Latest Sidekicks Shine For Bama
And Mark Ingram had help. Trent Richardson was a freshman, but an exceptional freshman who moved up as Ingram's back-up and produced spectacular results. His 52-yard run against Arkansas, in which he broke five tackles and then out-ran a defensive back to the end zone, is still a staple of Bama highlights. In the BCS National Championship Game against Texas in Pasadena, he rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns, including a 49-yard burst.
A year ago, Richardson was the main man and rushed for a Bama record 1,679 yards as the Tide went 12-1 and won the 2011 national championship. Although Eddie Lacy suffered a turf toe injury that would require post-season surgery, he was, nevertheless, a nice complement to Richardson, carrying 95 times for 674 yards (7.1 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns.
Ingram and Richardson were both NFL first round draft choices. They were also big backs, Ingram 5-foot-10, 225 pounds, Richardson 5-11, 230.
This season, Lacy assumed the starting job and performed exceptionally well. Going into the national championship game against Notre Dame, he had 184 carries for 1,182 yards (6.4 yards per carry) with 16 rushing touchdowns.
It may be that Alabama Coach Nick Saban had just what he wanted. Saban has a history of playing many tailbacks. He also likes them big. In Lacy he had a 6-0, 235-pound tailback.
Alabama also had true sidekicks, much as in the Ingram-Richardson season of 2009. When Lacy came out, T.J. Yeldon, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound true freshman came in.
Bama didn't give opponents a change-of-pace. It was more of the same.
Yeldon pounded out 1,000 yards on 154 carries, a 6.5 yards-per-carry average with 11 rushing touchdowns.
And they also caught the football. Lacy had 20 pass receptions for 172 yards and a touchdown, Yeldon 10 catches for 131 yards and a TD. It may be that Yeldon's touchdown catch was the most dramatic score of the season. At LSU in a rematch of the 2011 national championship game, the Tide trailed the Tigers by 17-14 with just 1:34 remaining and Bama on its own 28-yard line. McCarron completed three of four passes, all on the right side of the field, to move Alabama to the LSU 28. McCarron then connected with Yeldon on a screen pass on the left side, and Yeldon took it untouched to the end zone for the winning score with 51 seconds to play.
Lacy was the MVP of the Southeastern Conference Championship Game victory over Georgia as he rushed 20 times for 181 yards and two touchdowns. And when Lacy came out, the Bulldogs got a dose of Yeldon, who had 25 carries for 153 yards and a touchdown.
A key drive came late in the third quarter with Bama trailing. The Tide drove 74 yards on seven plays, all of which were runs by Lacy or Yeldon. Lacy finished it off with a one-yard touchdown plunge.
Alabama All-America center Barrett Jones said, "We ran the same play five times in a row. That's your favorite thing as an offensive lineman. You know it's a run, they know it's a run, and they still can't stop it."
Following the game, Saban said the running game was "relentless." He gave credit to Lacy for playing "as good a game as we've had."
Yeldon also got praise, particularly for a fourth quarter run. Facing third-and-five at midfield with Alabama trailing 28-25, Yeldon got the call. He was hit at the line of scrimmage, but struggled to the Georgia 45, stretching the ball out for the first down. On the next play, Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron connected with freshman wide receiver Amari Cooper for what would be the winning score.
Yeldon also had a run for two points following his touchdown run. That proved to be pivotal. As Georgia drove late in the game, the Bulldogs needed a touchdown rather than a field goal because of that two-point conversion.
Saban said, "T.J. obviously had a very good year for us. To gain over 1,000 yards as a freshman I think is a pretty significant accomplishment. He had a great game right off the bat against Michigan. Consistency in performance with younger players is always the goal and the objective with us as coaches. He's shown quite a bit of maturity in being able to do that throughout the season. He and Eddie have made a pretty dynamic duo for us at the running back position this year. We've been really pleased with what he's been able to do."
In post-season honors, Lacy was recognized as All-SEC and Yeldon was Freshman All-SEC.
As for the future, with Lacy possibly headed to the NFL following his junior season, Yeldon might be teamed with Kenyan Drake (6-1, 215), a freshman who played sparingly in 2011; or junior Jalston Fowler (6-1, 250), "The Beast" who missed last season recovering from injury; or perhaps a newcomer as the Crimson Tide is poised to sign a group of high school star tailbacks.
They will have a tough act to follow.
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