The highly competitive defensive-minded Southeastern Conference was the next stage to showcase his talents. After seven games for Alabama this year, Derrick Henry totals 901 rushing yards, second in the league and seventh nationally, on 152 carries with a 5.9 average per attempt. The 6-3, 242-pound Henry averages 128.7 yards per game ranking second in the SEC behind the country’s top rusher, LSU’s sophomore Leonard Fournette (200.3).
Four of those seven games he surpassed the century mark. Three were against SEC opponents and one versus Power-Five member Wisconsin of the Big Ten. Henry is in the conversation for college football’s most prestigious award, the Heisman Trophy, due to those performances but trails the consensus choice, Fournette.
The college football season is the equivalent of a two-lap, 800-meter race. Lap one is nearly as strenuous as the finishing full sprint. Falling behind is not an option considering the length of the season. Henry was quick out of the blocks with a 147-yard effort against the No. 20 Badgers earning the SEC Offensive Player of the Week Award and Football Writers Association of America and Maxwell Award National Player of the Week honors. The designated first offensive option for Bama recorded 127 rushing yards in a loss to Ole Miss. He followed up with148 rushing yards against No. 8/6 Georgia in Athens and a career high of 236 versus No. 9 Texas A&M in College Station, earning him two more SEC Offensive Player of the Week Awards.
Ascension in the minds of the Heisman voters can occur with a second half season statistical explosion or out-dueling a potential candidate in a head-to-head matchup. Henry is a position to achieve record numbers and outshine the top contender from Baton Rouge. Averaging 130 yards for at least six games and hitting pay dirt ten more times keeps him on pace to become the school’s all-time single season leader in rushing yards and touchdowns, eclipsing Trent Richardson 2011 numbers (1,679, 283 carries, 5.9, 21 TDs). Henry needs an assist from the SEC’s best front seven to negate Fournette and LSU visiting Tuscaloosa on November 7. Shutting down a team averaging 325.5 rushing yards per game is a monumental task. Alabama has a defensive unit built to cage the Tigers running back,
Henry is poised to face teams with the following national rush defense rankings and per game averages – Tennessee (72nd, 170.5), LSU (9th, 92.2), Mississippi State (63rd, 161.6), Auburn (101st, 197.1) along with FCS foe, Charleston Southern currently allowing 105.0 ypg (13th).
Coach Nick Saban is fond of posing these questions to his team after lackluster execution, “How bad do you want to do this? How important is this to you?”
If Henry has aspirations to receive a December invitation to the Big Apple, the Tide offensive line must block effectively, maybe dominate in the next half dozen games. Compiling compelling numbers and winning keeps the spotlight on the Tide’s star runner. Alabama is in a College Football Playoff mode. No margin for error. Winning is imperative if they intend to reach the ultimate goal – another National Championship.
Henry is living in a parallel universe with respect to pursuing a trip north to New York. Every carry, pass reception, touchdown jaunt or chance to shoulder the offensive load is destined to be scrutinized by the voters. The Volunteers could be the next opponent to surrender triple digit rushing yards.
Saban’s share the rock tailback tandem philosophy has left Henry with fresh legs. He carried the ball only 207 times his first two years at The Capstone. Arm tacklers are exposed attempting to bring down the big, powerful north-south running back. His 12 consecutive games of scoring a touchdown is the longest active streak in the nation and exceeded the school record of 10 held by quarterback Terry Davis across the 1971 and 1972 seasons.
Alabama’s head coach realizes he has a championship stud capable of prolific outbursts. “We have always known Derrick is a workhorse that kind of gets better as the game goes on in a lot of cases. He certainly hasn’t disappointed us and he’s certainly carried a big share of the workload the last two weeks,” said Saban. “He has been a guy that has tremendous durability and really, really done a fantastic job for us all year long but especially in these last few games.”
History shows the Heisman Trophy voting electorate is sophisticated enough to consider two fantastic players from the same backyard region and conference. Alabama RB Trent Richardson (3rd) and LSU safety Tyrann Matthieu (5th) finished in the top five and received invitations to Manhattan in 2011. The prize is yet to be claimed. In a year with a prohibitive favorite, let us not forget the words of the late baseball legend and astute prophet, Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over, ‘til it’s over.”
Henry is a “hoss” in every sense of the football and racing vernacular. He runs to win games for the Crimson Tide and eschews all conversations referencing the most coveted individual honor in College Football – the Heisman Memorial Trophy. The second lap of the season is underway. He is within range on the back stretch. A perfect scenario exists for Henry to overcome the competition and become the 2015 recipient. Run, Derrick, run!