The SEC has been defined more by injuries than wins so far this season. While injuries are considered part of the game, managing them, either through depth, prevention, or reduction in missed time, can be the difference between winning and losing in a conference with such tight margins. For top talents like Nick Chubb, Leonard Fournette, and others, it’s nearly impossible to replace that kind of talent, so losing them in an already time-limited career is even more difficult. We’ll never really know where teams would be if they could have avoided key injuries, but it’s only teams that didn’t go as far as they wanted that ask what if. Let’s look at all the big injuries around the conference:
Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
For Nick Chubb, missing a game with a high ankle sprain wouldn’t have been questioned. It’s an injury that can take weeks to recover from and it seemed clear that Chubb wasn’t going to be ready to contribute in last week’s game against Tennessee. If the team couldn’t figure that out in warmups, what did one carry teach them? There have been no reports that Chubb has had any setback, so there’s at least that as a positive for Bulldogs fans.
Coach Kirby Smart was clear that the Bulldogs wanted Chubb to play and that they’d test him before the game, so was this Chubb being pushed into a situation where he couldn’t succeed? Did Smart rest him more once Sony Michel showed himself able to handle the workload? There’s no answer, but don’t be surprised to see Chubb continue to be affected by the sprain for a week or more, whether he plays or not.
Leonard Fournette, RB, Louisiana State
Leonard Fournette might be one of the few people thankful for Hurricane Matthew. He would have missed the scheduled game against Florida with continued ankle problems. That essentially gives Fournette three full weeks before LSU’s next game to heal whatever is wrong. There are very few sprains that last this long, but the problems Fournette has had as he’s played have been less about setbacks and more about reinjuring the ankle.
It’s not only his performance and team that have suffered, but some are questioning his draft stock as well. Assuming the ankle doesn’t show a major structural issue that will be a chronic problem, there’s little chance he’ll fall far. One doctor I speak with regularly reminded me that Adrian Peterson had a lot of questions his last year of college as well.
The game will likely be rescheduled and if it’s played with a healthy Fournette and a healthy Luke Del Rio, we might end up with a much better game that we would have gotten this weekend.
Jalen Hurd, RB, Tennessee
“Lower extremity.” I guess coach Butch Jones is playing the hockey game now, as that sport is notorious for providing little exact information regarding injuries. I think the guys on the podcast got it right — there’s more here than a simple knee or ankle injury. Reports are varied, which means no one (including me) knows what’s wrong. The medical indications lean more to something muscular than stable, which doesn’t help us judge his availability or effectiveness. As the team gets ready to head into College Station, Hurd is a key cog for the Vols machine, even after his bonehead play last week. Hurd’s absence would cause a lot of problems, but given the way this injury has trended, calling Hurd a game-time decision feels like more misdirection.
Keon Hatcher, WR, Arkansas
Arkansas needs all hands on deck if they’re going to bounce back against Alabama. That’s a tough order even with everyone healthy, but while Hatcher is going to play, my source tells me that there’s concern about how well he’ll hold up. There’s still a good bit of soreness that Hatcher is dealing with and he’s likely to have problem with physical press coverage. Finding that separation is always a key for Hatcher (or any receiver), but Hatcher’s durability and health are the one knock on the top Razorback receiver.