Henry’s not quite Herschel, but Bama’s still great
These short takes are presented as a companion to the SEC Championship game column, which can be found here. Alabama beat Florida, 29-15. It wasn’t that close. It wasn’t close at all.
1. Derrick Henry broke Herschel Walker’s SEC single-season rushing record, but Henry isn’t quite Herschel Walker. That’s no sin. To these eyes, Herschel was the greatest player in the history of college football. And Henry did need 13 games to break a mark Herschel set in 11 games in 1981, his sophomore season. (For reasons that never made a lick of sense, bowl stats weren’t counted back then.) But Henry is terrific in his own right. He didn’t really run wild Saturday — he gained 189 yards on 44 carries, which is 4.3 yards per tote — but he kept pounding against a good defense that had to spend far too much time on the field. (Alabama held the ball for 43 1/2 minutes. A game lasts 60 minutes.) Henry should win the Heisman Trophy, which Herschel did not do in his sophomore year. (Did as a junior, though.)
2. It’s unclear whether this is one of Nick Saban’s very best Alabama teams, but it’s clearly one of his favorites. The curmudgeonly coach has a soft spot for this edition of the Crimson Tide, and much of that has to do with how Bama started. It fell at home to Ole Miss on Sept. 19, leading some to predict that this was the twilight of the great Saban’s reign. His team hasn’t lost since. The 38-10 deconstruction of Georgia in Athens on Oct. 3 was the pivot point, and much of what happened that day was repeated in the Dome on Saturday. Bama blocked a punt for points. Henry ran hard and well. Jake Coker made sound decisions. Freshman Calvin Ridley made a big catch. The defense dropped the hammer. Bama might not be the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff — then again, it might — but it’s probably the team to beat.
3. Florida just wasn’t ready for this. That’s no sin, either. This time a year ago, the Gators had just hired Jim McElwain to replace Will Muschamp. They have no offense — they ranked 104th among FBS teams in yardage entering this game, and with six minutes to play they had 81 yards and three first downs — and they can’t kick a field goal to save their lives, but the defense did splendid work and McElwain’s calming presence enabled Florida to claim the SEC East. Not that the East was very good this year; to be frank, it was the worst it has ever been. But the Gators figure to get better fast. The rest of this tepid division has been put on notice.