GAMEDAY: One for the record books

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Derrick Henry runs the ball against Clemson during the CFP National Championship. CW | Layton Dudley

Ben Boynton

The University of Alabama football team has become known for several things. Success is one. Suffocating defense is another. There’s even the reputation for producing NFL talent, but Alabama has also become known for producing powerful running backs. This past season, one that ended in ultimate success in the form of a national championship, Alabama’s Derrick Henry had the most successful season of any Crimson Tide running back ever.

That’s a pretty lofty statement to make, but the stats don’t lie: Henry had a season better than any of his predecessors. That’s nothing to sneeze at, as Alabama has a pretty solid pedigree at the position – from recent stalwarts like Mark Ingram, Eddie Lacy and Trent Richardson to older stars such as Johnny Musso, Bobby Humphrey and Shaun Alexander. However, at the top of the heap, Henry stands as the most successful.

Henry’s numbers are astounding: 359 carries for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns. In terms of raw yardage, it becomes immediately obvious looking at a table of Alabama’s top running backs that Henry won this race by quite a lot, as his closest competitor was 540 yards behind him. Henry also had more touchdowns than any other Bama back ever, with Richardson again placing second with 21 touchdowns in that 2011 season.

Rank      Yards         Name                                    Year              Rank     Yards           Name                                     Year
1 2,219 Derrick Henry 2015 5 1,383 Glen Coffee 2008
2 1,679 Trent Richardson 2011 7 1,367 Shaun Williams 2003
3 1,658 Mark Ingram 2009 8 1,341 Sherman Williams 1994
4 1,471 Bobby Humphrey 1986 9 1,322 Eddie Lacy 2012
5 1,383 Shaun Alexander 1999 10 1,235 T.J. Yeldon 2013

There’s more to consider than just yards amassed. Henry received a staggering 359 carries this season. Based on yards per carry, Henry places seventh in a ranking of the same 10 seasons shown in the first table. However, Henry carried the ball a lot more than any other back on the list. The two closest, Alexander and Sherman Williams, rank below Henry.

Richardson is the only back above 280 carries to have a better yards per carry than Henry, and four of the six in front of Henry carried the ball more than 100 times fewer than Henry did. Those extra carries wear on a player. That is 100 more times that Henry potentially absorbed contact and got hit. That can cause a running back to wear down, become more injury-prone, and generally be less effective later on in a season. That wasn’t the case with Henry, as he carried the ball 146 times in The Crimson Tide’s final four games alone, picking up 693 yards in the Iron Bowl, SEC Championship and two playoff games. In arguably the four biggest games of the season, Henry delivered even when The Crimson Tide called on him repeatedly, and he added seven touchdowns over that span.

Rank     Carries       YPC    Name                        Year              Rank   Carries     YPC     Name                               Year
1 204 6.5 Lacy 2012 5 233 5.9 Coffee 2008
2 236 6.2 Humphrey 1986 7 359 5.6 Henry 2015
3 271 6.1 Ingram 2009 8 280 4.9 Sha. Williams 2003
4 207 6.0 Yeldon 2013 9 302 4.6 Alexander 1999
5 283 5.9 Richardson 2011 9 291 4.6 She. Williams 1994

Henry is one of two Alabama backs to ever win the Heisman Trophy, an award given to the nation’s top college football player, with Ingram being the other. Ingram had a better yards per carry than Henry did, and Ingram also had a lot more of a role in the passing game, with 32 receptions for 334 yards and three touchdowns against Henry’s 11 catches for 91 yards.

However, at the end of the day, football games are decided by point totals, and Henry’s 28 touchdowns far surpass Ingram’s 20. In addition, Henry flat-out dominated defenses in a way that Ingram never could. Ingram was a lethal weapon for Alabama, but Richardson also added 751 yards and eight touchdowns, as well as Roy Upchurch gaining 299 yards, with Terry Grant and Demetrius Goode also earning over 100 yards each. Henry had Kenyan Drake rushing for 408 yards and one touchdown, and Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough added over 100 yards, but Harris and Scarbrough gained a lot of their yardage in games where the outcome had already been decided.

A strong argument can be made for Ingram or even Richardson as the back with the best season in Alabama history. However, Derrick Henry had a truly spectacular season and was truly dominant. How many other teams have a back who could carry 10 times in a clock-killing, 9-minute drive to finish off a then-No. 2 LSU team?

Alabama did, in Derrick Henry.