Although Alabama quarterback Blake Sims was highly effective in last Saturday's 42-21 drubbing of Florida, the Crimson Tide didn't miss a beat when he headed to the locker room with a shoulder injury.
Derrick Henry made sure of it.
With the Crimson Tide nursing a 28-21 lead midway through the third quarter, Henry ripped off runs of 25 and 13 yards to set up a 4-yard touchdown pass from Jacob Coker to Amari Cooper that put the game away. Henry rushed 20 times for 111 yards and a touchdown against the Gators, including 91 yards in the second half.
"The whole week of practice, I just made sure I prepared right and did what I was coached to do," Henry said this week in a news conference. "I knew if I did that, then the game would take care of itself. Each and every week I'm trying to get better so I can make plays for the offense, whether that's blocking, running the ball or catching the ball."
A massive 6-foot-3, 241-pound sophomore from Yulee, Fla., Henry leads the No. 3 Crimson Tide through four games with 320 yards on 53 carries, or 6.0 yards per rush. He remains second in the tailback pecking order to T.J. Yeldon, who has 57 rushes for 284 yards (5.0 per carry).
After rushing 17 times for 113 yards to complement Yeldon's 23-carry, 126-yard performance in the Tide's opening win over West Virginia, Henry had just 16 combined carries in the ensuing victories over Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss. Those 16 rushes resulted in 96 yards, but a nagging shoulder injury had taken its toll.
"I had a little nick on my shoulder, and it started messing with my head," Henry said minutes after the win over Florida. "I just knew I had to go out there and play."
Henry was expected to have a breakout season of some degree after capping his freshman year with an eight-carry, 100-yard performance in January's 45-31 Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma, which included a 61-yard touchdown reception. He had entered last season on the heels of breaking Ken Hall's 51-year-old national high-school rushing record, having amassed 12,124 yards at Yulee High after a 4,261-yard senior season.
The Parade Magazine national player of the year was the third-team tailback behind Yeldon and Kenyan Drake for most of last season, though he did have moments before the bowl. Henry's long run of the year was an 80-yard gallop in the 52-0 rout of Arkansas, and he wound up with 35 rushes for 382 yards (10.9 per carry).
"He made a tremendous amount of progress last year, and he was a very good player at the end of the year and certainly showed that in the Sugar Bowl," coach Nick Saban said this week. "I think his confidence and his understanding of how to run certain plays and the best way for him to be the most effective player as a runner -- he just sort of developed an understanding of and a confidence in, and I think he's just gotten better and better.
"When he can stay healthy in practice, he's really effective, and hopefully that will be the case throughout the year."
Henry made his first reception of the season last week, a 29-yarder in the third quarter that gave the Crimson Tide a first-and-goal from Florida's 3-yard line. He ran the ball in on the next play to put the Tide ahead for good at 28-21.
Cooper, Henry and Yeldon were all top-50 national prospects, and none of them have any issues with the attention Sims, a former Crimson Tide tailback, is receiving after his hot start.
"Blake is more comfortable now," Henry said. "He's always been the leader, and he's doing a really great job. I am really proud of him and how much success he's had.
"I know this isn't the end for him and that he'll keep doing better as the season goes on."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.