Tide hopes to not rely so much on Ingram
By Michael Casagrande
Special to the Ledger-Enquirer
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The game had just ended when a media relations worker told Mark Ingram the final tally:
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Hello Heisman Trophy race.
Ingram’s pile of rushing yards against South Carolina last October changed his world on a chilly evening in Bryant-Denny Stadium that marked a turning point for the Alabama offense as a whole.
“I didn’t expect it to be that many yards,” Ingram said of his outburst. “I just run the ball. I didn’t really expect for it to be that many yards. It was crazy. It was really surprising when I did first hear the number. I had to double check.”
Now the Crimson Tide will play in Columbia at 3:30 p.m. today and face the same Gamecocks program with a different approach from the one taken in a 20-6 escape in 2009. At the time, the passing attack was mired in a slump that hit a low point against South Carolina.
The typically reliable Greg McElroy threw two of his three interceptions of the season that night as the aerial attack netted just 92 yards and running backs caught six of the 10 passes completed.
So the burden went to Ingram.
When the game needed the red bow on top, Ingram went to the wildcat. Without any question as to what was coming, he kept running between the tackles. Five of the six plays on the drive featured the direct snap to Ingram and the last was a 4-yard pass from McElroy to complete his personal 68-yard march with a touchdown and complete the night’s scoring.
Nobody in Columbia needed a reminder of how effective Ingram was that night in Tuscaloosa.
“I remember that as clear as yesterday,” Gamecock defensive end Cliff Matthews told reporters Tuesday. “One thing for us to do to stop him is to play physical and hard all night.”
For all the smiles Ingram flashed when remembering his breakout on the national scene, McElroy remembers it in a different light from a personal standpoint.
But it was a learning experience he admittedly needed in Year 1 as the Alabama starting quarterback.
“Last year, I played with a lot of false confidence,” he said Monday. “Up until the South Carolina game, I wasn’t really sure what I was capable of. I had had success, but a lot of that success was — I wouldn’t say lucky — but fortunate. I thought a lot of good things happened to me through the first five or six games.
“But the South Carolina game last year really opened my eyes, that if I don’t go out there and prepare and handle myself in the right way, then I’m not going to be able to have success at this level. After this game, I kind of turned the corner.”
The growth was slow starting, but, by the final weeks of the regular season with a lot on the line, McElroy showed the maturity he developed on that wild night of contrasting performances against South Carolina.