In What Likely Will Be Derrick Henry's Final Game for Alabama, Expect Greatness

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterJanuary 8, 2016

Alabama RB Derrick Henry
Alabama RB Derrick HenryRonald Martinez/Getty Images

In the College Football Playoff National Championship versus top-ranked Clemson on Monday night, Alabama running back Derrick Henry might not break his single-game high of 271 rushing yards set versus Auburn this year.

He might not break his single-game high of 46 carries he had in that same game.

He might not even extend his 19-game touchdown streak to 20 against the Tigers.

Alabama RB Derrick Henry
Alabama RB Derrick HenryBrynn Anderson/Associated Press

After all, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney and defensive coordinator Brent Venables boast a defense that has given up just 124.36 yards per game on the ground and is loaded with talented players in the front seven.

None of that matters, though.

In what could be the final game for the junior Heisman Trophy winner before he moves on to the NFL, expect greatness. Expect Henry to grind it out when it matters most. Expect him to prove one more time that he is college football's ultimate closer.

"Obviously they've got the Heisman in Henry," said Swinney on Tuesday, according to "He's a whole different animal."

Indeed he is.

During his three years in Tuscaloosa, Henry has rushed for 1,954 yards in the second half/overtime of games, as opposed to 1,479 in the first half. That balanced out this year as he ascended to the top spot of the depth chart for the first time in his career.

But the 6'3", 242-pounder from Yulee, Florida, has proved from the moment he stepped foot on campus that he shuts the door when head coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin need him to.

Alabama RB Derrick Henry
Alabama RB Derrick HenryJamie Squire/Getty Images

And they'll need him to do it once more Monday night.

While Alabama's defense is terrifying, its best defense against these Tigers is a good, punishing, ball-control offense.

Clemson is built to hit every sore spot that typically presents issues for Alabama defenses.

It has a mobile quarterback in Deshaun Watson, who has topped the 100-yard mark on the ground in five of his last six games. It spreads defenses out with multiple-wide receiver sets with studs such as Artavis Scott.

It has a power-rushing game within that spread led by Wayne Gallman, a sophomore from Loganville, Georgia, who has rushed for 1,482 yards and is one of the most underrated players in the nation. It uses tempo to prevent defenses from substituting, which allows Swinney to exploit mismatches when they develop.

With apologies to Ole Miss—which has topped the Tide in each of the last two seasons—Alabama hasn't seen an offense like this since the 2013 Auburn Tigers, who weren't as prolific in the passing attack as the 2015 Clemson Tigers. After all, while Ole Miss has had success against Alabama, it simply hasn't had the power-rushing element that Swinney's crew boasts.

Alabama RB Derrick Henry
Alabama RB Derrick HenryRonald Martinez/Getty Images

While guys such as defensive linemen A'Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen, as well as linebacker Reggie Ragland and others, are directly responsible for shutting down Watson and Co., it's Henry who will have the biggest impact.

As long as Clemson doesn't have too much success offensively, Alabama won't stray from its tried-and-true plan of a heavy dose of Henry, as SEC Network analyst "Booger" McFarland noted on WUMP's The Cole Cubelic Show in Huntsville, Alabama, on Friday morning:

That should pay dividends in the second half against a Tigers defense that, while talented, hasn't seen anything like what the Heisman Trophy winner brings to the table.

In Bleacher Report's expert picks, published Thursday, I chose Alabama to win a close one, with Henry earning offensive MVP honors. Henry probably won't top his career high in yards, but he will grind it out in the second half, deflate the football and lead Alabama to its first national title since 2012.

Statistically, it won't jump off the page.

But it will be the best—and most important—performance of his career.


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.