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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Knee surgery couldn't stop Alabama tailback Mark Ingram. The Florida Gators couldn't keep him from the end zone.

Ingram, the Crimson Tide's first Heisman Trophy winner, continued his rapid return from arthroscopic surgery with two first-half touchdowns Saturday night during Alabama's 31-6 cakewalk at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The rushing scores were the 34th and 35th for the 5-foot-10, 215-pound junior from Flint, Mich., who passed Johnny Musso and in behind only Shaun Alexander (41 in 1996-99) in school history.

"I don't think I have ever been in shock, because I have never doubted what he can do," Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy said. "He has great ability, and he does a great job with the ball in his hands. We all thought he was going to have a great season this year."

The top-ranked Tide scored on their first four possessions to take a 24-0 lead. Chas Henry made two field goals to briefly keep the No. 7 Gators on life support, but C.J. Mosley's 35-yard interception return for a touchdown with 6:10 left in the third quarter sealed the outcome at 31-6.

Florida had four turnovers, four more than Alabama.

"It's a good standard [that we played to]," Alabama coach Nick Saban said of the dominant first half. "That's what we've been waiting on - to get out of our players. Florida's got a good team. Offensively, we kept the ball, driving the ball, converting third downs. Defensively, we made the plays when we needed to make them."

While Ingram accounted for most of the points, McElroy and backup tailback Trent Richardson accounted for most of the yardage. McElroy completed 11 of 17 passes for 84 yards - including just 4 after halftime - while Richardson had 10 carries for 68 yards. Ingram had 12 carries for 47 yards.

Richardson had a 30-yard run around left end on Alabama's second possession to set up Ingram's first touchdown from 6 yards out, and he had a 15-yard run on third Tide drive to set up Ingram's 1-yard score that made it 17-0.

After suffering the injury Aug. 30 in practice, Ingram had surgery the next morning and sat out Alabama's opening 48-3 rout of San Jose State and its 24-3 whipping of Penn State. The Crimson Tide ground game was in good hands each week, though, as redshirt freshman Eddie Lacy had 111 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries against the Spartans, and Richardson had 144 yards and a score on 22 rushes against the Nittany Lions.

Ingram wasted little time in his return, gaining 48 yards on his first rush Sept. 18 at Duke and 50 yards on his third carry. He had 151 yards on just nine carries and scored twice in the 62-13 drubbing of the Blue Devils and followed that with a 24-carry, 157-yard, two-touchdown performance in last week's 24-20 comeback win at Arkansas.

"It's such a blessing to come off of surgery and have such strong performances that I've had," he said. "God is good, and it's such a blessing. My main focus coming back to the first game was not to have any hesitation whatsoever. I wanted to have 100-percent confidence in my ability when I came back on the field, and that's the way I practiced."

Ingram won't show up in the NCAA statistics until after the Oct. 23 game at Tennessee, provided he stays healthy. The NCAA requires a player must participate in 75 percent of his games, but he is alive again in Heisman conversation, though he isn't giving that much attention.

The most common question he hears now concerns whether he is better than before the injury.

"He looks like the same guy to me," safety Mark Barron said. "I'm telling you, I go up against him in practice, and it's hard. You can't go in there scared."

Said Ingram: "I'm taking advantage of every rep now and not taking any practice for granted."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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