Derrick Henry runs to a record and MVP honors
ATLANTA -- Saturday figured to be a historical night for Derrick Henry.
The junior entered the Southeastern Conference Championship Game 94 yards away from Herschel Walker's single-season SEC record of 1,891 rushing yards. An average game for a player that ran for 149.8 yards per game would have gotten it done.
But what Henry did against Florida was more than just average. The junior carried the ball 44 times for 189 yards and a touchdown to earn Most Valuable Player honors in Alabama's 29-15 victory over the Gators.
"I can't tell you how proud I am of this guy," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. "He's had a phenomenal season and he deserves every accolade that anyone could ever throw his way."
To win an SEC Championship and while also re-writing the conference's record book made the day all the more special for Henry, who a week before broke Bo Jackson's Iron Bowl record for rushing yards.
"It's a blessing and God is good," Henry said of the record. "I'm still going to give the credit to my teammates and coaches because with out them it wouldn't be possible. But [Jackson and Walker] are like my heroes, my football heroes. Growing up and hearing their names and watching what they did was incredible. For my name to be mentioned with theirs, it's an honor and a blessing."
As is his custom, Henry only got better as the game went on. Though his touchdown, a bulldozing run from 2 yards out that gave the Crimson Tide a 12-7 lead, came in the first half, his second half effort was the true key to victory. Henry ran for 124 yards over the final two quarters on 25 carries. He averaged a yard and half more per carry in the second half than the first as Alabama put the game out of the Gators' reach.
"Credit to the offensive line," Henry said of the late-game push. " They really take pride in controlling the line of scrimmage. Throughout the week, they work hard and keep pushing the defensive line. My main focus is to finish and helping the team win."
Saban sees the fact that Henry's teammates get better as the game goes along as no coincidence.
"I don't know that I've coached many players that actually set a better example to affect other people," Saban said. "He really doesn't do it for himself, he does it for them."
Henry's 189 yards ranks as the third-highest total in championship game history. His 44 carries were the second-most in the history of the SEC Championship, two short of tying Auburn's Tre Mason, who ran 46 times in 2013.
After running for 141 yards in last year's SEC Championship, Henry became the first back to rush for 100 yards twice in title game history. His combined numbers of 64 rushing attempts and 330 yards are the most by any back.
Henry became the fourth running back to win MVP honors, the third in the last four years, and second Alabama RB to earn the honor after Eddie Lacy in 2012. Teammate Blake Sims was MVP a season ago.
His 189 yards were the most given up by Florida in 2015, a defense that surrendered an average of 111.3 yards per game entering Saturday.
"I think it's the best defense we faced all year," Henry said. They're very physical, very disruptive, very fast on the defensive line."
The rushing record, an MVP trophy and Alabama's 25th SEC Championship in hand, Henry's attention now turns to the next step in the season, an anticipated berth in the College Football Playoff.
"My main focus is on finishing and helping this team win," he said. "I'm going to do whatever it takes to help this team win. Whether it's me running the ball, catching the ball or pass blocking, I just want this team to win."