STARKVILLE, Miss. — It was bounce-out, a stiff-arm and then a whole lot of open space, but when University of Alabama junior running back Derrick Henry finally stopped in the end zone, he acted like it was no big deal.
Of course the rest of the Crimson Tide didn’t feel the same way. Neither did the visiting fans. The ones sitting by the south end zone at Davis Wade Stadium started chanting “Heis-man, Heis-man” as Henry casually walked off the field.
“It’s a big win against a good team,” Henry said after Alabama’s 31-6 victory against Mississippi State Saturday night.
Consequently, it’s time to stop calling Henry a contender or even the front-runner for college football’s most coveted award. We need to crank that status up a little more.
After he accumulated 204 rushing yards on 22 carries and scored two touchdowns during a game where the Alabama offense wasn’t very good, it’s now his award to win or lose.
Should Henry post impressive numbers against Auburn on Nov. 28 and the Crimson Tide beat Florida in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 5, the race will be over.
There just isn’t anyone else who can beat him out, just like Dak Prescott couldn’t overshadow him here despite passing for 300 yards and having a career-high 26 carries. That included nine sacks by Alabama as both defenses zeroed in on stopping the other team’s star player.
|Derrick Henry Game-By-Game|
|No. 20 Wisconsin||13-147||3|
|No. 15 Ole Miss||23-127||1|
|No. 8 Georgia||26-148||1|
|No. 9 Texas A&M||32-236||2|
|No. 2 LSU||38-210||3|
|No. 17 Miss. State||22-204||2|
|University of Alabama|
“Obviously their game plan was to stop us from running the ball,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “They were going to force the quarterback and receivers to make plays. We dropped about four and five balls on some of those plays.
“We just had to get to where we could run the ball, period.”
Although Henry only had five carries for 13 rushing yards in the first quarter, when the Crimson Tide defense kept the home team off the scoreboard with a clutch goal-line stand, he and Alabama broke the game open over the subsequent 15 minutes.
It began with senior Cyrus Jones taking a low punt, making the first guy miss and, as Saban put it, “was out the gate.”
The 69-yard touchdown was followed by freshman wide receiver Calvin Ridley turning a simple out pass into a 60-yard touchdown that exceeded Alabama’s total yards in the game before that play. Henry then got into the mix by breaking a 74-yard touchdown run that seemed to suck all of the energy out of the stadium.
It was also his 15th straight game scoring a rushing touchdown, topping Tim Tebow’s impressive string at Florida in 2006-07.
Meanwhile, Alabama’s defense had another terrific game despite finishing at a disadvantage in total yards (393-379), time of possession (33:30-26:30) and first downs (20-13).
Yet the Bulldogs never got into the end zone.
“We thought the one thing that might be in our favor in this game was our defensive line against their offensive line,” Saban said. “We did most of it with four guys rushing.”
In other words, Alabama didn’t blitz much and really couldn’t with Prescott’s ability to run. The quarterback took a pounding and after numerous near-misses finally had a pass picked off late in the game, with prize wide receiver De’Runnya Wilson staying down after tackling freshman cornerback Marlon Humphrey on the return.
Before Wilson was carted off, Henry was one of the Alabama players who checked on him.
“I was just praying for him,” he said.
The interception, just Prescott’s second this season, came right after Henry’s 65-yard touchdown to top the 200-yard mark, which made him the first Alabama running back to do so in back-to-back games.
Both opponents were ranked, too, LSU at No. 2 and Mississippi State at No. 17. This was the sixth ranked opponent that Alabama had faced this season, and against them he’s averaged 178.7 rushing yards (1,072 total).
Henry topped 125 against all six and notched 200 against three of them. In those six games he's also tallied 154 carries, has averaged 6.9 yards per attempt and scored 12 touchdowns.
Those are Heisman-type numbers.
Overall, the 6'3" Henry has rushed for 1,458 yards and 19 touchdowns. If he continues at that pace he’ll finish the regular season with 1,750 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns, which would be school records (Trent Richardson had 1,679 and 21, respectively, in 2011).
“That’s the kind of back that he is,” Saban said about the last touchdown. “As long as he is, he does a good job of picking his way through holes, but once he gets rolling he’s fast. He’s faster than people think and faster than he looks.
“What you can always tell is he outruns the angles, and that’s when you know that someone’s pretty fast.”
No. 2 Alabama (9-1, 6-1 SEC) won’t pad his numbers either. Even with reserve running back Kenyan Drake suffering a fractured arm that could keep him out a couple of weeks, freshmen Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough figure to get a lot of reps next week against Charleston Southern.
Freshman defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick suffered a sprained knee that might keep him out a week, senior quarterback Jake Coker left the stadium with ice on his right shoulder, and junior defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson’s left foot was in a boot.
Even Saban had a cut on his cheek when junior defensive lineman Jonathan Allen collided with the coach during a quick substation.
“The athlete that I am I was able to keep my feet,” Saban said. “The players were really concerned, but they know they don’t make them like they used to. “
They also don’t make them like Henry, who was contained by Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3 SEC) for most of Saturday but not all of it.
“We knew eventually he was going to hit,” Tide senior center Ryan Kelly said.
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.