LSU football players and coaches have to be laser-focused on Saturday’s looming showdown with yet another top-10 opponent, No. 9-ranked Auburn in Tiger Stadium.

But the rest of us? Well, we can look forward to that game while casting a wandering eye three weeks down the road to what at this moment shapes up as the game of the season in college football between No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 LSU.

The anticipation and talk already building for that game went into super spin cycle Saturday night when Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa went down with a right high ankle sprain against Tennessee. The injury was so significant, it knocked Tagovailoa out of the betting favorite’s role for the Heisman Trophy to third behind LSU quarterback Joe Burrow and former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts of Oklahoma. It also prompted Alabama to put its star player through a surgical procedure called “tightrope” to try to have him right — or as right as possible — by the time the Tigers visit Tuscaloosa for that 2:30 p.m. Nov. 9 epic encounter on CBS.

The tightrope for Tagovailoa and Alabama becomes whether he can be ready in time for the LSU game just 20 days after his surgery. Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday that the surgery was a success but gave no timeline for Tagovailoa’s return.

The tightrope procedure is relatively new in the quest to speed up injury time from high ankle sprains, which used to last at least 6-8 weeks.

Under this procedure, ligaments torn in a high ankle sprain that normally hold the ankle bones together are cinched back together by thin fishing wire-like material slipped through holes inserted in the tibia and fibula. The material is then held fast with small metal buttons.

Tagovailoa underwent the same procedure on his left ankle last season after the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 1 in Atlanta. Tua was able to play four weeks later when Alabama beat Oklahoma in a College Football Playoff semifinal in the Orange Bowl, then went on to play in Bama’s loss to Clemson in the CFP National Championship game.

But that was nearly four weeks of recuperation time for Tagovailoa between his injury and the Orange. This will be just under three. He will definitely miss Saturday’s game with Arkansas. Alabama, like LSU, then has an open date before the Tigers and Tide square off.

Dr. Jeremy Burnham, director of sports medicine at the Ochsner Clinic in Baton Rouge, said it’s doable but unlikely that Tagovailoa could be 100 percent healthy by Nov. 9.


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“With the procedure he had, he could be 90 percent,” Burnham said Monday on the “Sports Today” show on WNXX-FM 104.5. “To say it wouldn’t affect him at all is a little wishful thinking. I do think he could get as good as 90 percent if everything goes right.”

LSU defensive end Glen Logan suffered a high ankle sprain Sept. 7 at Texas and underwent the tightrope surgery two days later. He missed the Tigers’ next three games (LSU also had an open date) before returning to action Oct. 12 against Florida, five weeks after his injury.

Logan played but did not start against the Gators, recording two tackles. He started Saturday in LSU’s 36-13 win at Mississippi State, recording one tackle.

Though he’s been in action the past two games, Logan said Monday evening he didn’t feel 100 percent recovered from the surgery on his ankle until the Tigers’ practice earlier that afternoon.

“I didn’t feel truly my whole self” until Monday, Logan said. “Now I’m able to move better and contribute more. Coach O (LSU coach Ed Orgeron works regularly with the defensive linemen) said I was moving way better.”

There was little if any urgency for Logan to return three weeks after his injury for LSU’s game Oct. 5 against Utah State, a game the Tigers won 42-6. But could he have pushed it and tried to play, as Tagovailoa may try to do against LSU?

“I don’t know,” said Logan, who said LSU’s coaches and trainers left the decision to have the surgery up to him. “Knowing me, I probably would have fought to push myself. But without the surgery, I probably couldn’t have (played).”

As with all medical situations, there are no perfect templates that can provide an exact prognosis.

“A lot has to do with how many other structures in the ankle were injured,” Burnham said. “If it’s an isolated (injury) which was repaired and stabilized by this procedure, they’d be able to get him back in this time frame.

“But that’s a real aggressive time frame (to play against LSU). That’s cutting it pretty close. The word out of Alabama is they think he’ll be back by then. I think it’s feasible, but that’s pretty aggressive.”

One has little doubt Tagovailoa will try to play. Alabama will go with backup Mac Jones against Arkansas, and possibly Tua’s younger brother Taulia if needed.

But that likely won’t be enough against LSU. So Alabama and its best player find themselves in an anxious race with the clock, hoping Tagovailoa will be back and well enough to provide a winning edge against the Tigers.

Email Scott Rabalais at srabalais@theadvocate.com