Ingram among five finalists for Heisman
By MICHAEL CASAGRANDE
It was a perfectly orchestrated set-up.
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First, Mark Ingram missed spring practice with an injury and didn’t participate in A-Day. His offseason progress was shielded.
Then there were the questions about the rebuilt offensive line. Much was made about the loss of three starters — two NFL picks — so the Alabama running backs didn’t get as much attention and had a built-in excuse if their performance suffered.
There were also whispers that star prospect and true freshman Trent Richardson would leapfrog the returning running backs to become the star.
Then came Sept. 5 and Ingram’s secret was out and the questions came to an abrupt end. Ingram exploded for 150 rushing yards in the season-opening win over then-No. 7 Virginia Tech.
And his numbers and subsequent hype only grew from there.
Now, he’s on the cusp of history.
The sophomore running back has a shot at winning Alabama’s first Heisman Trophy. As of Friday evening with 31.8 percent of the voters reporting to the projection site Stiffarmtrophy.com, Ingram leads the voting with 409 points followed by Nebraska’s Ndamukong Sue close behind with 394, Stanford’s Toby Gerhart (363), Texas’ Colt McCoy (276) and Florida’s Tim Tebow (86).
At 5-foot-10, 212 pounds, Ingram brings a mixture of power and shiftiness. He’s also shown patience in hitting the holes provided by the rebuilt, but equally successful offensive line that gets a shout out every time Ingram is asked about the Heisman.
“It is a dream come true to be considered for the Heisman Trophy, but none of this would be possible without my coaches and teammates,” Ingram said. “The offensive line, tight ends, wide receivers and our quarterback have done an unbelievable job all season, and our coaches have put us in a position to win each and every week.”
The star-studded ceremony held amidst the glittering lights of Time Square’s Nokia Theater is just another stop on Ingram’s meteoric rise to the top of the college football world. On the way, he broke a 23-year-old school rushing record with 1,542 total yards while leading the Crimson Tide to a perfect 13-0 record and a shot at the BCS National Championship on Jan. 7 against Texas.
His breakout game against Virginia Tech was big, but his name didn’t appear on Heisman lists until a chilly night in October.
It was his Oct. 17 outburst against South Carolina that made Ingram a household name outside of Alabama. The 246-yard game, capped by his fourth-quarter, 68-yard march as the Wildcat quarterback that featured Ingram exclusively, put him at the forefront.
The following Monday, he went from receiving zero votes to the top of the list on the poll of voters on HeismanPundit.com. He remained on top for six weeks as his steady play kept Alabama winning.
At times, he’s been the best friend of quarterback Greg McElroy.
A threat to catch screen passes — both on planned plays and as a final option — Ingram is the Tide’s third-leading receiver with 30 receptions for 322 yards and three touchdowns. His 69-yard catch and run in the second quarter of the SEC title game was his longest of the season and helped set up one of his three rushing touchdowns on the day that seemingly saved his Heisman hopes.
National analysts soured on Ingram’s candidacy after his surprising season-low 30 rushing yards at Auburn. The Auburn defense that ranked 88th against the run kept him from establishing any semblance of the dominance he’d shown for the majority of the season.
To make matters worse, a helmet to his hip knocked Ingram out of the game-winning drive and created doubts about his availability for the SEC championship against one of the nation’s best run-stopping defenses.
Once again, Ingram had the perfect set-up.
He accounted for 189 all-purpose yards against the Gators, paced by that 69-yard screen pass that helped break the spirit of Florida who scored on the previous play to cut the deficit to 12-10.
Then, when Alabama finished off the Gators, Ingram ran for 38 of the 88-yard drive that ate up close to nine minutes off the second-half clock. He picked up three crucial third-down conversions and finished it off with his 3-yard touchdown run.
As the clock ticked down, Ingram was spotted by CBS cameras doing a chest-bump with coach Nick Saban who had plenty to say about his star running back afterward.
“I’m really proud of the character that he showed coming off of last week’s performance as well as coming off the injury that he had and showed a lot of mental toughness and grit out there tonight,” Saban said.