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Florida has faced good backs, but ‘Bama’s Derrick Henry may be the best

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Want to know who ought to vote for the Heisman?

Antonio Morrison, that’s who.

And Jon Bullard. And Keanu Neal. And Vernon Hargreaves. And Bryan Cox Jr. And all the rest of the Florida Gators.

In the year of the running back, it all went through them. Leonard Fournette. Then Dalvin Cook. Now Derrick Henry. Think about it: If Georgia’s Nick Chubb hadn’t been injured, the Gators would have faced the first-, second- and fifth-rated running backs in the nation. (They’ve also played against New Mexico State’s Larry Rose, who is eighth, and three others who are in the top 40).

But it is Henry, the University of Alabama tailback, who might be the best of them all.

Stopping Henry is the No. 1 goal for the Florida defense in Saturday’s SEC Championship game. Alabama’s Nick Saban is still a conservative at heart, and you get the idea he’d like nothing better than to hand it to Henry 50 times if it meant winning the game. It’s the punch-in-the-mouth of a great football team.

Even though Florida has the nation’s fifth-rated defense overall and the eighth against the run, both Fournette and Cook had success against them. Fournette rushed for 180 yards and two touchdowns. Cook had 33 yards after three quarters, but as the Gators’ defense wore down, he finished with 183 yards and two scores. Not coincidentally, those are the only two teams to beat Florida this year.

So the challenge is simple. The Gators have to contain Henry. They have to force the game into the hands of Jacob Coker.

Still, for Florida to have a ghost of a chance, quarterback Treon Harris would have to play the game of his life. Considering how the Gators’ offense has sputtered for the last month, that’s not likely to happen

Prediction: Alabama 31, Florida 7.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit [email protected]

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