24 September 2009
I did my look at the Alabama quarterbacks earlier. Now here's a look at the Tide's four-headed rushing attack that has been all but unstoppable through the first three games of the season.
Mark Ingram was good in 2008. He was so good that he not only ran for better than 700 yards while splittling carries, he also set the Alabama record for rushing touchdowns by a freshman. So when I say that he might be the most improved player on the team, I want you to understand how good that means he is now.
In 2008 we saw mostly power runs. Mark would get the ball and use his size and strength to simply go through players. He'd use solid leverage and good balance to make certain that the first guy wouldn't take him down. He would absorb the hit, and fall forward for another two or three yards. A running back can make a heck of a career out of doing that; just ask Jerome Bettis. Ingram was a little flashier than "the Bus", but for the most part, he was a bulldog - head down, ball secured, and get as many yards as possible moving straight ahead.
In 2009 he still has the ability to run through guys, but he's now added the ability to make them miss with greater frequency. It's really kind of funny, because the first thing that I noticed about Mark when I saw him at the beginning of fall camp was how much bigger and stronger he had gotten. So the realistic expectation would have been for him to have been even more of a straight line runner.
Instead, he's more explosive. There's no tentativness in his game right now. He is quickly identifying the holes, and simply exploding through them. The first contact typically isn't coming until he's already into the second level of the defense - which is how you get a per carry average of 6.8 yards.
So far he's run for 297 yards on 44 carries. While that averages out to 99 yards per game, you have to take into consideration that he didn't play much against FIU. Throw in three touchdowns this season and he now has 15 in his first 17 games at Alabama. He also topped the 1,000 yard mark for his career against North Texas.
He's also added a new dimension to his game. In 2008 he had seven catches for 54 yards. In just three games he has ten catches for 120 yards. Those ten catches lead the team. He's also added two receiving touchdowns this year (half of the team total), which means he's scored 17 touchdowns in 17 games. Wow.
Having said all of that.... what does it say about Trent Richardson that there is a small part of me that is a little disappointed when I look up and see Ingram in the game? At this point in time, there is no question that Mark is the more complete back, and he absolutely deserves to be the starter, and to get the bulk of the carries. But holy hell Trent Richardson is fun to watch.
We didn't get to see much of him against Virginia Tech - just three carries for ten yards. In the last two games he's combined for 26 carries, 205 yards, and three touchdowns. Throw in another three receptions for 26 yards, and you'll get a total of 32 touches for 241 yards. He's averaging 7.4 yards per carry, and 7.8 per touch.
It isn't just the stats, though. You really have to see the guy play to understand the excitement. You know how I talked about the way that Ingram absorbs the hit and falls forward for a few yards? Richardson almost destroys the first guy who makes contact, and then absorbs the second hit, and then falls forward for a few yards. And that's if the first guy actually makes contact.
There's a reason this guy was listed as the number one or number two high school back in the country by almost every recruiting service last year. He's quick, he's agile, he's fast, and at 230 lbs., he is a load to bring down. I know that the bulk of his carries have come against two Sun Belt teams, but he has shown glimpses of being one of those "special" players that only come around once every decade or so. (The fact that with Julio Jones the Tide probably has two of those guys at the same time is unbelievable)
I don't like putting a lot of hype on a young guy, especially one who hasn't seen an SEC defense yet. But I'll go ahead and throw this one out there.... Trent Richardson will be a legit Heisman Trophy candidate in his career at Alabama. It won't happen this year, and probably not in 2010, either. But in 2011, he could be the first Bama player to take home the honor.
He's still got to become a better pass blocker, and a better total player (though he is already on the kick coverage unit), but this kid is very, very good. The fact that he's a freshman, and we're guaranteed to get at least two more years out of him is a nice thought.
I don't know about you, but I'm ready for Roy Upchurch to be healthy. That's not a knock on him, either. He's not standing on the side lines with a hang nail, or a sprained labia. When he's out of the lineup, it's because he's really hurt. Whether it's a bone disease in his foot, or a neck injury so bad that it needs surgery, the kid just can't catch a break.
And it's a shame, because he's probably the most complete back on the team.He's probably the third best runner, behind Ingram and Richardson, but he is easily the best blocking back, and probably the best receiving back on the team. When he was unable to play against Florida in the SEC Championship Game, there was a noticeable absence on the field.
He's got 107 yards rushing on just 11 carries - a whopping average of 9.7 yards per carry. He also provides a ton of leadership in the huddle, and on the sidelines. He's been able to maintain that leadership from the sidelines, but I'm ready to see him playing again. Coach Saban has indicated that he's getting close, and might play against Arkansas.
As a friend of mine suggested, maybe the University should invest in a hyperbaric chamber for him to sleep in.
It's been nice to see Terry Grant have some success. He's the active team leader in carries (244) and yards (1151), but almost all of that came in 2007. The thing is, Terry is a great kid. And he is an absolute team player. Two weeks ago, when he was asked about the fact that he was practicing at wide receiver, his response was, "I'd play left tackle if they asked me to."
He essentially went from starter to bench warmer for the 2008 season, yet he never complained. Everyone thought he would transfer, but he's still here. He's still making good grades. He's still representing Alabama with class in the community, and he's still busting his tail in practice.
I'm glad he's been rewarded with 27 carries in three games. I'm also glad to see that he's gotten 150 yards on those carries (5.6 per), and scored three touchdowns. It is still a little frustrating to see him go down on first contact too often. But he is capable of the big play, and that will likely continue to get him on the field.
Throw in his three receptions for 29 yards and two kickoff returns for 44, and Terry has 32 touches for 223 yards. He only had 38 touches for 132 yards in all of 2008. I hope the coaching staff continues to find a way to keep him involved.
Demetrius Goode has gotten his first game action, though he lost out on what would have likely been extensive action in the North Texas game when he hyper-extended his knee on his first carry. He got some action against FIU you as well, though, and has totalled 38 yards on five carries. That's an average of 7.6 yards per carry, the second highest average on the team.
He finally looks like he is 100% recovered from reconstructive knee surgery at the beginning of the 2007 season. While he is still buried a bit on the depth chart, he's not as far from playing time as it might look. He's not in the same class as Ingram or Richardson, but if pressed into action, I think he could be a serviceable back.
In all the Tide is averaging 5.9 yards per rush. That's a ridiculous number, but doesn't tell the whole story. If you take out the rushes by Greg McElroy, Julio Jones, and Marquis Maze, the Bama running backs are averaging 6.9 yards per attempt.That's downright disgusting.Throw in the receptions by the Tide backs, and the group is averaging 7.5 yards when they touch the ball on an offensive play.
A lot of credit goes to running backs coach Burton Burns. A lot of credit goes to offensive line coach Joe Pendry. And a ton of credit goes to Jim McElwain for establishing the game plan and calling a solid set of three games.
The bottom line, folks... if other teams can't stop the Tide rushing attack, it's going to be very difficult for Alabama to lose a game.
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