With Ingram, Dareus back, No. 1 Tide flying high as they begin preparing for SEC opener

Mark Ingram took his first carry nearly 50 yards for Alabama. Marcell Dareus snuffed out Duke's first rushing play for a loss.

With two stars back in the lineup, the top-ranked Crimson Tide certainly made it look easy against the Blue Devils — and that's exactly what they needed to do before things finally get serious this week. They visit Arkansas in their Southeastern Conference opener.

"It's what we make of it," coach Nick Saban said following Saturday's 62-13 rout. "It's how we look at it. It's how we take the things we need to improve on and use them as stepping stones to improve, learn more with some of our younger players, what it takes to compete for 60 minutes in a game."

The Crimson Tide needed their Heisman Trophy-winning tailback for only about 30 minutes of this one.

And in that short time, he put on quite a show.

Alabama (3-0) got along just fine in the first two games, when Trent Richardson got most of the work and Ingram was sidelined while he recovered from preseason surgery on his left knee.

But the return of the explosive rusher served to add another dimension to an already-potent offense that put up 62 points for the first time since 1991, racked up its first 600-yard performance since 1989 and undoubtedly gave the rest of the SEC plenty to worry about.

"Any time you have those guys both back 100 percent, it's really encouraging," quarterback Greg McElroy said. "The fact that Mark ran as well as he did, and obviously, Trent has done a great job throughout the course of the season so far. It's really good for (Ingram). He's definitely looking forward to getting back out there, and he definitely made the most of every play."

Especially the first one.

Ingram announced his return on the opening snap, taking a handoff and shaking a tackler before bursting 48 yards down the right sideline. Two carries later, he broke off a 50-yard gain through the left side, and he finished with 151 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries.

"Felt better than I did before I had the injury," Ingram said.

Dareus also made an impact on the defensive line. The defensive MVP of last season's national title game was suspended by the NCAA for the first two games for accepting nearly $2,000 in improper benefits from an agent on two trips to Miami.

On the Blue Devils' first rushing play, the defensive end broke through and brought down receiver Donovan Varner for a 4-yard loss. That wound up being Dareus' only tackle of the game. But for the Tide, merely having him back on the field — and in the consciousness of opposing offensive coordinators — seemed to be enough for now.

"I was a little overexcited to come out," Dareus said, adding that defensive line coach Bo Davis "had to come talk to me a couple of times. 'Marcell, just calm down. Just play. Just have fun. Go out there, don't be overanxious, jump offsides.' ... I just had to calm down."

There were a few blips, though — most notably, the stingy Tide defense finally allowed a touchdown.

Austin Kelly became the first player to cross the goal line against them when he caught an 11-yard pass from Sean Renfree in the final minute of the first half. That capped the third — and final — scoring drive by the Blue Devils.

The Crimson Tide could get away with that kind of breakdown in the early season. After all, they faced the likes of outmanned San Jose State, a nationally ranked Penn State team that brought a freshman quarterback to Bryant-Denny Stadium and a Duke team that, while improving, clearly wasn't anywhere near Alabama's level.

Starting now, the margin for error shrinks significantly — especially this week against Heisman hopeful Ryan Mallett and the Razorbacks.

"You can't have a lull in the second quarter. You can't let down. You can't get tired," Saban said. "You have to have enough mental toughness to persevere and play every play in the game. I think there are some lessons to be learned for some young players, and hopefully we can improve because of it and it will help our team grow."