There’s clearly a big game this weekend as Alabama and Texas A&M meet up for a game that will give one team a big boost towards another SEC national championship. It may not have a ton of tradition, aside from that Bear Bryant history, but these two teams come into the game very healthy. They’ve lost players, yes, and both teams have the war wounds of a tough set of games as well as the normal fatigue.
However, health and winning almost always go together. We all know situations where teams have overcome key injuries, rallying around a fallen teammate or seeing a backup take a star turn and carry the team higher. That can happen with the depth some of these teams carry, plus the readiness of young athletes. But overall, the work that’s done to keep these players healthy and ready does show up in the record.
When the Tide and the Aggies meet on Saturday, it’s talent and execution that will decide who wins, not who’s available. That’s how it should be. However, there are some other injuries around the conference, so let’s take a look:
Alvin Kamara, RB Tennessee
Tennessee’s running game hasn’t been what was expected this year. Josh Dobbs has been great. But with Jalen Hurd just back to health, losing Alvin Kamara hurts. Both factored in to the concept the team went into this season with — a multi-headed running monster that wouldn’t wear down and had multiple skills.
Kamara was the pass catcher and slasher, so without that, it’s an easier attack to stop. Kamara is dealing with a knee sprain and a damaged meniscus, but as yet, they’re holding off on surgery. The hope is that rest and treatment can get Kamara back on the field and surgery can wait until the end of the season.
It’s truly a wait-and-see for the Vols, but playing through this kind of injury doesn’t usually work. I don’t anticipate Kamara will be back this season given the injury and even if he does, there’s a lot of risk.
Leonard Fournette, RB LSU
He’s back! LSU’s season has gone sideways, but if Ed Orgeron can rally the team, a healthy Leonard Fournette can carry this team a ways yet.
Fournette’s ankle injury has marred his season so far. It has hurt both the Tigers offense and Fournette’s draft prospects for the spring. But there’s plenty of time to turn both around. While Fournette will start, it’s going to be his response to play that determines how much he plays. Derrius Guice won’t be forgotten, but Fournette could get back to his full workload quickly.
The team is still concerned about a recurrence and Fournette will be playing with a brace. Ole Miss has a nice run defense, so don’t get too tied up in the numbers. The Tigers have the country’s toughest remaining schedule with hitting a ranked team every week and losing the non-conference break (though South Alabama has been tougher than expected.) If Fournette is healthy for all those games, the Tigers have a shot at not just playing spoiler, but putting themselves into a position to go to the SEC Championship and beyond.
Brandon Holloway, RB Mississippi State
Brandon Holloway didn’t make the trip to BYU last week. On the field, he wasn’t really missed. The Bulldog backfield has been a committee all season and Holloway seemed to be losing out to the younger talent even before his injury.
He’s out again this week against Kentucky, though Mississippi State continues to not give any details on the injury. My sources tell me that it’s a Grade II ankle sprain and the team does expect him back soon. How soon might depend on whether Aeris Williams continues to produce in his absence. Dan Mullen sure seems to be leaning on younger players and looking to the future. It’s just disappointing to see injuries accelerate that.
Antonio Callaway, WR Florida
Now that Luke Del Rio is back and relatively healthy after his knee injury, getting all his targets healthy is key for the Gators. The gaps in the schedule — intended and unintended — have helped Antonio Callaway come back from his quad strain. If he’s healthy (and if Brandon Powell comes back from the foot injury he suffered late against Mizzou), the team is in good position against a tough Georgia team.
Look for Callaway’s speed to be used early to try and speed up the game, while Georgia tries to grind with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. I think this could be a huge day for Callaway as he and the Gators have themselves in position for a run to Atlanta.