Alabama’s senior linebacker knows the drill by now. He’s been taught well by the school’s media relations staff.
He wasn’t about to do as Florida’s Jon Bullard did, saying Fournette was “nothing that we can’t stop.” And he didn’t dare go the route of Auburn’s Rudy Ford, saying that tackling Fournette “shouldn’t be that difficult -- that much of a challenge.” Ragland probably saw what happened in those two games when Fournette ran for a combined 408 yards and five touchdowns.
So no bulletin-board material here. Nothing that could be taken out of context. Just good, old-fashioned respect.
“If you don't wrap up, he goes all day on you,” Ragland said earlier this week. “Guys have to run to the ball and wrap up on him. We're going to see what type of guys we got, and what type of guys they’ve got. It's all about wrapping up when you get to him because a lot of guys don’t.”
Is Saturday’s game against the No. 2 Tigers a challenge? Of course it is.
Ragland is a semifinalist for the Butkus Award. He’s a potential first-round pick. Of course he wants to see how he measures up with the Heisman Trophy front-runner. This is the kind of game he came back to school for, passing up the draft after last season.
You might even say this game is personal.
“If you’re a competitor, yeah,” he said. “So it’s all about doing your job and just being a man, cause this is a man’s game, especially against LSU.”
Playing a team that’s as physical as LSU is up front is an opportunity, Ragland said, to “show what type of guy I am.”
“You have to want to. You also have to do your job and look at the right keys. The offensive linemen take you wherever you need to go. They're the type of team to tell you, 'We're going to line up and do this right here. We're going to tell you we're running to this side.' It's all about you manning up and stopping it.”
Sure, this game might show what kind of man Ragland is. But more than that, it will show how far he’s come as a leader.
Because part of coming back for his senior season was about taking charge of the defense. With a better grip on the scheme, he’s been the one calling checks at the line of scrimmage and getting his teammates in the right position. The stability he brings, Saban said, has been “very beneficial to our defense.”
At 6-foot-2 and 252 pounds with good instincts and quickness, Ragland leads the team with 71 tackles -- nearly double that of the No. 2 tackler -- and he’s been able to rack up two sacks and two forced fumbles. But his impact is felt throughout a defense that ranks fourth in yards per game and third in rush defense nationally.
Alabama has given up the fewest runs of 10 yards or more in the country (19). Meanwhile, Fournette, who is first in FBS in rushing (1,352 yards), has the third-most carries for 10 yards or more (37).
When Ragland and Alabama face LSU and Fournette, somebody will have to come out on top.
Ragland, who said he feels better after a week off to rest and prepare, expects it to come down to what happens inside the box.
“The front seven is always the judge of who’s going to win this game,” he said. “Whoever dominates up front is going to win.”