The Heisman Trophy probably doesn’t go to the nation’s best football player each year, although it’s advertised as such. Usually it goes to the best quarterback or the best running back, or at least the player at one of those positions who is so perceived as best, and it also helps if that player is on one of the nation’s best teams.
Alabama has had only one Heisman Trophy winner, Mark Ingram in 2009, even though the Crimson Tide has ranked at or among the nation’s leaders in national championships, bowl appearances and victories, all-time victories and winning percentage, and on and on.
This year Bama is meeting that criterion as one of the nation’s best teams. Alabama wrapped up the Southeastern Conference Western Division championship with its win at Auburn Saturday night. The Crimson Tide was ranked second in the nation last week by the College Football Playoff Selection Committee. Bama, now 11-1 on the season and 7-1 in SEC games, will meet Florida Saturday for the SEC championship. That game will begin at 4 p.m. EST (3 p.m. central time) at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta with CBS televising.
By mid-season this year, almost everyone was ready to end the speculation and hand the trophy to LSU’s fine tailback, Leonard Fournette.
Then came the Alabama game.
Fournette was held to 31 yards on 19 carries, while Crimson Tide tailback Derrick Henry was busting the Tigers for 210 yards and three touchdowns on 38 carries as Bama took a 30-16 victory.
In Saturday’s 29-13 Alabama victory over Auburn in Auburn, Henry carried the ball a school record 46 times for 271 yards and a touchdown. Henry has now rushed for 200-plus yards in four games this season against SEC competition.
That achievement put Henry in excellent company, providing Heisman voters with a benchmark. Only two other men have ever had 200-yard rushing performances in four SEC games in a season, former Heisman Trophy winners Herschel Walker of Georgia and Bo Jackson of Auburn.
In addition to the games against LSU and Auburn, Henry had 32 carries for 236 yards in a road win at Texas A&M and 22 rushes for 204 yards in a road win at Mississippi State.
Henry now has 1,797 yards rushing this year, passing Trent Richardson’s previous Alabama record of 1,679 yards from 2011.
Late in the game with Auburn clinging to the barest of threads against Alabama in Jordan-Hare Stadium, Henry ended their misery with a 25-yard touchdown run for the final score. That gave Henry at least one touchdown run in 17 consecutive games, the longest such streak in the nation and the longest in at least the past 20 years in the SEC. The previous record of 14 was held by another Heisman Trophy winner -- Tim Tebow of Florida in 2006-07.
Although he has been a starter only this one year, the junior Tide tailback has 502 carries for his career at Alabama, ninth in Bama history. Shaun Alexander from 1996-99 has the Alabama record with 727 carries. Henry’s 295 rushes this year rank as the second most in a season by a Tide back.
Henry is on pace for the most yards per game in a single season in Alabama history. The record is 133.7 by Bobby Humphrey in 1986. Henry is averaging 149.8 through 12 games.
Henry has 36 rushing touchdowns for his career, which moved him past Richardson to fourth place in Alabama history. T.J. Yeldon with 37 from 2012-14. In front of Yeldon is Shaun Alexander (1996-99) with 41 and the all-time leader, Mark Ingram (2008-10), with 42.
Henry ranks sixth in Tide history in career rushing yards with 3,169. Ingram is tops with 3,261 from 2008-10.
Against Auburn, Henry had 102 rushing yards by halftime. He has eight consecutive games of at least 100 yards rushing and has achieved the century mark 14 times in his career, third best in Tide history both in consecutive and career totals.
Henry had only two stars prior to this season, even though he was the Tide’s leading rusher as a back-up to Yeldon last year. In his 14 games as the starter, Henry has rushed for 1,999 yards on 320 carries (6.3 yards per carry) with 24 touchdowns. He has at least one touchdown run in all 14 games as a starter, including eight games with more than one rushing TD.
Henry’s 271 yards rushing against Auburn made him the first Alabama running back to go for 250 yards or more since Shaun Alexander accomplished the feat in 1996. Alexander went for 291 at LSU on Nov. 9. The 271 by Henry is the third-most yards in a single game, behind only Alexander’s game and Bobby Humphrey’s 284 at Mississippi State Nov. 1, 1986.