If Tua Tagovailoa had any pain in his left ankle that he severely sprained earlier this month in the SEC Championship Game, he surely didn’t show it on Monday.
The star Alabama quarterback walked effortless and was overall jovial when he stepped off the plane with his teammates at Miami International Airport on Monday ahead of the top-ranked Crimson Tide’s College Football Playoff semifinal against No. 4 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.
Tagovailoa might not be 100 percent, but that’s not going to stop him from helping Alabama in its quest for a third national title in four years.
“At this point, we’re doing a lot better,” Tagovailoa said. “I got to move [Sunday]. I got to get a feel of of it before we come out [Monday] with practice. It feels good.”
Tagovailoa injured the ankle when offensive lineman Jonah Williams fell on Tagovailoa’s ankle in the fourth quarter of Alabama’s 35-28 come-from-behind victory against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. Crimson Tide backup quarterback Jalen Hurts entered the game in Tagovailoa’s place at that point, with Alabama trailing 28-21, and led a pair of touchdown drives to seal Alabama’s win.
Tagovailoa had a minor surgery to repair the ankle and took part in Alabama’s bowl practices in Tuscaloosa leading up to their arrival in Miami on Monday. The Crimson Tide took a few days off before heading to South Florida. During that time, Tagovailoa spent some time at his family’s home in Alabaster, Alabama, for rehab before testing the ankle out with a few mobility drills Sunday.
“Tua has been able to practice and get all the reps he’s been able to get,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “It will be interesting to see after having a few days off, with the additional rehab, how that impacts his ability to get closer to 100 percent.”
Tagovailoa, the Crimson Tide’s hero in last season’s national championship game against Georgia, has had a breakout season. The sophomore has thrown for 3,353 yards with a single-season school record 37 touchdowns and four interceptions while completing 67.7 percent of his passes.
He needs 135 passing yards to pass Blake Sims’ 2014 mark for most passing yards in a single season (3,487). What’s more: Tagovailoa put up those numbers despite not playing in the fourth quarter of any game during the regular season.
He finished second in Heisman Trophy voting to Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray. The two will go head-to-head this weekend for a chance to play either Clemson or Notre Dame in the national championship game on Jan. 7 in Santa Clara, California.
“As a quarterback you have to be able to create momentum for yourself,” Tagovailoa said. “By doing that you can’t stop watching film. You can’t stop getting with your guys as far as throwing, handing the ball off. From an offensive standpoint, you have to get everyone together. You have to do everything the same way and I think that’s what we’ve been doing throughout this time off as well.”
And even as his ankle continues to recover, Tagovailoa doesn’t expect Alabama’s gameplan to change in any way.
“We’re running all the plays we’ve normally ran,” Tagovailoa said. “If I wasn’t able to run some of the plays, I don’t think I should be out there.”