Ingram Impressive; Not So Fast!

Kentucky probably wouldn't believe it. Neither would Ole Miss. But Mark Ingram is having great success as a sophomore because he's not as fast as he was as a freshman. Oh, he runs at least as fast as he did last year. But he's learned to slow down when it matters.

Mark Ingram is leading Alabama in rushing and leading the Southeastern Conference in touchdowns. Ingram has rushed 111 times for 659 yards, an average of 5.9 yards per carry. He is one of only three players in major college football to average more than 100 yards rushing per game and have 10 or more total touchdowns. He averages 109.8 yards per game and has 10 TDs (seven rushing, three on pass receptions).

Two of those rushing touchdowns were spectacular plays. Against Kentucky, Ingram took a handoff, delayed for a moment, then shot behind his blockers on a 32-yard score. Last week at Ole Miss, Bama was struggling, holding only a 9-0 lead and facing fourth-and-one late in the second quarter. Bama went for it with Ingram going outside. He went 36 yards for a touchdown that basically put the game out of reach.

Following last week's game, Alabama Coach Nick Saban said, "Mark Ingram did a fantastic job." Ingram had a career-high 172 yards on 28 carries against the Rebels.

In part because of Ingram stepping in for Glen Coffee (now with the San Francisco 49ers) at tailback, Alabama is 6-0 and ranked second in the nation. This week the Crimson Tide hosts South Carolina for homecoming. The Gamecocks are 5-1 and ranked 22nd nationally. ESPN will televise the game, which kicks off at 6:45 p.m. CDT Saturday from Bryant-Denny Stadium. Bama is 3-0 and the Gamecocks 2-1 in SEC games.

Saban said, "Mark's a very good competitor. He's got good speed and he's got power. He's built just like you'd like a running back to be, sort of low center of gravity. He is explosive. I think the thing he has really done this year is he feels very comfortable and instinctive and making the cuts that he is making and the plays that he is running and certainly gets the most of out of it. For the most part he has the ability to finish if he gets through the line. I do think that our team has blocked well and our receivers have blocked well, and that has enhanced his ability to make some longer runs. He's really done a really good and has been a real workhorse for us so far. Hopefully we can get some other guys going with him and that will make him even better."

Ingram has another explanation. Experience.

"You grow so much in that year between freshman and sophomore," Ingram said. "You learn to watch film, make reads, pick up pass protection. You're just a better student of the game.

"And everything slows down for you a little bit. It's not as fast. You're more comfortable. You make your reads and you can be patient and give the offensive linemen time to work their blocks. You give the defense time to flow so there will be a cutback lane or a seam.

"As a freshman, you're fast to make a decision, too fast. You learn that if you'll be patient you might get an extra 20 yards or something on a run."

Ingram also credits Assistant Coach Burton Burns, who handles running backs. "He's always on us, coaching us in drills to be better. He shows us how to watch film, to see what the defense is doing and what's going to be there for us. He gets us vertical to make it harder for the defense to tackle us. No matter how good a game you have, he wants you to be better."

Alabama left guard Mike Johnson said, "It's not hard to block for him, to be honest with you. Even if you don't get all the blocking right, sometimes he'll make a move. When Mark broke that little run against Kentucky, we were trying to double team for him. We kind of fell off our double team, turned around, and saw him squirt through a hole. He ran right past me. Anytime you've got a guy like that behind you, you've got a chance."

Ingram said he likes to score touchdowns. "No matter where the ball is on the field, I'm trying," he said. "I see the end zone and want to get in there. You get excited when you make a play for the team."

Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy said he was watching film of the Ole Miss game last Sunday when Ingram came in. "He turned on one play, and it's the one where I got sacked," McElroy said. "I got hit pretty good and Mark just got beat a little bit. And Mark said, ‘You know, that's the only play I've been thinking about. That's the only play that's been bothering me. I've been thinking about that play since it happened.'

"I just said, ‘Shake it off.' That's what's great about Mark, that he can look at the 15 great plays he made in the game and he can look at the one play that wasn't good, and that's the one that sticks with him. That's what drives him to improve.

"He could say, ‘I ran for 172 yards and we won. Who cares that I missed a block? It happens.' But not Mark. That's a big reason he's been so successful."

McElroy said, "Mark is really reliable. You always know what you're going to get with Mark. He's a great player, he's great with protections, he's great catching the ball, he's great running the ball, he makes good reads, and he's a good leader."

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