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Unbreakable Richardson offers Tide hope for repeat national title

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- As a guest on a Mad Dog Radio program with Sirius/XM during the season's first week, I was asked how Alabama would deal with the temporary loss of reigning Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram to a knee injury. Like most people who live in the South and follow college football, I laughed at the question.

The Yankee host clearly hadn't heard of Trent Richardson. Even after I explained that Richardson would start for 99 percent of the teams in the nation and that a not-insignificant portion of Alabama's fan base considered Richardson the superior back while Ingram was in the process of winning the Heisman, the host refused to believe.

Any questions now?

On Saturday, Richardson chewed up 144 yards on 22 carries and scored a touchdown to lead the Crimson Tide to a 24-3 win against Penn State. The Nittany Lions hadn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 17 games. Richardson broke the century mark on a draw play near the end of the second quarter.

Richardson is a prime example of why so many poll voters think Alabama can repeat as national champion, in spite of losing most of its defense. The Tide faced Penn State without Ingram and defensive end Marcell Dareus, who finished a two-game suspension for accepting improper benefits from an agent. Without perhaps their best players on offense and defense, respectively, the Crimson Tide crushed a top-20 team. With nine new starters on defense playing their first legitimate opponent, the Crimson Tide forced three red-zone turnovers.

Now for the really scary part: Ingram and Dareus will be back next week. The defenders will correct some of the mistakes they made Saturday. This team will get better.

Of course, news of Ingram's return begs a question. Has a reigning Heisman winner ever been Wally Pipped? Pipp is the Yankees first baseman who sat out a game in 1925. There are several versions of the story, but the most popular is that manager Miller Huggins sat Pipp because he had a splitting headache. Pipp's replacement that day? Lou Gehrig, who didn't take days off. Could that happen to Ingram?

No way, Richardson said. "We don't even look at ourselves as starters," Richardson said. He means it, too. To Richardson, he and Ingram are just two different ways to move the ball toward the end zone. "It's just a pleasure to watch him run," Richardson said of Ingram. "I love seeing him run."

The word pleasurable would never be used to describe Richardson's running style. The Pensacola, Fla., native mauls defenders. He does not succumb to single tacklers. During Saturday's game, reader Benjamin Clark passed along, via Twitter, the ideal nickname for Richardson. "How 'bout calling Trent Richardson what he is," Clark wrote. THE JUGGERNAUT. Done and done.

The Juggernaut's signature run Saturday didn't conclude in the end zone. It was the first play of the fourth quarter, 1st-and-goal from the 6-yard line. Richardson took the handoff and hit the gap between the left guard and left tackle. The Nittany Lions converged almost immediately. A normal back would have gone down after a yard. Richardson churned, a dot of crimson in a blob of white. The dot pushed. The blob reluctantly moved.

It took nine Nittany Lions to stop Richardson's forward progress. By the time officials became convinced Richardson could carry the pile no further and blew their whistles, the ball was on the 1-yard line. Richardson, in spite of a baseball team's worth of tacklers, never went down.

On the next play, Richardson rested. He blasted only one would-be tackler en route to the end zone.

Offensive guard Barrett Jones wasn't the least bit surprised the Nittany Lions couldn't fell Richardson. "Have you seen the guy? He's built like a tank," Jones said. "But I think it's more than that. It's a mindset that Trent brings every time he gets the ball in his hands. ... He says, 'If I've got to drag three guys with me, we're getting two yards here.'"

Jones couldn't offer any advice for those wishing to tackle Richardson. "I don't know if I've ever seen one guy just tackle him. It's unbelieveable. You've got to really gang-tackle him. That makes it easy for us. We try to cover up the guys up front and let him break arm tackles. You're not going to tackle Trent Richardson with an arm tackle."

That's probably because the 5-foot-11, 224-pounder hasn't met a weight he can't squat. When he arrived at Alabama in 2009, he squatted 610 pounds. Strength coaches wouldn't allow him to add more plates. "I don't know if we have enough guys to spot him," Jones joked.

Richardson is enough of a load in the first quarter. But, teammates said, he works so hard in the offseason conditioning program that he doesn't lose steam throughout the game. "He just mows people over in the second half," Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy said. "That's when people get tired. That's when Trent gets going."

Perhaps even more disheartening for Alabama's opponents is that ego will not get in the way of Richardson and a now-healthy Ingram, as a tandem. McElroy said the two truly don't care who gets the carries, and neither will allow anyone to mess with the other. They are, McElroy said, the perfect one-two punch. "If you try to take on Mark," McElroy said, "you're going to get Trent as well."

From this point forward, Alabama's opponents will get both -- the Heisman winner and the Juggernaut.

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