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October 13, 2009It was roughly 6:45 p.m. Sunday and University of Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy was getting in some extra early work on South Carolina, going over the Gamecocks' defense in preparation for the upcoming homecoming game, when sophomore running back Mark Ingram walked in.
He cued up the Ole Miss victory, found the play he was looking for and watched it over and over again. Ingram wasn't reliving his crucial 36-yard touchdown run, enjoying any of his other sizable carries or going over the three catches for 16 yards.
It was a missed block.
"That's the only one I've been thinking about," Ingram said to the quarterback. "That's the only play that's been bothering me."
To put that into perspective, Ingram had 172 rushing yards on 28 carries against one of the toughest defenses he'll ever see, which coming in had yielded only 114.2 rushing yards per game and 10.8 points.
"It's always easy to look at the plays you did well on, but when you get your quarterback hurt or hit pretty hard, or a play didn't work because you didn't make your blocking assignment it kind of sticks with you more than the good plays," Ingram said.
"I want to get better and take advantage of the mistake that I made."
Nevertheless, the 362 rushing yards his first three Southeastern Conference games this season, many after the initial hit, have certainly caused the college football world to take notice. Overall, he has 659 rushing yards with the 109.83 per game average ranking 14th nationally.
Ingram's also only one of three players in the country to have 10 touchdown and average 100-plus rushing yards, joining Jacquizz Rodgers of Oregon State (116.2 yards and 13 touchdowns), and Toby Gerhart of Stanford (124.3, 10).
"I'm not surprised by Mark Ingram any more, he's just a really talented player," redshirt freshman guard Barrett Jones said. "We try and make holes for him and he really makes us look good sometimes. Even when there's not a hole there he makes a hole."
Equally impressive has been his all-around game.
Ingram is tied with senior tight end Colin Peek for the team lead in receptions with 17 for 163 yards. His 10 touchdowns top the SEC, and only teammate Leigh Tiffin, a senior kicker, is averaging more points per game, 10.7 compared to 10.0.
His blocking his become a point of pride, as has his ability to hold on to the ball. Ingram hasn't lost a fumble in 278 career touches, with Alabama recovering the only one to squirm away against LSU last season.
"Mark's a very good competitor," Coach Nick Saban said. "He's got good speed and he's got power. He's built just like you'd like a running back to be, sort of low center of gravity. He is explosive. I think the thing he has really done this year is he feels very comfortable and instinctive and making the cuts that he is making and the plays that he is running and certainly gets the most of out of it."
Consequently, despite being only fourth in SEC rushing, ESPN's SEC blogger Chris Low tabbed him the league's best player so far this season: "It's hard to find a more complete running back in college football than Ingram."
He's also been added to numerous Heisman Watch lists, including the latest from Sports Illustrated.
"Mark's so reliable, you always know what you're going to get," McElroy said. "He's just a great player."