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Monday, January 4, 2010
Horns relish the challenge of Ingram

By Tim Griffin
ESPN.com

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Most teams would enter a national championship game facing an opponent with a Heisman Trophy-winning running back with a little trepidation.

Texas Defense
Texas' defense finished No. 1 in the country against the run, 15 yards better than No. 2 Alabama.

But not Texas and its No. 1-ranked rush defense. The Longhorns are eager to combat Mark Ingram and Alabama's vaunted rushing attack.

"We're up for the challenge," Texas defensive end Sergio Kindle said. "I actually can't wait to get out there and see what it's all about."

The Crimson Tide have been about running the ball as their most consistent offensive weapon throughout the season.

And the Longhorns have been about stopping it. Texas hasn't allowed a 100-yard opposing rusher since Beanie Wells rushed for 106 yards in the Fiesta Bowl last season. Texas has allowed only three teams to crack 100 yards rushing in a game this season and permitted only five rushing touchdowns in 407 opposing rushing carries.

Irresistible force, meet immovable object.

"We take a lot of pride in stopping the run, so we're probably going to enjoy this one a lot more than most just because of him having the Heisman Trophy and running the way he does," Kindle said.

Enjoy? After going against one of the nation's most formidable running attacks?

Alabama averaged 215.9 yards per game rushing, and the Tide's balanced attack with Ingram, Trent Richardson and Roy Upchurch is their biggest offensive strength. Ingram rushed for a school-record 1,542 yards and 15 touchdowns as he became the first Alabama player to win the Heisman Trophy. Richardson chipped in with 642 yards and six scores.

We're up for the challenge. I actually can't wait to get out there and see what it's all about.

-- Texas defensive end Sergio Kindle

"It's going to be a great test for us," Texas safety Earl Thomas said. "Our defense swarms to the ball. We're definitely going to need to be good -- where we swarm to the ball and really gang tackle."

One worry for Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp has been his team's layoff, which, by game day, will stretch to 33 days from its tight victory over Nebraska in the Big 12 title game.

"The biggest concern in this much of a layoff is tackling for a defensive coach," Muschamp said.

The Longhorns have worked on their tackling techniques since the Nebraska game but have limited scrimmaging because of a fear of injuries. It's enough to have Muschamp skittish, particularly as he watches game films of Ingram slicing through defenses all season.

"We've worked hard at getting ourselves in position to make plays and make tackles," Muschamp said. "And that's definitely what you have to do against this offense."

But for all Alabama's impressive rushing statistics, those numbers might have been swelled by the lack of a dominant rush defense faced by the Crimson Tide this season. Before running into Florida's No. 12 rush defense in the SEC title game, Alabama met only one defense ranked in the top 40 in rush defense, and that was Virginia Tech at No. 40 in the season opener.

The Tide did show something against the Gators as they piled up 251 rushing yards and 490 total yards.

Texas' success against the run also can be picked apart. The Longhorns faced only one team ranked in the top 25 teams in rushing and saw their totals swell by playing against four rushing offenses that ranked 100th or worse -- Kansas (100th), Baylor (108th), Colorado (113th) and Texas Tech (115th).

The Big 12 has earned a reputation of soft defenses in recent seasons -- as much because of the pass-happy offenses in the league as anything else. But Big 12 teams haven't been a good matchup against the more physical Southeastern Conference teams, which have claimed an 11-3 edge in bowl games against Big 12 foes since 2003.

Mark Ingram
Mark Ingram ran for 1,542 yards and 15 touchdowns this season.

Those previous struggles are one of the biggest reasons oddsmakers have made the Crimson Tide a favorite in this game. Alabama's physical running game is expected to take a toll on the Longhorns.

"No one likes to give the Big 12 credit for running the ball," Texas defensive tackle Lamarr Houston said. "They think all we do is pass the ball. But we've got about five or six teams that do nothing but run the ball."

Texas' defensive performance against Nebraska is shown as one of its stingiest efforts of the season. The Longhorns held the Cornhuskers to five first downs and 108 total yards in the 13-12 victory, limiting the Huskers to field goals. Nebraska produced 67 rushing yards, including no runs by a running back longer than 7 yards.

At one point, Texas held the Cornhuskers without a first down for more than 32 minutes as they forced either a turnover or a three-and-out on eight consecutive possessions.

And that performance looks a little bit better today after the Cornhuskers' 33-0 thrashing of Arizona in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl.

It certainly caught the attention of Ingram, who realizes his team will be tested trying to run against the Longhorns.

"Their scheme is really complex, and they show you a lot of looks," Ingram said. "All of their players are really coached well. From the defensive line to the secondary, you can see they are fast and get to the ball and cause you to do a lot of things you don't want to do. It will be a big challenge for us because they are a great defense."

Tim Griffin covers college football for ESPN.com. You may contact him at espntimgriff@yahoo.com.