If there is any consensus about Alabama's performance Saturday night it is that Alabama's running back Derrick Henry is the real deal. He had 147 yards on 13 carries with three touchdowns — career highs for the junior. Henry's performance earned him Southeastern Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors and rightly so.
Of course this didn't come as much of a surprise to anyone who watched No. 2 steamroll opponents over the course of the 2014 season. Running the dang ball, and doing it with Henry, was taken as a given going into the 2015 campaign.
But Henry's success this season — and, in fact, the success of the entire Alabama running game — is dependent on an offensive line that returned just two starters. There is a lot of talent in the trenches but not as much experience as one might prefer. And with the quarterback "controversy" being the major pre-season storyline, it has been tough to get hints on how the brutes up front were progressing.
If there's one thing we've learned over the past few years it is that Mario Cristobal is worth every penny he is being paid. While certainly not error-free, the Tide's offensive line was dominant against the Wisconsin front seven giving Jake Coker that bit of breathing room he needed in his first start. And nowhere moreso than paving the way for the success of the running game.
Derrick Henry's first touchdown against Wisconsin is about as clear example of how good this offensive line can be. Henry gets the glory but it was the effort of the line, and particularly the play of Game Captain Ryan Kelly, that made it happen. Here's a breakdown of the play with arrows to identify Kelly's contribution.
Alabama's first drive against Wisconsin wasn't particularly auspicious. It featured series of short runs and a single pass before ending with a sack. The badgers' defense looked good and a long slog against them seemed likely. The Tide defense then did their part and Alabama got the ball back with 7:55 left in the first quarter.
Lane Kiffin called up a series of packaged pass plays that offered a lot of high percentage targets for Coker. The result was two quick first downs that got the Tide across mid-field. Then Alabama was pushed back on two plays (as well as a declined holding call).
On third down, Coker hit Robert Foster to gain everything back but the last yard to the first down. Even though it was fourth down, Saban and Kiffin didn't hesitate. Alabama went right up to the ball for a run that everyone in the stadium knew was coming.
Alabama lines up in the pistol formation and Wisconsin certainly looks ready with eight in the box. (As always, click the images to embiggen.)
At the snap, center Ryan Kelly (70) immediately engages Wisconsin nose tackle Conor Sheehy (94). To his right, Badger defensive end Chikwe Obasih (34) goes low on Alphonse Taylor (50) who stumbles.
Kelly pushes Sheehy away from the play as Ross Pierschbacher (71) effectively handles the Badger's Arthur Goldberg (94) on the other side. Jake Coker (14) gives the ball to Derrick Henry (2) while Wisconsin junior linebacker Leon Jacobs (32) gets ready to take him on.