Slowing Down the Tide

It is no secret – how to compete with Alabama.

Be physical.

The stats do not lie. Alabama does not beat a team in the first quarter, and rarely in the second. It is the third and fourth quarter when the Crimson Tide’s strength wears down opponents – until they crumble.

It also does not hurt when a Heisman Trophy winner is in the backfield crushing opponents’ will every time he touches the ball.

Alabama running back, Derrick Henry, became the second Heisman Trophy winner in Crimson Tide history after his incredible season, which he galloped into the history books, passing Herschel Walker on the SEC all-time rushing list.

Henry gained 1,986 yards on the ground this season on 339 carries and notched 23 touchdowns.

“Derrick Henry does a great job of making guys miss. If he’s not making them miss, he is doing great job of running them over,” MSU defensive end Shilique Calhoun said.

It is spectacular what Henry can do with the ball. The tailback is extremely versatile with a combination of speed and brute force. Weighing in at 242 pounds, the Spartans have a tall order on their hands.

“They communicate very well. They understand their abilities and they do their jobs well. Say you do get by their line, their tailback does a great job of making up for their mistakes,” Calhoun said.

Only this is not the first time Michigan State will be facing a running back with these attributes.

The Spartan defense shut down Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott and snapped his streak of 15 consecutive 100-yard rushing games in their 17-14 victory over the defending national champs.

Elliott, an athletic bruiser of a tailback, was held to only 33 yards on 12 carries.

Except head coach Nick Saban will not be afraid to let his Heisman winner carry the ball more than 12 times.

The past two games, Henry carried the ball 90 times. In the 29-13 win over Auburn in the Iron Bowl, Henry rushed for 271 yards on 46 touches, averaging almost six yards per carry. The following week in the SEC title game, Henry slashed through the Florida Gators’ defense for 189 yards on 44 carries, gaining just above four yards per rush.

“Their offensive line is great, obviously. They got some skilled players, and their coach is a great game manager,” Spartan linebacker Riley Bullough said.

Bullough continued, “You put all those things together and it is a great makeup for an offense. It’s going to be a tremendous challenge for us.”

Certainly the task of getting by the Crimson Tide is a daunting task – for any team, but not impossible.

“We have confidence in our guys. I think Ohio State had confidence last year, and that’s what helped them. It is no different for us this year, but we also know we’re going to have to play our best game in order to come out with a win,” Bullough said.

It has been two years since Saban and the Tide won a bowl game. There will be extra motivation from the Tide to avoid three in a row, which is exactly what Michigan State tries to accomplish when facing off with Alabama tonight in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic.

“We are about our business. We set a goal, and we set our goals high – the sky’s the limit,” Calhoun said.