Ingram runs his way into Heisman contention

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – He wasn’t even the most ballyhooed member of Alabama’s celebrated freshman class a year ago.

But early on, Alabama’s Nick Saban knew what he had in Mark Ingram.

I remember asking Saban last August about freshmen who had caught his attention during the first part of preseason camp.

One of the first names out of his mouth was Ingram. I was surprised at the time. The only surprise now is how Ingram hasn’t been a hotter commodity in the Heisman Trophy race.

That’s about to change.

The 5-10, 212-pound sophomore did everything but strike the pose Saturday night in No. 2-ranked Alabama’s 20-6 win over No. 22-ranked South Carolina.

And, really, Ingram didn’t need to strike the pose. He was too busy running over, through and around South Carolina defenders on his way to a Bryant-Denny Stadium record 246 yards rushing on 24 carries.

If there’s a better runner after contact in the country, I want to see him. So do his teammates after watching him grind out more than 100 of his yards after the initial hit.

For that matter, they’re not sure there’s a better runner – period.

“I wouldn’t trade him for anybody,” Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy said. “I think he’s the best running back in the country for what we ask him to do.”

Only UTEP’s Donald Buckram has rushed for more yards in a game this season in the FBS ranks. Buckram had 262 yards against Houston on Oct. 3.

Ingram’s 246 yards marked the third highest single-game rushing total in Alabama history. Shaun Alexander had 291 yards against LSU in 1996, and Bobby Humphrey had 284 yards against Mississippi State in 1986.

In seven games this season, Ingram now has 905 rushing yards and 11 total touchdowns, eight rushing and three receiving. And in 304 career touches at Alabama, he’s never lost a fumble.

He also played through some pretty intense pain Saturday. He took a blow to his left knee in the first half when one of the South Carolina defenders cut him, but Ingram was only out for a few plays.

“He ran with tremendous passion and heart,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “If we had a whole team of guys who played like that, they sky would be the limit.”

In the Crimson Tide’s clinching drive, after having very little success throwing the ball all game, they went to a little backyard football and just started snapping the ball directly to Ingram.

Five times, he ran out of the Wildcat formation. The only time he didn’t was the pitchout for the 4-yard touchdown.

“You never want to let the first man bring you down,” Ingram said. “I try and run like that every time I get the ball. There’s not a strategy to it. You just have to run hard and run physical.”

If he keeps it up, he just may be running to a date with the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York City.

In a year when the favorites all seem to be falling by the wayside, why not a guy like Ingram who wasn’t even on the Heisman Trophy radar when the season began?

“Mark did as fine a job today as anybody I’ve ever been around, and that includes Ricky Williams, Ronnie Brown and some other really good ones,” Saban said. “He was fantastic.”