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October 5, 2010

Both sides well remember Ingram's 2009 masterpiece

TUSCALOOSA _ When told his total rushing yards after the game, even University of Alabama running back Mark Ingram initially did a double-take.

What was that he had, 245 against South Carolina last year?

"Two hundred forty six," Ingram corrected Monday afternoon, on 24 carries. "I didn't expect it. It was crazy."

It was against the Gamecocks in 2009 that after four turnovers, 10 penalties, red-zone problems and a horrendous passing game that Ingram essentially put the Crimson Tide on his back and carried the team to a 20-6 victory. The yards set a Bryant-Denny Stadium record and Coach Nick Saban said he "did as fine a job today as anybody I've ever been around."

Consequently, the one thing Alabama is sure of for this week's rematch is that No. 19 South Carolina hasn't forgotten.

Neither side has.

"I was thinking, 'Oh my goodness,'" senior quarterback Greg McElroy said. "That was like nothing I had ever seen and against a ranked opponent."

The pinnacle of Ingram's performance, if not season, was a possession midway through the fourth quarter when up just 13-6 Ingram handled the ball on every play.

"The game was still kinda close and they just put me in wildcat for five or six straight snaps," Ingram said. "I just wanted to get down there and put the nail in the coffin."

He did. The drive started at the Alabama 32 with 7:55 remaining:

Ingram behind the right tackle for 24 yards.
Ingram up the middle for 4 yards (timeout).
Ingram behind the right guard for 5 yards.
Ingram behind the right guard for 9 yards.
Ingram around the left end for 22 yards.
Ingram around the left end for a 4-yard touchdown.

Six plays, 68 yards, 3:01 off the clock ... and a Heisman Trophy campaign, for lack of a better word, launched. His name had started to be mentioned for the award after 172 rushing yards the previous game against Ole Miss, but this masterpiece placed him among the frontrunners.

"It was a very difficult game for us in terms of offense," Coach Nick Saban said. "He had some success running the ball, but we didn't have balance on our offense and it became kind of a running game for us. I'm hopeful that we can continue to get balance in our offense.

"Mark had an outstanding day and that was a real key for us. We scored a touchdown on defense and only scored 13 points on offense. We're probably going to need to be more productive than that this year."

Thus, the interesting rematch, especially since the Gamecocks have become more of or a running team due to the emergence of true freshman Marcus Lattimore.

As a recruit he was rated the top running back in the nation and No. 10 prospect overall by Rivals out of Byrnes High School in nearby Duncan. He finished his prep career with 6,375 rushing yards and 104 total touchdowns to go along with a pair of state championships before selecting South Carolina over Auburn.

His hard-hitting style and ability to wear down defense remind many of the guy who will be on the visiting sideline at Williams-Brice Stadium.

"He's good, powerful, makes guys miss, pretty good yards after contact, and he's a true freshman so he's going to be a special player," Ingram said.

Lattimore's breakthrough game came against Georgia in Week 2, when he accumulated 182 rushing yards on a whopping 37 carries and scored two touchdowns, then followed it up with 97 yards on 19 carries against Furman.

But two Saturdays ago he was limited to 33 yards on 14 carries at Auburn, where South Carolina had four turnovers in the fourth quarter to lose 35-27. While the Tigers are second in SEC rushing defense (92.8), the Tide is a close third (101.0).

Lattimore also doesn't have the relief Ingram enjoys with teammate Trent Richardson - and yes, Ingram does like the nickname "The Fast and the Furious" for the combo - while no other South Carolina running back has even 50 rushing yards through four games.

That Ingram's coming across a sub-par game statistically (47 rushing yards on 12 carries, and 66 all-purpose yards along with two touchdowns), may not bode well for the Gamecocks, either. While Florida's top priority was to shut the running game down only to lose 31-6, and the Tide expects South Carolina to have similar defensive approach, he's never had consecutive sub 100-yard performances against SEC teams since becoming a starter.

Overall, Ingram is averaging 118.3 rushing yards, which would lead the SEC if he had enough games (four minimum), while Lattimore is fifth with 91.5. ESPN's Heisman Predictor, which uses statistics to forecast who will eventually win the award, already has him as the player to beat with Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, who passed for a career-high 245 yards and three touchdowns against Louisiana-Monroe last week, second just ahead of Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor and Michigan's Denard Robinson.

What might it take to maintain that lead? South Carolina certainly doesn't want to find out.

"However many yards it takes to help the team win, that's what I'm going to do whether it's 300 or 20," Ingram said.


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