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Yes, the Ducks are in for a much stiffer test at Tennessee this Saturday, but James will be suiting up. Kelly will use the Burner as a so-called Taser—a kind of slot receiver--end-around threat. Barner and James have also been lining up in split-back formations in practice.
"We run the ball 40 times a game," says Kelly. "One guy's not gonna carry the ball 40 times a game." Since he arrived in Eugene as an assistant three years ago, Kelly points out that the offense has always had a "1A and 1B" running back. This season he's got two 1A's.
Top-ranked Alabama, likewise, is loaded at that position, and remains so even after the Tide's biggest scare. In a practice five days before the season opener, Ingram tried to turn the corner on a sweep. Spun around by a defender, the reigning Heisman winner suffered slight cartilage damage in his left knee. Ingram was in surgery the following morning. While the junior was definitely out for 'Bama's opener, Saban would not foreclose the possibility that he might return for Penn State.
"When Mark went down, I was shocked," says Richardson. "I was sad for him. But I still have to go out there and play the football I know how to play."
If he lost any sleep over Ingram's absence, he was probably in the minority in 'Bama Nation. The truth is that no team in the country, with the possible exception of the Carolina Panthers, is better equipped to withstand the loss of its feature back. Notwithstanding Ingram's possession of a certain 25-pound bronze doorstop, there's not a lot of drop-off from him to Richardson, an impossibly buff, 5'11" 220-pounder out of Pensacola, Fla.
"Great player, great person," Jimmy Nichols reminisced last week. Nichols coached Richardson at Escambia High, which happens to be the alma mater of Emmitt Smith. "Emmitt had the ability to run over you or run away from you," says Nichols, "and Trent has those same abilities." In truth, the coach adds, "There's not many I put in [Smith's] class, but Trent's one of 'em. He's bigger, faster and stronger than Emmitt."
In his junior and senior seasons at Escambia, Richardson rushed for a combined 3,580 yards and 41 touchdowns. He once ran for 419 yards in a game. "And he was doing it by himself," marvels his coach. "If we'd blocked anybody, he would've gone for 600."
Richardson's older brother, Terrell, is a three-year starter at defensive end for Louisiana-Lafayette, less than 60 miles from Baton Rouge. In 2009, LSU fans got their hopes up, believing that Trent might wish to matriculate near his brother. As is his wont, Saban stuck it to his former employer, wooing Richardson to Alabama. There came a day near the end of the recruiting process, Nichols recalled, "when I had 15 Alabama coaches in my office. They were just makin' sure."
Coming off the bench as a true freshman, Richardson rushed for 751 yards despite averaging just 10 carries a game. 'Bama fans still talk about his 52-yard touchdown run against Arkansas, the one in which he broke four tackles before arriving in the secondary. His 49-yard scoring burst opened the floodgates for the Tide in the BCS title game. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry, and one got the impression that Saban sometimes had to work to keep the freshman's numbers down.
That was certainly the case on Saturday, when the head man barely allowed Richardson to break a sweat. It was also smart: With Ingram on the shelf there was no need to risk Richardson's health in what amounted to an exhibition game. Alabama won 48--3.