It was obvious from the very first play of Saturday’s game.
Mark Ingram isn’t worried about his knee, and Alabama fans shouldn’t be either.
The junior broke off a 48-yard run on the first play from scrimmage against Duke, breaking multiple tackles from defenders diving at his legs.
“My knee felt better than ever,” he said. “It felt brand new. I was real hungry and eager to get back on the field, and I just wanted to make an impact right off the jump.”
Ingram finished the game with 151 yards and two touchdowns on just 9 carries in his season debut, squandering any thought that the reigning Heisman Trophy winner may play timid less than three weeks after knee surgery.
“[He played] the same way he practiced all week,” Saban said. “That’s who he is; it’s how he plays. It really surprised me that he could come back and look as good as he did all week in practice, as well as having a great game today.”
Ingram’s third carry of the game was even longer than his first. The 50-yard run gave him more than 100 yards just six minutes into the game.
“The guy works harder than anybody,” sophomore offensive lineman Barrett Jones said. “It’s great to see him come back and get into the action and pop off a few good runs.”
Ingram’s next carry was a 1-yard touchdown run to put the Tide up 21-0. He got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the play was over for getting into it with a couple Duke players.
“I dove over the pile, and both of them were just pulling me and twisting my legs,” Ingram said. “Just the heat of the moment.”
The 15-yard penalty didn’t matter in the 62-13 win. Ingram had just five more carries for 49 yards the rest of the game, including a 17-yard touchdown, but his nine total carries were enough to make a strong opening bid for a second straight Heisman Trophy.
“I just went out there and did what I know how to do,” Ingram said. “As far as a Heisman performance, that’s up to everybody else. For me, my main goal was just to get back out here and do whatever I could to help my team win.”
Ingram’s 16.8 yards per carry Saturday is the eighth most in school history for one game. He also surpassed 2,500 career yards and moved ahead of Johnny Davis on Alabama’s all-time rushing list. He now ranks eighth in school history in rushing yards (2,537) and fourth in rushing touchdowns (31).
“It felt great just to be back out there again,” Ingram said. “It hurt me having to stand on the sideline, not being able to contribute while my team was out there. To be able to be back out there competing with them again was real special for me.”