The SEC is a gauntlet and no team in the country has had to face the kind of talent that the Florida Gators have this season. When players gather in New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony in December, Florida will likely have faced off against three of those players in attendance.
Jalen Tabor would be quick to remind you that it could have been four.
“You know, we’ve seen Cook, Fournette, Henry, could be the three Heisman finalists. We didn’t even get to see Chubb this year, so that would have been another good running back,” Tabor said. “That’s what you come to the SEC to play for. Good teams breed good competition, great football.”
Florida gave up 180 yards to Leonard Fournette on 31 carries (5.81 yards per carry) in October and just surrendered 183 yards to Dalvin Cook on 26 carries (7.04 yards per carry). The Gators held both running backs under their respective season average in yards per carry, but were unable to shut either down for four quarters.
This week brings another challenge in Derrick Henry, who just broke the Alabama season rushing record last week in the Iron Bowl. Henry looks like the player you created in NCAA Football 2010. He’s 6-3, 240 pounds and moves like a scat back. His dyed blonde dreads fixed together sticking out of his helmet add to the look of a running back that is bigger than life with the nickname “El Tractorcito.”
“I don’t know if fast-moving semi is a good visual,” McElwain said speaking of Henry. “There was a movie one time about this train that was like out of control, going really fast and they had to stop it before it blew up the city, something like that. This guy, he’s fun to watch and they use him really well.”
They used him like a battering ram last week against Auburn. Henry carried the ball 46 times for 271 yards — a season high in both categories. Following the game Nick Saban admitted that Henry got the ball a little more than Alabama would have liked him to do, but Henry is built for this. He’s a throwback player and maybe the best player Florida will face all season long.
Each of the three Heisman hopeful running backs brought something different to the table. Cook is the speedster of the group and Florida State likes to get him on the edge, something they found success with in the fourth quarter last week. Fournette is a complete back, size, speed, and physicality, vision — the complete package. Henry is a bigger version of Fournette. You won’t bring him down on your own, and there certainly won’t be any arm tackles on Saturday when he has the football.
That’s a big body coming towards you. I think with big backs like that, you’ve just got to wrap up and get a hat to the ball,” senior defensive lineman Jon Bullard said. “Everybody do their part; everybody run to the ball every play. It’s going to be a good effort on our part of trying to get him down.”
Henry is 203 yards away from being the 25th running back in NCAA football history to eclipse the 2,000 yard mark in a single season. With at least two more games on the schedule (and possibly three with a playoff berth available) Henry will reach that milestone. The Gators just hope that he doesn’t do it Saturday in Atlanta.
“ He’s the real deal,” McElwain said. “Hopefully we’re not just a speed bump in the road.”