Alabama’s tailbacks carry load in spring game

It was a busy weekend on college campuses as spring games took place at major programs across the country. It was particularly busy in the state of Alabama, as the Crimson Tide and Auburn Tigers held their annual spring showcases. Here’s a look at what we learned — or, more importantly, what we didn’t learn — from these contests.

Alabama: A crowd of 91,312 turned out at Bryant-Denny Stadium for the Crimson Tide’s spring game Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa, and fans of the defending national champions were treated to an offensive show from the Tide’s backfield. Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson gave the faithful a glimpse of what they can expect in the fall — a prolific offense while nine new starters on defense come together.

Nick Saban had game MVP Ingram and Richardson on opposing teams to ensure that both backs would get ample touches, and they rewarded their head coach with big plays — both rushing and receiving. The two combined to carry the ball 17 times for 112 yards and catch seven balls for 94 yards and a score, highlighted by Richardson’s 28-yard touchdown catch and Ingram’s 60-yard rush that set up a score. Remember what we all witnessed in ‘Bama’s BCS title game victory against Texas? The backs combined for 41 carries, 225 yards and four scores in a prolific display not seen from a backfield in a big game in some time.

Even with quarterback Greg McElroy expected to take his game to the next level with returning wideout Julio Jones and emerging Brandon Gibson, who had eight catches for 142 yards, the rushing attack will be the focal point of the Tide offense in 2010.

In case you’re wondering, Richardson’s White squad beat Ingram’s Crimson team 23-17. But in the losing effort, Ingram looked like an even more confident and focused rusher — a scary thought for opposing SEC defenses.

Auburn: How about the Crimson Tide’s chief rival? The Tigers also held their spring game on Saturday, but if fans at Jordan-Hare Stadium were looking for answers to the quarterback battle taking place, they didn’t get any. Cameron Newton attempted just eight passes in four series before head coach Gene Chizik pulled the quarterback, likely so that coaches and spies from other teams wouldn’t be able to get a close look at the offense. The record-setting crowd of 63,217, however, was able to see fifth-year senior Neil Caudle and redshirt sophomore Barrett Trotter stake their claim to the starting gig under center in the Blue team’s 21-17 victory over the White team.

While the offense under coordinator Gus Malzahn was vanilla on Saturday, it has been anything but that throughout spring camp. Specifically, the pace of the offense will be much more up-tempo this fall no matter who’s under center, although it’d be hard to imagine anyone but Newton starting the season.

Caudle went 17 of 21 for 199 yards and a touchdown while the injury-prone Trotter connected on 7 of 9 passes for 154 yards and two scores. Newton was just 3 of 8 for 61 yards.

The fact that Newton was so limited may have tipped Chizik’s hand on his decision at quarterback, although nothing is certain at this point. With a defense that didn’t blitz, starting tailback Mario Fannin getting just three carries and a host of walk-ons making their way onto the field, not a whole lot was learned from Saturday’s game.

The biggest question mark, besides under center, surrounds Ted Roof’s defense. Certainly, the Tigers will create takeaways — a staple of a Roof defense. But will missed tackles doom the unit in its biggest conference tilts? And can SEC sacks leader Antonio Coleman’s production be replaced, perhaps by Antoine Carter and Nosa Eguae? The Tigers will get help for their rushing defense, which ranked 78th in the country last season, when five freshmen arrive this summer.

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