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Containing ‘elite’ RB Derrick Henry in Iron Bowl no easy task for Auburn

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Alabama running back Derrick Henry (2) carries the ball for a first down as he is tripped up by Charleston Southern linebacker Zack Johnson (22) during the first half of an NCAA football game, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Alabama running back Derrick Henry (2) carries the ball for a first down as he is tripped up by Charleston Southern linebacker Zack Johnson (22) during the first half of an NCAA football game, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill) AP

Alabama running back Derrick Henry has shredded opposing defenses this year at a record-setting pace.

Auburn is hoping to avoid a similar fate Saturday against a back rushing his way towards a Heisman Trophy. The only conference opponent to hold Henry to less than 100 yards this season is Arkansas.

“He's an elite player, he's an elite talent, and we've certainly got our work cut out for us,” Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said.

The junior has 1,563 yards for an average of 6.1 yards per carry with FBS-leading 21 touchdowns.

Henry is two touchdowns away from the SEC’s single-season touchdown record (23) shared by Tim Tebow and Auburn alum Tre Mason. The running back has the longest active streak in the country of 16 straight games with a touchdown.

The last time Auburn faced a similarly talented rusher in LSU’s Leonard Fournette the defense allowed him to run for 228 yards with three touchdowns and allowed more than 400 total yards on the ground.

Auburn linebacker Kris Frost dismissed comparisons between the games. The senior, who is preparing for his fourth Iron Bowl, has seen a tremendous amount of improvement from the group since week three.

“We’re definitely a better defense now than we were back at the beginning of the season,” Auburn linebacker Kris Frost said. “That doesn’t take anything away from the fact of it’s going to be a challenge for us obviously. They’re a great team. They have a great offensive line up front and they have a great running back in Derrick Henry, so we’re going to have to throw a lot of things at him and do everything we can to keep him contained.”

Muschamp stressed the importance of tackling in his session with reporters Sunday night and for good reason — seventy percent of Henry’s yards have come after first contact.

Henry’s ability to break tackles and get in the open field makes him a threat to score on every play. He has 13 runs for 20-yards or more this season and eight have gone for touchdowns.

“He doesn’t need too much of an opening,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “He has a lot of explosive plays. He can finish. He gets to the second level and he’s a finisher. He’s not going down real easy when he gets to the second level. He’s one of the best in the country.”

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

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