Fournette, Henry to take center stage in LSU-Alabama clash
BATON ROUGE - If indeed it takes one to know one, then LSU's Heisman Trophy front-runner, Leonard Fournette, should have no small measure of credibility when he describes Alabama's Derrick Henry as a supremely punishing power runner.
"If I played defense, I wouldn't want to tackle him," Fournette said. "But that's your job to tackle him, so you have to make a business decision every time you go against him."
The field inside Alabama's Bryant-Denny Stadium could become a rather busy marketplace for those trading in the currency of pain on Saturday night. In addition to the national title implications surrounding the No. 4 Tigers' clash with the seventh-ranked Crimson Tide, the game also will showcase two of the biggest, strongest and most productive running backs in college football.
The 6-foot-1, 230-pound Fournette has been the driving force of LSU's offense. His rushing averaging of 193.1 yards leads the nation. He has scored 15 touchdowns.
In the Southeastern Conference, only Fournette has been more productive than the 6-foot-3, 242-pound Henry, who averages 130.5 yards per game and has scored 14 touchdowns.
And there appears to be mutual respect between them.
Henry said he "probably wouldn't" want to tackle Fournette, either.
"Whew. That's a big boy to bring down ... but he runs the ball the right way," Henry said. "Every week, he brings it."
Some comparisons are natural because both players are big, routinely run over would-be tacklers, gain a lot of yards and score often.
Alabama coach Nick Saban says direct comparisons may be unfair because their bodies are different, as are their running styles, but he speaks glowingly about both.
Saban called Fournette "as dominant as any player in the country in terms of the way he plays and what he's capable of doing as a running back."
"We thought he was a fabulous player in high school, the No. 1 running back in the country," continued Saban, who tried to recruit Fournette. "It's no surprise to me that the guy has developed into one of the premier players in the country and arguably the best running back."
Fournette called the choice between Alabama and LSU "one of the hardest decisions I've made." Henry was a freshman with the Crimson Tide when Fournette chose LSU. He has said his main reasons for staying in Louisiana had to do with family, personal relationships and the desire to be different than players flocking to Tuscaloosa because of the Tide's recent collection of national titles and SEC dominance.
If Alabama emerges once again as the SEC's best, Henry will be a big reason why.
"I don't think you can say enough about the way he's played and how he's shown great competitive character and been very productive, not only in the way he's carried the ball but in pass protection, the things he's done without the ball," Saban said.
Defensive players on both teams are confident they have a good sense of what they'll be up against this week because of their experience practicing against their own battering backs.
"As a linebacker you've got to be ready for that matchup. It's nothing you shy away from," LSU linebacker Kendell Beckwith said. "It's the kind of thing you've got to look forward to and be ready to play. You've got to go out and show what you can do, be confident in what you can do."
Fournette has garnered more attention this season, partly because of his handful of touchdown runs longer than 40 yards - one as long as 87.
A big game against Alabama would consolidate Fournette's position as a Heisman front-runner, while a poor performance could give other candidates an opening. There could be more pressure on Fournette, although he insists he doesn't see it that way.
"I'm not really worried about the Heisman. I'm not focused on me. I understand I'm in a position to win it or whatever, but my whole focus is on a championship right now," Fournette said. "Alabama is another team in the way, and not to mention they're a great team. So, we're focused on them."
Alabama quarterback Jake Coker said Henry deserves more credit that he's getting for the hard yards he's earned.
"He gets overshadowed for sure. The guy is a beast," Coker said. "When you see him run on the field, it's a lot different than seeing him run on TV. Some of those plays, I see him just punish people. I just sit back there and I'm just like, 'Gah, I feel bad for that guy.'"