In the three games prior to yesterday’s showdown against LSU, Alabama’s offense consisted of Mark Ingram, Mark Ingram, Mark Ingram, and very little else.
While Greg McElroy struggled in the face of dealing with strong defenses from South Carolina, Ole Miss, and Tennessee, Ingram flourished, establishing himself as perhaps the man to beat for the Heisman.
So then, it would only make perfect sense for the Tide to come out throwing early and often in the first half against LSU, while seemingly underutilizing their best offensive weapon, right?
Perhaps it was all a part of a master plan by Nick Saban and Bama’s coaching staff to keep Ingram fresh for the second half so that he could dominate and wear down LSU’s defense. If that was the case, it worked to perfection in Alabama’s SEC West-clinching 24-15 win.
After McElroy’s struggles over the last few weeks, it was quite a show of confidence in the coaching staff to have him throw from the outset, to the tune of eight passes on the first drive and 28 in the first half - more than he’s thrown in five games this season and one less than what he threw against Tennessee two weeks ago.
In the meantime, Ingram carried the ball only six times for 38 yards (with most of that coming on a 25-yard run) and caught two passes for 13 yards.
McElroy threw for more yards (151) in the first half than he had in any of Alabama’s first four SEC games, and Alabama produced more than 200 yards of total offense.
But, he also completed only 50 percent of his passes and threw a costly interception deep in LSU territory late in the first half, and for all the forays into LSU’s half of the field in the first half, there were all of three points on the scoreboard for the Tide going into the locker room.
The results likely weren’t what Saban was hoping for, but as I said, it must’ve been a part of the master plan, as a fresh Ingram was unleashed on the LSU defense from the start of the second half and duly responded.
LSU was able to accomplish what Alabama’s last six opponents hadn’t been able to do and score a first-half touchdown, but their 7-3 lead wouldn’t last long into the second half.
Alabama threw on the first play of the second half, but McElroy’s 29th toss of the afternoon went to #22 for a 12-yard gain. From there, Ingram reeled off 46 yards on four carries, netting three first downs and moving the ball on his own from the Tide‘s 19 to the LSU 23.
Two plays after an 18-yard run moved it to the 23, McElroy hooked up with Darius Hanks for a 21-yard touchdown, and Alabama had the lead before LSU had time to blink.
After trying to stick with the first-half strategy cost Alabama two points and set up LSU to take a 15-10 lead, the Tide went back to their bread and butter on the next drive, as Ingram carried the ball seven times for 46 yards.
An eighth carry would’ve likely landed him a touchdown with the way he was routinely breaking off positive gains, but Julio Jones’ substitution penalty on third and goal from the 2 moved the ball back to the 7. Then, instead of going for it on fourth and goal from the 2, Bama went for the field goal to make it 15-13 with 12:35 to go.
But after the Tide took a 21-15 lead on Jones’ 73-yard catch and run and a two-point conversion, and Bama’s defense followed with a quick stop, you-know-who got the call on a big 4th and 1 from LSU’s 45. The gain was only two yards, but it was a massive first down that allowed Alabama to drain the clock and ice the victory.
All told, Ingram carried the ball 16 times for 106 yards in the second half, and he finished the game with 144 yards on 22 carries and added five catches for 30 yards.
More telling is the fact that nine of his second-half touches went for first downs. He might have gone without a touchdown for the second straight game, but the impact he had on the final result was as good as having two or three.
Credit McElroy for not folding, and credit Jones for redeeming himself and finally making the kind of game-changing play that we’ve been waiting for this season.
Credit also goes to Alabama’s hard-hitting defense for knocking Jordan Jefferson and Charles Scott out of the game, because LSU’s offense might have been more of a threat in the fourth with those two in.
But once again, Mark Ingram proved just how much he means to his team, and by doing so, did himself a world of individual good as well.
This article was originally published on The Red Zone Report. Check out tomorrow's weekly Heisman Watch to see where Mr. Ingram ranks after his big day against LSU.