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Tagovailoa likely ready as No. 3 Alabama battles No. 2 LSU


LSU will be without a key defender, but Alabama appears likely to have quarterback Tua Tagovailoa ready to go when the two Southeastern Conference powers clash Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa.

The contest was being billed as a “Game of the Century” until the initial College Football Playoff rankings came out Tuesday, with LSU slotted No. 2 and Alabama No. 3, both behind Ohio State. The AP poll has LSU No. 1 and Alabama No. 2.

The winner Saturday will have a huge leg up in the SEC West Division race and likely will have punched a ticket for a berth in the national playoff. The loser won’t necessarily be out of the picture for either but will need some help to get there.

The game has drawn huge hype since the teams made it through October unbeaten, and Alabama officials are preparing Bryant-Denny Stadium for a possible visit by President Donald Trump.

Coach Nick Saban, who once turned down a dinner invitation from President George W. Bush because he didn’t want to leave the Miami Dolphins‘ training camp, wants his team to keep a levelheaded approach.

“The big thing you want the players to do is not get involved in the hype surrounding the game or even think about the implications of the game,” he said.

The Tigers (8-0, 4-0 SEC) lost linebacker Michael Divinity Jr. earlier this week when the senior starter announced he was leaving the team for personal reasons. Divinity had 23 tackles this season, including a team-leading three sacks. Juniors Andre Anthony (nine tackles, one sack) and Ray Thornton (3/0) will fill Divinity’s spot.

“We’ll be fine,” Tigers coach Ed Orgeron said.

As for Alabama, Saban said earlier in the week that Tagovailoa’s availability would be a game-time decision, but added on Wednesday that “there’s a good chance he will play.”

Tagovailoa injured his ankle against Tennessee on Oct. 19 and did not play against Arkansas the following week. The Crimson Tide (8-0, 5-0 SEC) had an open date last week.

“It’s still day-to-day, and you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow or the next day, but he’s moving around well and throwing the ball with confidence,” Saban said Wednesday. “His mobility will be the big question, but every day that’s improved dramatically.”

Orgeron has no doubts.

“Sure,” he said when asked if he expects Tagovailoa to play.

Tagovailoa has completed 74.7 percent of his passes for 309.4 yards per game with 27 touchdown passes against two interceptions. Working with a talented receiving group, he and LSU quarterback Joe Burrow (78.8 completion percentage, 350.6 yards per game, 30 touchdowns, four interceptions) are a big reason that this meeting is expected to be much different from the last time these two teams met in a “Game of the Century” in 2011.

LSU won that one 9-6 in overtime with all the scoring coming on field goals. It stands as Alabama’s last loss in the series it leads 53-25-5.

Both teams have completely changed their offensive approach drastically since then.

“We have become more of a spread team. They have become more of a spread team,” Saban said. “We’ve done it for a few years now. This is their first time to really sort of open it up, and it’s paid dividends for them in a big way. I think it certainly features the skill players they have and the quarterback.”

Big-play threats at receiver have made a difference for both teams.

For Alabama, Jerry Jeudy has 52 catches for 682 yards and eight touchdowns, DeVonta Smith 43 for 721 yards and nine scores, and Henry Ruggs III 26 for 513 and six touchdowns.

For LSU, Justin Jefferson has 55 receptions for 891 yards and nine scores, Ja’Marr Chase 43 for 749 and nine, and Terrace Marshall Jr. 22 for 333 and seven.

–Field Level Media



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