No. 8 Alabama’s Henry a 240-pound force in open-field
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) Big Derrick Henry looks like a between-the-tackles wrecking ball – until he gets in open space.
Then Alabama’s 6-foot-3, 242-pound tailback is at his best, trucking down the open field with force and momentum and scant hope for defenders trying to bring him down. If they can catch him in the first place.
”It’s unbelievable,” Crimson Tide center Ryan Kelly said. ”When you see him in person, he’s just so big and to see him cut through holes and blow past defenders, it’s awesome.”
Henry has been Alabama’s most consistent offensive playmaker and one of the Southeastern Conference’s top runners. He’s coming off perhaps his best game against No. 19 Georgia, momentarily at least nabbing some of the spotlight from the league’s biggest backfield stars, the Bulldogs’ Nick Chubb and LSU’s Leonard Fournette.
Henry had career-highs of 26 carries and 148 yards against Georgia, including a 30-yard ramble where he made one cut and sprung through a gaping hole created by the line for a 30-yard touchdown. Henry, who’s seldom chatty in interviews, summed that run up as simply as he would any of his five rushes of 28 or more yards.
”Everybody did a great job blocking with the scheme, and I just read it and hit the hole and got a touchdown,” he said.
He’s been producing touchdowns with regularity. Henry’s nine rushing TDs trails only Fournette in the SEC, and he’s fourth in the league with 570 yards.
He has 10 straight games with a touchdown, matching a school record set by quarterback Terry Davis from 1971-72 that he will attempt to break Saturday night against Arkansas.
Eighth-ranked Alabama hasn’t quite used the platoon system for the backfield this season like it did last year with Henry and T.J. Yeldon. Or before that with Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, Richardson and Eddie Lacy and Lacy/Yeldon.
Henry has gotten most of the tailbacks’ carries, averaging 10 more per game than backup Kenyan Drake. He picks up momentum during games just like he does on open-field runs, averaging just 3.4 yards per attempt in the first quarter of games and 7.9 in the second half.
”I think that he has had a really good year so far,” Tide coach Nick Saban said. ”I think it’s important for us that we continue to use him in a way that’s most beneficial to him and to us, which is sort of feeding him the ball.
”He does seem to get stronger as the game goes on. Our offensive line can do a little bit better job from a consistency standpoint of finishing blocks. I think that would even make us more effective in how Derrick plays.”
Henry downplays head-to-head matchups with backs like Chubb and Arkansas’ Alex Collins, saying he doesn’t spend time worrying about what people say about him or making a bigger name for himself.
”I’m just trying to go out there and play and make plays for the team, and if that happens then it happens and if not that doesn’t really matter to me,” Henry said.
He arrived as the national high school record holder for career rushing yards and really burst on the scene as a freshman against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl with his abilities in the open field. Henry scored on a 43-yard run and a 61-yard catch, the first of his career, in the game.
He’s not particularly interested in analyzing whether defenses underestimate his speed.
”I really don’t know,” Henry said. ”I really don’t care what defense thinks. I’m just going out there to execute the plan that coach Saban has on offense so I don’t really care.”