobbling, don’t look for Saban to keep him on the field. A loss to the No. 1 team with an injured quarterback can be massaged with the CFP selection committee.

HOW THE GAME WILL PLAY OUT

Saban sounded wary of the ability of LSU quarterback Joe Burrow (29) to extend plays or make first downs with his legs. Burrow is a capable athlete who has run for more than 500 yards in two seasons with the Tigers, and Saban noted that LSU’s deluxe receivers do a nice job altering their routes to get open when Burrow goes into scramble mode.

Mostly, though, Alabama’s defenders see an LSU offense that has been liberated from its historically hidebound playing style.

“They’ve probably been let off the leash a little bit,” linebacker Terrell Lewis (30) said. “And it’s working for them.”

The game will pit the two most explosive passing attacks in the SEC against defenses that are good, but not vintage. LSU leads the league in passing plays longer than 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 yards. Alabama is either second or tied for first in all those categories, and leads the league is pass plays longer than 70 and 80 yards.

Defensively, the Tide have allowed just six passes longer than 30 yards, one longer than 40 and none longer than that. LSU has given up eight of 30 or more yards and two of 40 or more. Both teams are likely to give up more big plays Saturday than they have in any game this season.

Ultimately, it says here that Alabama’s school-record 31-game home winning streak will reach 32. LSU’s losing streak to the Tide will reach nine. And Trump will hear more cheers than jeers.

Dash pick: Alabama 38, LSU 35.

MORE DASH: LSU vs. Alabama Storylines | The 21-Game Test | 5 CFP Rankings Questions