But as the last player off the field Saturday night, the Alabama running back was practically giggling. Completing one final TV interview, he came bounding through the few thousand wearing crimson in an otherwise somber Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
The likeable junior did more than lead one final cheer on the chilly October night. Yes, here comes the Heisman hype.
Richardson made his case by setting a new personal best rushing total for the second time in three weeks in the 38-10 Alabama win. It’s only fitting his 181-yard night came in Gainesville — just down the road from the Jacksonville hotel where Heisman vet Mark Ingram watched the game in advance of his New Orleans Saints game with the Jaguars.
After Saturday night, though, Richardson fully emerged from whatever shadow remained of his former backfield partner.
It was the kind of night weight-room All-Americans like Richardson dream of. Brute power met open holes when the Gators saw all sides of the junior from the Panhandle. The absence of the big play actually made his performance more impressive.
Averaging 6.2 yards on 29 carries, his longest run was a 36-yarder for touchdown No. 2 of the night. The numbers weren’t skewed like they were in a 167-yard game that included two long scoring runs on seemingly benign plays.
It was all power, mostly straight downhill running all night. Six yards here, five yards there. Florida’s defense — ranked fifth nationally against the run — had no answer. By the end of the night, it had no gas.
One second-half tackle included what seemed like the entire Gator defense that still couldn’t bring him to the turf. Richardson’s legs kept churning before the referee’s whistle ended the scrum in a pile of beaten men.
A few conclusions were acceptable in the wake of Saturday night.
Perhaps Kent State has one of the best run defenses in the country. The MAC school found a way to limit Richardson to 37 yards on 13 ugly carries. At no point that day did he look like someone booking a flight to New York in early December.
But the same Kent State defense that bottled up Richardson ranks right in the middle of the FBS against the run four weeks later. Louisiana-Lafayette, South Alabama, Ohio and Kansas State don’t have quite the talent as the Tide, but they combined to leave the Golden Flashes 61st on the statistical rankings.
Or maybe the Tide offensive line got its groove back.
The five up front took considerable heat after being handled by Kent State, now 1-4 with just a 33-25 win over South Alabama.
Dominating the line of scrimmage — both of them — was again the path to victory.
“(Trent) did a fantastic job, I’m gonna tell you he’d be the first to tell you they did a pretty good job of blocking,” Saban said. “He did a great job of running and executing, but I think he’d be the first one to tell you the offensive line did a really good job.”
Richardson couldn’t have broken tackles on the second level if he couldn’t get past the first.
The value of Richardson was never more evident than on the opening drive. He had 35 hard yards powering the Tide into Gator territory. The drive then went flat when play calls shifted to passes. Three fell incomplete and a field goal was necessary.
He put a bow on the night by running three straight plays out of the first “Wildcat” plays Alabama ran all season. Carries of 16, five and five yards pushed him over his career high. Saban then pulled him, to the cheers of those who remained.
No, it wasn’t quite the Wildcat-inspired, Heisman-launching 246-yard game Ingram hung on South Carolina in 2009.
But Richardson quieted any lingering questions about his health, durability and the slow start against Kent State.
No reason to hide a smile after all that.