When LSU and Alabama square off this weekend in a game with both Heisman and national title implications, it will mark the ninth anniversary of the last time these two teams came together with similar outcomes at stake.
Back in 2009, the Tide’s dynasty under Nick Saban was just getting going and a running back named Mark Ingram was the engine that made the Alabama offense go. By late October, Saban’s squad was a clear national title contender and it was starting to look like Ingram might have a shot at doing something no other player at the school had ever done — win a Heisman Trophy.
This week in Heisman history, on Nov. 7, 2009, Ingram took control of the Heisman race by producing one of his best games of the season to help lead No. 3 Alabama to a 24-15 victory over No. 9 LSU.
Alabama entered the game at 8-0 but was coming off a narrow 12-10 win at home over Tennessee. The Tigers were 7-1 and looked to be rounding into shape after a 13-3 loss to Florida earlier in the season. Both teams were hard-hitting and physical and entered the contest expecting a tough battle in the trenches.
To that point, Ingram had 1,004 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground and another 19 receptions for 186 yards and three scores through the air. His biggest game had come against South Carolina, when he rushed for 246 yards on 24 carries, much of it coming out of the ‘Wildcat’ formation. That game put him on the Heisman radar. Now, he needed to prove that he was the leader in the race.
For most of the game, it looked like LSU might stop Ingram and carve out a hard-fought victory. The Tigers scratched and clawed their way to a 15-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter as Ingram was held to just 38 rushing yards on five carries in the first half. With LSU playing so many defenders near the line, Alabama decided to air it out with quarterback Greg McElroy, who threw passes on the Tide’s first nine plays and finished with 25 attempts in the first half.
Alabama went back to what it does best in the second half, however, forcing the issue with its bruising running game. With the Tigers leading, 7-3, Ingram took control on the Tide’s opening possession of the third quarter, first catching a 12-yard pass from McElroy and then running the ball four straight times for 46 yards. The drive culminated in a McElroy touchdown pass and Alabama was back on top, 10-7.
After LSU picked up a safety and a touchdown to go ahead, 15-10, Ingram again answered the call as the fourth quarter got underway. He carried seven times for 48 yards and caught a five yard pass as the Tide kicked a field goal to cut the deficit to 15-13. On its next series, Julio Jones took a short pass 73 yards for a score and Alabama took the lead, 21-15 (following a two-point conversion). A late field goal put the game out of reach and Alabama moved to 9-0 on the season with a 24-15 victory.
When the dust settled, Ingram carried 22 times for 144 yards — 106 of those yards coming in the second half — and another 30 yards on five receptions. He had answered the call in the biggest game of the season and, as a result, his path to the Heisman was clear.
Ingram finished the season with 1,542 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground, with another 30 catches for 322 yards and three scores through the air. Alabama went on to win the national championship while Ingram edged out Stanford running back Toby Gerhart in the closest vote in Heisman history. He was the third straight sophomore (and youngest to that point) to win the award and, of course, the first to win the Heisman for Alabama.
Here’s a video of that game: