The day after his players raved about how good injured superstar receiver Jaylen Waddle looked at practice, Alabama coach Nick Saban said nothing to dampen the enthusiasm surrounding Waddle’s potential return in Monday’s national championship game.
“He has been able to practice some,” Saban said over Zoom on Thursday. “His status for the game is still relatively up in the air, and it will probably be a game-day decision.”
Waddle, considered by most at the time to be the game’s most dynamic downfield weapon, suffered a fractured right ankle on Oct. 24 and was thought to be out for the season. Even without him, Alabama is averaging 48.2 points per game (second most in the country) and is fifth in passing yards (349.3).
Waddle, a projected top-10 draft pick, recovered quicker than expected and returned to practice on Tuesday. Teammates on Wednesday said he looked good. When pressed about Waddle’s status, Saban said he doesn’t have a crystal ball. It will depend how Waddle’s ankle reacts in practices leading up to the game and what team doctors say.
“Sometimes if a guy practices one day and gets sore the next, you can’t practice him the next day, so you just keep sort of trying to build up his workload to where he might be able to play,” Saban said. “This is something that we’re trying to evaluate, but not anything that we can make any kind of prediction on at this point.”
Amid rumors earlier in the week that COVID-19 issues within the Ohio State program could delay the game a week, both coaches said on Monday they expected the title game to go on as scheduled. Buckeyes coach Ryan Day wouldn’t elaborate much when asked how many of his players could be out.
“We’ll have plenty of players,” he said.
In the College Football Playoff semifinal victory over Clemson, Ohio State was without 13 scholarship players — including running back Master Teague, offensive guard Harry Miller and defensive end Zach Harrison. It was believed that was due to the virus, though the Big Ten school does not offer a reason for inactive players.
Saban said there were discussions about a postponement, but pushing the game back would’ve created complications, too. He didn’t like the idea of another full week of practice since many of his players are dealing with injuries after a 12-game season and the day discussed to move the game back to — Jan. 18 — is also the day underclassmen have to decide if they will enter the NFL draft.
“So just the whole timing of the whole thing would have been a tough management,” Saban said. “But I would have put player safety on either team as the most important factor in this decision.”
Had Jordan Battle not changed his mind, the sophomore safety from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., would be facing Alabama in Monday’s finale, not hoping to lead the Crimson Tide to a title. Battle was originally committed to Ohio State before flipping his commitment to Alabama in December 2018.
“You know what’s funny? My mom, dad and my brother, we were all talking about it in a group chat this past week,” the former four-star, top-50 recruit said. “It’s kind of funny that either school I would have went to, I would have been in the national championship.
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