ATHENS -- Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt knows Alabama well.
Because he was a member of the Alabama staff from 2007 to 2012, he knows Nick Saban, he knows Kirby Smart, he knows a lot of the players and other members of the Alabama staff who have made Saban’s team a dynasty for much of the past decade.
But maybe more importantly, he knows Alabama junior running back Derrick Henry, and he knows him well. Pruitt was Henry’s main recruiter for the Crimson Tide and a big reason the back committed over a list of schools that included Georgia.
“I regret recruiting a lot of them,” Pruitt joked.
Pruitt went on to talk about how his job as a college coach is to make sure players end up at the right place for them and that you “can’t sign them all.”
But the fact remains that Henry, once one of Pruitt’s biggest grabs at Alabama, will now be one of his biggest pains in one of the biggest games of his Georgia career.
Of course, the threat goes well beyond just Henry. Alabama, much like Georgia, has its own two-headed running back attack with Henry and senior Kenyan Drake with Henry the big, physical back and Drake the versatile speed back.
Alabama is the 45th-ranked rushing offense in the country with more than 200 yards per game. Of the teams on Georgia’s schedule, only Tennessee and Georgia Tech, an option team, average more yards per game.
“It’s definitely a big test for us as a defense,” senior outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “They’ve got a strong running game, they’ve got some big linemen, and they’ve got some offensive threats that are really dangerous if you don’t play the right defense.”
Alone, each back poses his own unique set of challenges.
At 6-foot-3, 241 pounds, Henry is a behemoth for a running back. His size makes him difficult to tackle, and he still has the speed to break off big runs. Georgia sophomore corner Aaron Davis compared him to Jalen Hurd, the 6-4, 240-pound Tennessee back who ran for 119 yards in a near victory against Georgia last year.
“They (big running backs) bring a more physical aspect,” Georgia senior nose tackle Chris Mayes said. “You have to hit them more lower than up top to bring him down so you stop his leg drive and you get him from there.”
Even if Georgia can find a way to bottle up Henry, Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin can just opt for Drake. Drake’s skillset includes speed and agility, as Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. Beyond that, Drake is also a versatile player who has 139 yards on seven receptions to go with his 215 rushing yards. That versatility has drawn comparisons to another player Georgia is familiar with.
“Kenyan can play a lot of things,” Pruitt said. “He’s a lot like Sony (Michel). He could be one of the best DBs if they turned him around and played him at DB. But he can play wide receiver.”
While each back is a formidable opponent capable of carrying the load for Alabama, the adage is that two is better than one, and that’s where Kiffin can really gash teams, by using both backs at the same time and switching them in and out to create the best matchups.
“When they put them in the game at the same time, you better know where they’re at, at all times,” Pruitt said. “They’re two really talented guys.”
As Georgia seinor inside linebacker Jake Ganus put it, that’s a tough thing to replicate using the scout teams during the week.
“We’d have to have Nick (Chubb) and Sony and Keith (Marshall) run against us every play,” Ganus said.
But the fact that Georgia has Chubb, Michel and Marshall does mean that preseason practices gave the Georgia defense a glimpse of what the Alabama rushing attack could look like.
“In a sense, we kind of have the same thing because we’re used to going against Chubb and Sony,” Mayes said. “I feel like those two switching in and out, I feel like that gives us the same simulation aspect, in a sense. I feel like I’m used to that.”