Saturday Football: Jaylen Waddle's health, Rocky Top turmoil and Shaun Wade
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Good morning and happy Friday! As the rest of the country prepares for Monday night’s College Football Playoff title game between Alabama and Ohio State, there is plenty of action churning in the SEC. From some key staff hirings to injured players possibly returning to rumors surrounding a head coach, it has been a busy week down south.
For today’s newsletter, we’ll discuss Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle’s health and the potential for him to return on Monday. We’ll also take a look at rumors surrounding Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt. Finally, we’ll talk about Ohio State CB Shaun Wade and some comments he’s made this week. Let’s get started!
Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle is back at practice. Could he really return for the CFP title game?
On Oct. 24, Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle suffered a lower leg injury on the opening kickoff against Tennessee, effectively ending his season. However, his rehab has been going well, and now there are some rumors that he could return and see some action on the field during Monday night’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game against Ohio State.
So, how real are these rumors? What’s being said about Waddle’s availability? Let’s take a look at the latest stories involving the speedy, versatile Crimson Tide star:
- Rumors about Waddle’s recovery started a few weeks ago. Heisman winner DeVonta Smith posted a video to his Instagram nearly a month ago showing Waddle walking around the Alabama locker room without his walking boot. Since then, there have been several instances in which coach Nick Saban and Alabama players have been asked about Waddle’s recovery. A couple of weeks ago, Saban said Waddle was working again, but wasn’t fully back. That seemed to put questions about him playing in the Rose Bowl to bed. Earlier this week, Waddle had reportedly returned to practice. On Tuesday, Saban said Waddle “wants to play and has been working hard to get back.” That’s about as specific as Saban will probably be before Monday. On Thursday, he said “I don’t have any crystal ball to know” about Waddle’s availability. Smith artfully avoided the question about Waddle during his media appearance, too.
- What would Waddle’s return mean for the Tide against Ohio State? He has 25 catches for 557 yards and 4 touchdowns already this year. He was also a key contributor in the return game before his injury. Saturday Down South’s David Wasson wonders if Waddle could make a return like Willis Reed of the New York Knicks did back in the day. That would certainly make the Tide’s offense even more dynamic.
- Don’t expect Ohio State to be caught off-guard by Waddle, though. During the buildup to Monday’s game, Ohio State DC Kerry Coombs said the Buckeyes are acting as if Waddle will be healthy. “You absolutely have to prepare like he’s going to play,” Coombs said. “He’s an extraordinary athlete, an extraordinary receiver. … He’s a special player.”
Obviously, it would be a great story if Waddle was able to make a full, healthy return to the field for the title game. He and Smith form one of the most-dangerous receiver tandems in recent college football history. We’ll see what news comes out about Waddle over the weekend, but it seems at least possible that he could see some sort of playing time against Ohio State.
- Alabama and Ohio State are two all-time CFB powerhouses. When they meet on the field in the College Football Playoff title game on Monday night, who will more fans be rooting for? Saturday Down South’s Chris Wright wonders if SEC bias and Alabama fatigue will actually make the Buckeyes America’s darling in the title game.
- One of Steve Sarkisian’s biggest mentors was a JUCO coach called “Feather.” John Featherstone, who coached Sark at El Camino College before Sark went on to BYU, is now in a memory care facility in California and, at age 71, is battling Alzheimer’s. Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger wrote a beautiful piece on Feather’s fight against the nasty disease with no cure and what he and Sark meant to one another during their coaching journeys.
- We know all about the superstars on Alabama and Ohio State. From Mac Jones to Justin Fields, Najee Harris to Trey Sermon, DeVonta Smith to Chris Olave, the field will be loaded with star power on Monday night. But, who are the unheralded guys we should keep an eye on? Bleacher Report’s Joe Tansey names a few under-the-radar players who could have a big impact in the title game.
- Najee Harris had a great season, finishing fifth in the Heisman voting. The star Alabama running back still has a ton of fans in Antioch, California, where he played high school football. CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd profiles how Harris survived in a rough area and how that shaped him into the player he is today.
ROCKY TOP TURMOIL
The Tennessee program is mired in an ongoing internal investigation. What does it mean for Jeremy Pruitt?
After a couple of quiet offseasons, it seems the Tennessee Volunteers have grown a bit itchy when it comes to creating some drama. The Vols are going through an internal investigation surrounding some potential impermissible benefits involved in the recruitment of 5-star OL Amarius Mims, who signed with Georgia. Star RB Eric Gray sat out the season finale against Texas A&M, which was also rumored to be connected to the investigation.
So, what’s going on at Tennessee? And what does this mean for coach Jeremy Pruitt’s future on Rocky Top? Let’s take a look at the latest rumblings out of Knoxville:
- First and foremost, let’s discuss Pruitt’s job security. When the news of the internal investigation first broke, SEC Network host Paul Finebaum said it seemed like someone inside the Tennessee program was out to get Pruitt. This week, ESPN writer Chris Low said during a radio appearance that he thinks it will be difficult for the Vols to keep Pruitt around in 2021.
- The investigation is taking its toll in other ways, too. As the investigation continues, the Vols haven’t been able to hire or re-sign any new or current assistants. Notably, two Tennessee assistants — RB coach Tee Martin and ILB coach Brian Niedermeyer — have contracts that expire at the end of the month. They also have openings at DL coach and OL coach. ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg caused a bit of a stir among Vol Twitter on Thursday when he tweeted about Tennessee’s “hiring freeze.” Naturally, some fans joked that it meant the Vols were hiring Liberty coach Hugh Freeze.
- So, where does Tennessee go from here as the 2021 season approaches? Saturday Down South’s Mark Nagi broke down six offseason priorities the Vols should have. QB Harrison Bailey’s dad took to Twitter to issue a strong statement saying Bailey committed to Tennessee specifically to play for Pruitt. Meanwhile, Zach Ragan of AtoZSportsNashville.com wrote that Pruitt being in limbo is hurting the Vols.
What does the future hold for Pruitt and the Vols? There are plenty of rumors swirling, but it remains to be seen how serious any of them are. What will the investigation reveal? Will Pruitt be around in 2021? These are all questions that need to be answered soon.
JUST FOR FUN
Alabama QB Mac Jones and Ohio State QB Justin Fields will face off in Monday night’s College Football Playoff title game. With the way both star QBs have been playing this year, there are sure to be plenty of passing yards to go around. In the history of the CFP title game, though, there have only been three times when a quarterback has thrown for 400 or more yards. For today’s quiz, can you name the quarterbacks responsible for those three 400-yard performances?
Scroll down for the answers to today’s quiz.
Ohio State CB Shaun Wade has never been afraid of stirring the pot. Can he help slow down Alabama’s elite offense?
Ohio State CB Shaun Wade has never been shy about sharing his opinions. It’s clear he’s looking forward to Monday night’s College Football Playoff title game against Alabama (who wouldn’t be excited, after all?), but it’ll be interesting to see how he fares against the Tide’s high-powered offense.
Wade has some experience playing against some of the Tide’s biggest offensive weapons. Here’s what he’s said in the buildup to the title game:
- Wade and Alabama QB Mac Jones both grew up in Jacksonville. They were both members of the 2017 class, too, with Wade being a 5-star prospect and Jones a 3-star recruit. He said he’s looking forward to facing a guy he went up against in high school, adding that he has a funny nickname for Jones. Jones returned the love for his fellow Jacksonville native.
- But, when it comes to DeVonta Smith, Wade is all business. When asked who he wants to cover on Monday, Wade responded “You already know who I want to go up against.” But, when you’re discussing going up against a Heisman winner, you should be careful what you wish for. Wade has said he doesn’t want to fall out of the first-round picture in the 2021 NFL Draft. But, after getting torched by Cornell Powell of Clemson in the Sugar Bowl, Wade has a lot to prove. Saturday Tradition’s Ryan O’Gara broke down why covering Smith will be Wade’s toughest challenge yet.
- Even if Wade locks down Smith, there should be plenty of offense. Both Ohio State and Alabama have elite offenses, so expect a fairly high-scoring game in Miami. Even former Ohio State and Florida coach (and current FOX Sports analyst) Urban Meyer expects plenty of points to be put on the scoreboard. Still, whichever defense can nab a takeaway at an opportune moment could win the game. Wade will try to be the one to do just that for the Buckeyes.
If Wade gets his wish and does shadow Smith all over the field on Monday night, that will be one of the key battles of the game. Will the Alabama receiver continue to look like a Heisman winner? Or, will Wade make a statement to the NFL? We’ll find out on Monday night in Miami!
The three 400-yard performances in the College Football Playoff title game were from:
- Joe Burrow, LSU: 463 yards in the 2020 title game
- Deshaun Watson, Clemson: 420 yards in the 2017 title game
- Deshaun Watson, Clemson: 405 yards in the 2016 title game
Will either Jones or Fields join the 400-yard club on Monday night?
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I’ve been watching Justin Fields since he came out of high school. I always had high praise for him. He kind of reminded me of a young Cam Newton or something like that. The dude has a lot of great talent. He can deliver the ball to his receivers, has a strong arm, athletic. He’s everything that you want in a quarterback.”
– Alabama LB Dylan Moses had plenty of praise for Ohio State star QB Justin Fields ahead of Monday night’s title game. Will Moses and the Alabama defense be able to slow Fields down?
TWEET OF THE DAY
How great of a guy is Alabama WR DeVonta Smith? One of his professors shared a heartwarming story about the Heisman winner’s study habits and how he honored her with a sideline pass to an Alabama game. Such a great gesture from Smith.
This edition of the Saturday Football newsletter was written by Adam Spencer.