It’s been awhile since the college football world has seen this version of Derrick Henry.

A freak of a running back, he flexes a rare combination of brute strength and explosiveness with his 6-foot-3, 245-pound frame.

Lauded as a darkhorse Heisman candidate coming into his sophomore season thanks to a memorable performance in last year’s Sugar Bowl, Henry caught fire down the stretch, averaging 7 yards per carry during the final month including Saturday’s career-best outing in the SEC Championship Game.

The venomous second option in a loaded Alabama backfield brought the pain in the fourth quarter, managing 88 of his 141 yards rushing on six carries against a winded Mizzou defense in need of stops.

Henry’s 45-yard burst to the 1 midway through the frame set up the Crimson Tide’s final touchdown and exemplified just how far the Tigers were from stopping Alabama’s balanced attack. Forced to make up for the loss of Shane Ray’s production following his first-half ejection, edge rusher Markus Golden — who played nearly every snap — tried to lay a hand on Henry, who was just out of reach.

Henry galloped 20 more yards to the 5 after Golden’s near-miss before being tackled from behind. After Henry took it in on the ensuing play, Lane Kiffin pumped his fist from the sideline with playsheet in hand while Nick Saban delivered his usual clap.

Kiffin’s been the lead puppeteer during Alabama’s eight-game winning streak heading into the College Football Playoff, pulling the proper strings on an offense loaded with weapons. Henry has carried the football 31 less times than T.J. Yeldon this season, but his production’s comparable (5.4 YPC to 5.2; 754 rushing yards to 885 yards).

With Yeldon probably nearing the end of his career as an early NFL exit, Alabama’s running game will begin with Henry next fall. There’s still one — possibly two — games remaining this season, however, and Henry’s confidence level continues to rise.