Ingram’s knee, and game, hold up well in return

No. 1 Alabama’s Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram barely even

felt like he played a football game when he woke up the morning

after the Crimson Tide beat Duke, much less like a guy who was

returning from knee surgery.

”I didn’t even get hit much in my runs thanks to the offensive

line,” he said.

Well, that explains that.

The Crimson Tide tailback flashed his moves, his quickness and

even his temper in his return Saturday at Duke. All in all, it was

a nice way to return after missing the first two games of the

season. Maximum yards, minimum hits.

It was also timely considering Alabama’s next three tests: at

No. 10 Arkansas on Saturday, followed by No. 8 Florida and a trip

to No. 12 South Carolina.

Ingram raced to 151 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries in

the 62-13 romp over the Blue Devils. It was an impressive – though

possibly too late – debut in his bid for a second Heisman. He said

he was only a bit sore on Sunday morning, and that was mostly from

pass blocking.

”It was great just to be able to get back out there with the

team,” said Ingram, who had surgery on Aug. 31 after a practice

injury. ”It was hurting just not being able to be out there with

them contributing the first two weeks. I really just wanted to get

back out there and make an impact and show the team I’m still

capable of making some plays.”

Ingram said it was a contact injury in practice but didn’t

elaborate. He said it ”was a little discouraging” and

particularly tough missing a high-profile game against Penn

State.

It made his return a little sweeter.

”You just cherish every (repetition). Every rep of practice,

every rep of the game, you cherish it,” Ingram said. ”I’ve never

really had to sit out because of an injury before, especially after

having surgery. It was my first surgery. You definitely learn to

cherish it a lot more.”

Coach Nick Saban said Ingram came within two or three snaps of

the number the coaches wanted him to play. Saban said they would

continue to increase his practice workload daily.

”I thought he did a really good job and hopefully we’ll just

keep taking another step to continuing to increase and improve his

role with our team,” Saban said.

His role is as the most famous member of one of the nation’s

best backfield tandems. Alabama managed to coast through its first

two games without Ingram and suspended defensive end Marcell

Dareus, both of whom returned against Duke.

The Tide still leads the Southeastern Conference in scoring

offense and total yards, while ranking second in rushing and

passing.

In Ingram’s absence, Trent Richardson averaged 6.9 yards a carry

and ran for four touchdowns. He snared some of the publicity that

normally would have gone to the Heisman winner, including a feature

on ESPN’s College GameDay and the cover of Sports Illustrated.

”I wasn’t surprised by it at all, but I was very proud of the

way he handled everything, the way he took over the games and made

so many big plays to help our teams win games,” Ingram said.

”He’s been ready for it, but it was just his turn.

”All the TV time he was getting, the Sports Illustrated cover,

he deserves all that.”

Richardson even had a 91-yard kick return for a touchdown

against Duke. The presence of Ingram and Richardson together will

certainly come in handy as the competition escalates in coming

weeks.

It’s the duo, after all, that helped power Alabama past Texas in

the national championship game last season.

”It was great having 22 (Ingram) and 3 (Richardson) back there

again,” Tide guard Barrett Jones said. ”It’s a great feeling to

block for that combination of running backs. It’s great to know

that if one of them gets tired and the other one goes in, there’s

not going to be much of a dropoff – or any dropoff.”

Arkansas managed to contain Ingram last season, holding him to

50 yards. But Richardson had a 52-yard touchdown run and

quarterback Greg McElroy threw for a season-high 291 yards passing

and three touchdowns in the 35-7 win.

”We’ve got to try and slow him down and do a good job on first

down,” Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. ”We have to tackle

well. I thought we defended him well a year ago. We were in gap

control. We had our guys doing what we were supposed to do. We

missed one tackle and gave them a huge run for a touchdown, but I

thought we played them well defensively last year.”

Ingram didn’t show much rust after his layoff.

He displayed his burst on his first carry on the opening snap of

the game, sprinting 48 yards. He flashed his moves by making two

quick cutbacks to juke a Duke safety on a 17-yard touchdown

run.

”The line just really got me to the second level, and I was

one-on-one with the safety and had to make him miss in order to get

in the end zone,” Ingram said.

Ingram also lost his cool on a 1-yard touchdown plunge and was

called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

”I just dove on the pile, and they were just pulling on,

twisting my legs a little bit,” he said. ”It was just the heat of

the moment, the heat of the game. Emotions got the best of me. It

was just the heat of the game. That’s part of the game that we all

love.”