Slowing down Derrick Henry is a relative concept. The Alabama running back won the Heisman Trophy over the weekend for the precise reason that no defense was able to bottle him up this season. But Ole Miss, the only team to take down the Tide so far, actually did a decent job of limiting his impact back in September.
On the surface, it doesn't appear that the Rebels were particularly successful: Henry ran for 127 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries and his per-carry average was middle of the road as compared to other opponents.
|Opponent||Yds. per carry|
Henry also had a career-high five receptions for 39 yards, as Nick Saban got him involved in the screen game to offset the Rebels' aggressive pass rush.
But Ole Miss limited explosive plays.
Henry is third in the country with 53 carries of at least 10 yards and he's fourth in the country with 16 carries of at least 20 yards. Against the Rebs, a 14-yard run and a 31-yard run were the only times he went over 10. Henry was able to steadily chip away, but he never ripped off any game breakers.
Ole Miss was able to keep him contained for two reasons:
1) The front seven consistently clogged holes and penetrated the backfield, which kept the 242-pound Henry from building downhill momentum. Rebel defenders hit him within three yards of the line of scrimmage on 21 of his 23 carries, oftentimes forcing him to be an east-west runner. Henry is good at a lot of things, but lateral movement isn't one of them.
2) The defense didn't miss many tackles. Henry only had four carries in which he advanced more than three yards from the spot of initial contact, which is incredible for a guy so adept at running through defenders. (The one long gain came after Denzel Nkemdiche missed a tackle near the line of scrimmage.)
Even on the play below -- one of the few examples of Henry being able to hit the second level with a head of steam -- cornerback Kendarius Webster plants him in the open field to keep it to a manageable gain.
For as good as the Landsharks were, the best defense against Henry was the offense.
What makes Henry so damn good is that he gets better the longer the game wears on. A defense can only stand his battering for so long before it starts to give out.
But because the Ole Miss offense was piling on points and forcing Bama to play from a pair of 20-plus second-half deficits, Henry never really got the opportunity to get going late. With the Tide trailing by at least two scores for all but eight minutes of the second half, he carried just 10 times in the third and fourth quarters (for reference, he carried 30 and 25 times in the second halves of the Iron Bowl and SEC Championship, respectively).
It's a good thing, too, because he was clearly starting to wear the Ole Miss defense down. Remember when I said there were only four times when missed tackles let Henry extend runs? All four happened in the second half. Check out how Henry's rushing gains starting picking up down the stretch.
This data excludes Henry's two-yard TD run in the fourth quarter, since the only thing that kept him to two yards was the end zone.
At the end of the day, Henry had plenty of success against Ole Miss, but the Rebel defense managed to prevent any gamebreakers and the offense was able to force the ball out of his hands at a point in the game when he typically takes over.