For better or for worse, the knee injury to Mark Ingram has happened and until he returns the emphasis must shift to doing what needs to be done in the interim to keep the offense running at a high level. A few random thoughts as we move forward:
First and foremost, as controversial as this may be to some, it should be noted that, of all of our star players, we could probably afford an injury to Ingram more than anyone else. We are very deep at tailback, we are strong at the line of scrimmage, and in any event even a healthy Ingram would have split carries almost evenly with Trent Richardson. By comparison, an injury like this to, say, Mark Barron, would be almost unbearable. Had this happened to Barron, an undersized walk-on would be pushed into a starting role; with Ingram, we just plug in one of the best backs in college football, supplement him with two seemingly promising back-ups who could probably start at some other SEC schools, and then move on. This is disheartening and disappointing, of course, but ultimately manageable.
Moreover, again, don't underestimate the offensive line. I don't care who you have running the football, ultimately the run game itself is established in the trenches at the point of attack, and in that regard we easily have one of the best offensive lines in the country. Elite tailbacks can make the rushing attack even more productive, of course, but if you've got an elite offensive line you can make average tailbacks look like stars on short notice. And with that established, given what we have up front, we ought to have a very productive running game regardless of who is at tailback, whether it be Mark Ingram or Demetrius Goode.
The real concern now is not the health of Ingram, but the collective health of the triumvirate of Richardson, Lacy, and Goode. If you will recall correctly, Richardson suffered a shoulder injury in the second scrimmage, and at this point we can only hope that he can stay healthy until Ingram returns. Likewise, Demetrius Goode has fought some nagging injuries throughout camp. Losing one player like Ingram is, to reiterate, manageable, but if Richardson goes down too we're going to see some legitimate drop-off. We've got to keep Richardson healthy, no two ways about it.
How to keep Richardson healthy? I have no clue if the coaching staff will do either one of these two things, but it does seem like a relatively easy fix to me: (1) get him out of the game as soon as possible against San Jose State, and (2) put someone else back at kick returner. The return game constitutes the most dangerous plays in all of football, and while I don't know who we would replace him with -- Ingram was the #3 kick returner in the rotation -- having Richardson return kicks is just begging for disaster, especially in a game where the outcome is effectively determined even now. We probably won't return more than one or two kick-offs against San Jose State, but even so there's no reason to risk it. And, frankly, while I'm sure he will play some on Saturday, I hope we get him out of the game as quickly as possible, and quite honestly I wouldn't be the least bit disappointed if he watched the entire game from the sidelines in a coaches' polo shirt. I'm sure the coaching staff won't go that far, but even so Lacy and Goode could use the quality reps, so expect Richardson to make fairly short work on Saturday evening.
And if you're Eddie Lacy and Demetrius Goode, well, this is your time to shine. Previously you were largely going to be spectators and consumers of mop-up duty carries, but now both of these guys will be called on to significantly contribute in meaningful situations. If nothing else, it's a golden opportunity for both players, and an unexpected one at that. The raw ability is there with both of them, and they've got the line in front of them needed to plow the road. To be overly blunt, they will be expected to play well, and they should play well. No excuses.
Likewise, Corey Grant may have just gotten a much bigger role as well. He could be a possible contributor in the return game, and he now likely becomes the emergency fourth tailback in the event that further injuries arise (well, at least from the perspective of a true tailback). Prior to the Ingram injury he was likely headed for a redshirt season, but that is not a given now. I'm sure the coaching staff will work to preserve his redshirt status if possible, but he may be called on to contribute now. Mike Marrow may also be called in to work in a pinch, as he sees time in the backfield at fullback when we choose to use one in short-yardage situations. He could easily absorb the mop-up duty carries against San Jose State at tailback if the coaching staff wants to keep the redshirt on Grant.
Finally, the real test here will be Penn State on next Saturday, but even so I would urge restraint in light of this injury. Again, barring further injuries at tailback, we should still be able to run the football effectively. The real questions surrounding our team -- complacency after a championship, our ability to consistently throw the football downfield, special teams, the performance of the defensive backfield, all the personnel turnover on defense, etc. -- really don't have anything to do with Mark Ingram, and if we legitimately have on-field struggles in the absence of Ingram then the truth of the matter is that we probably have some underlying shortcomings that likely won't be corrected with the return of Ingram in a few weeks. Admittedly the notion of potentially facing Penn State without Ingram and Marcell Dareus is unnerving, but in the end I still don't think that changes the final analysis of things. We should still win that game, Ingram and Dareus or no, and if not we're likely in for a longer season than many expect.