Tide top Vols after Tagovailoa injury

Saint Louis grad has surgery on ankle, to miss at least 1 game


The Associated Press

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama leaned on the old formula once quarterback Tua Tagovailoa went down with an ankle injury: big defensive plays and running the ball.

The top-ranked Crimson Tide turned to the defense and tailback Najee Harris once the high-flying passing game was grounded, pulling out a 35-13 victory over Tennessee on Saturday.

The Tide (7-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) faced its first test of the season without last season’s Heisman Trophy runner-up against the five-touchdown underdogs. Both starting quarterbacks left the game before halftime, and the Volunteers (2-5, 1-3) put up a fight much of the way.

Tagovailoa exited with a high ankle sprain in the second quarter. On Sunday, Alabama coach Nick Saban said Tagovailoa had what’s known as a “tightrope” procedure on his right ankle. He says it’s the same injury the Saint Louis School graduate suffered in the Southeastern Conference championship game last season, just to the other ankle — he played in the playoff semifinal game against Oklahoma 28 days after the injury last season.

Saban predicted “a full and speedy recovery” for Tagovailoa, but the QB will miss next week’s game against Arkansas.

Tagovailoa told teammates he’d be “back for LSU” on Nov. 9, linebacker Terrell Lewis said after Saturday’s game.

By the time Tagovailoa was injured, Tennessee freshman Brian Maurer had already left with a concussion for the second straight week, replaced by former starter Jarrett Guarantano.

The end result was familiar: Alabama’s 13th consecutive win over the rival Vols.

“This is the first time we really had to grind one out and we really had to make plays,” Saban said.

The biggest came when Trevon Diggs recovered Guarantano’s fumble on fourth-and-goal from the 1 and raced 100 yards for a touchdown to end the threat. Tennessee could have cut the deficit to a touchdown, down 28-13.

Diggs said he knew he was going to score.

“There was a lot of green grass,” he said. “It was probably my favorite play since I’ve been here.”

Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt had some angry words for Guarantano as the quarterback walked toward the sideline, pointing his finger toward him and briefly grabbing at his facemask.

“We’ve run two quarterback sneaks earlier in the game by pushing the pile,” Pruitt said. “We could either go back with it or run a sneak, and we elected to run a sneak and he shouldn’t have jumped over the top.

“He should have pushed it there over the middle.”

Harris was already delivering before Tagovailoa’s injury. He wound up running for 105 yards and two touchdowns, and adding 48 yards on four catches. It was the second straight 100-yard game for a playmaker often overshadowed by Tagovailoa and the passing game.

Alabama got a cushion when reserve wide receiver Slade Bolden threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Miller Forristall in the end zone with 4:55 left in the third. Bolden did a celebratory dance toward the sideline, where he was swarmed by teammates.

It was a needed pick-me-up with the Vols riding momentum and having cut it to 21-13 with a field goal. The defense then made a stop with Lewis sacking Guarantano on third down.

Tagovailoa finished 11-of-12 passing for 155 yards but also threw an interception on first-and-goal from the 2 when he scrambled around and forced the ball. Backup Mac Jones passed for 72 yards.