Anyone who follows college football is aware of the incredible performance of Alabama junior tailback Derrick Henry, who seems to be the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy and who may lead the Crimson Tide to the national championship.
In a hard-fought win over Auburn Saturday to get Alabama into Saturday’s Southeastern Conference championship game, Derrick Henry ran his way into the record books with 46 carries for 271 yards and a touchdown. As Bama worked to run out the clock in the 29-13 win over the Tigers in Auburn, Henry carried the ball on Bama’s last 14 carries, including a game-clinching 25-yard touchdown that extended his record streak of games with a rushing TD to 17.
Even if he was not being tackled on most plays, Henry has proved to be durable. Of his 295 carries for 1,797 yards this year, 69 per cent – 1,235 yards – have come after contact.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban calls Henry the team’s workhorse, but even with Henry’s demonstrated durability —he had 32 rushes for 236 yards against Texas A&M and 38 for 210 against LSU – Saban said he was checking with his 6-3, 242-pound tailback after every possession to make sure he was able to keep going.
Henry said he wanted the ball. "Coach asked me in the game was I good. I told him 'Coach yeah I'm good I want to win this game.’ And I just want to help this team that's the most important things is this team. We work so hard to get to the situation that we're in so my main focus is to help this team win. No matter how many carries I get, no matter if I have to help this team by pass-blocking, catching balls anything to help this team."
Henry also had a 204-yard rushing game against Mississippi State, taking only 22 carries. Having rushed for over 200 yards in four games, all against SEC competition, Henry put himself in exclusive company. The only other conference backs to do that were former Heisman Trophy winners Herschel Walker of Georgia and Bo Jackson of Auburn.
He leads the nation in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns (22).
Alabama and Henry will meet Florida in the Georgia Dome at 3 p.m. CST (4 p.m. Eastern) Saturday for the SEC title. Henry has played in domed stadiums on six previous occasions and has 72 carries for 593 yards and eight touchdowns and has an additional 5 receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown.
Henry is known as a hard worker. Saban said, “Derrick’s always been that way. He was that way when he first came here. He always was a hard worker and he was anxious to improve and try to overcome any deficiencies he had s a player. By his own admission when he first came here, talked a lot about how his experience as a running back was only carrying the ball and that he had a lot to learn about pass offense, pass protection, being a receiver. And he certainly did a good job of developing and improving in all those areas. I think his understanding of our running plays and how to read those plays is something that he's gotten better and better at.”
When backup tailback Kenyan Drake suffered a broken arm against Mississippi State just over two weeks ago, the Tide was left without an experienced number two. Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough, both true freshmen, have had only limited carries.
Although there is a chance Drake will be back this week, Saban said “We definitely need more guys to be able to contribute at that position. It was not our intention to have Derrick Henry carry the ball 46 times [against Auburn].”
Henry’s 271 yards in that game was more than Auburn’s total offense of 260 yards.
Although it seems that Henry is a one-man band for the Alabama offense, Saban said, “I think our whole offensive team deserves a lot of credit. I think Derrick is the first one to try to give other players on the offense credit.
“You don’t gain the yards that he’s gained without the offensive line doing a really, really good job and without the coaches having a play that puts him in the best possible play, and then the quarterback being able to implement that in the game.”
There was a question as to whether the 46 carries would wear on Henry in preparation for Florida. On Monday he said, “I feel good. Ready to get ready for this week and this Saturday. You’re going to have a little bit of soreness, but you have to get treatment and get your body back right.”
As is his wont, Henry deflected questions about his achievements. “It starts up front with our offensive line and everybody who’s blocking, so credit goes to them because they control the line of scrimmage for me to be able to do what I do. As long as the line is blocking, I just have to make my reads and get north and south.”
Henry said he expects a challenge from the Florida defense, which ranks with Alabama’s as the best in the SEC. He said, “They’re very fast, very physical, and very disruptive. I’m sure they’re a lot better than they were last year.”
The Yulee, Fla., native said that he knows a number of players at Florida, including outstanding defensive back Vernon Hargreaves and starting tailback Kelvin Taylor.
He also admitted that he grew up a fan of the Gators and particularly of former Florida star quarterback Tim Tebow. “But,” he added, “I’m in college now, and I play for Alabama.”
Reporters try to get Henry to discuss the Heisman, but the tailback doesn’t bite. Monday he was asked if he was looking forward to New York.
“I’m not ready to focus on New York,” he said. “I’m looking forward on going to Atlanta and playing Florida and preparing for this week and preparing for the Gators because they are a tough team."