TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Eddie Lacy was forced to watch the final scene of Alabama's resurrection in Death Valley unfold from the sidelines. The Tide's 220-pound starting tailback was injured on Saturday night, a bum ankle grounding his trademark spin move in Baton Rouge, La.
Lacy was neutralized but LSU would get no reprieve. Enter true freshman T.J. Yeldon.
AJ McCarron, with Yeldon to his left in the shotgun, took the snap on second-and-10, down 3 points with less than a minute remaining. Everything was on the line and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier had the ball going to a rookie. The LSU defense pinned its ears back, looking for a sack to put the Tide out of field goal range, the line rushing upfield in a hurry. By then, it was too late, Nussmeier's gamble had paid off. Yeldon leaked out of the backfield, caught the screen pass and had two hands pat him on his way to the end zone.
"He gets the job done all the time," guard Chance Warmack said of the Tide's backup running back. "Whenever he gets the ball, he's looking to score."
It was Yeldon's eighth touchdown of the year, his first through the air. The 28-yard reception pushed him past the 700-yard mark for total offense. All that without starting a single game this season. All that despite being on campus for less than 10 months.
"T.J. keeps continuing to prove that he can play at this level," UA linebacker Adrian Hubbard said two days after No. 1 Alabama staved off LSU to remain unbeaten and in the thick of the national championship hunt.
Alabama has never had a freshman rush for 1,000 yards. Assuming the Tide make it to the SEC championship game, Yeldon's current pace would have him breaking that barrier. The man starting in front of him would fall some 20 yards short.
Lacy and Yeldon are something different. There's no lead dog in this fight, the gap between No. 1 and No. 2 defined only in writing, not in performance.
"Eddie has done a good job for us, T.J. has done a really good job for us, and the combination of the two is probably most effective," Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
Lacy laughed at the Ingram-Richardson comparison: "We just go out and play the way, basically, how they did. That's what we came up with. Now, we're the tandem."
So is it the duo of Lacy and Yeldon or Yeldon and Lacy? Who comes first? Lacy has 16 more carries, but 33 fewer rushing yards. Lacy is first on the field, but Yeldon is often the one finishing things off.
"He's a great football player," Lacy said. "I really can't wait to see him, like, two or three years from now."
Maybe it's Lacy before Yeldon then, for now, the elder is winning out.
In whatever order you put them, the pair has paid off for Alabama, which ranks 24th in the country in rushing offense with 209 yards per game. The Tide have run the ball 356 times this season, 120 to Lacy and 104 to Yeldon. The division of labor has meant fresher legs for both tailbacks and a nightmare for defenses. Knock one of them out and the next steps in without missing a beat.
"We have always had two backs -- it's sort of a philosophical thing that we like," Saban said. "Durability is such a critical factor in running backs that if you play one guy all the time it enhances his chances of not being able to continue to play at the same level. It's always been our goal to play two guys -- not always equally, but fairly equally to where both guys have a better chance to sustain the season at a high level and are productive throughout."
Combine Lacy and Yeldon's numbers, and they'd form the No. 1 rusher in the country. Together they've carried the ball 224 times for 1,404 yards. Nevada's Stefphon Jefferson leads the nation through nine games with 63 fewer yards on 47 more carries.
Yeldon has already run for 100 or more yards three times this year, his first coming in the season-opener against Michigan, the only time an Alabama running back has broken the century mark in his debut. He's on pace to finish second in school history in yards per rush (7.0), behind Bobby Marlow who set the record more than 60 years ago.
That's not to say Lacy has been a slouch. He's in the top 10 in rushing yards in the SEC, too. Had it not been for a nagging turf toe injury and other minor nicks and bruises, his number might be even more impressive.
But then again, it would come at what cost? With Lacy sidelined for portions of games, Yeldon has shined.
The two have tag-teamed their way to mutual success. If the other is watching from afar, chances are he's seeing his teammate do something special.