Awards season is here!
Players are being named to All-American teams, Brian Kelly is winning Coach of the Year awards, that means it is time for the definitive awards column of the season: the UHND awards extravaganza. It’s always fun to do these after really good seasons, there are a number of candidates for each submission, and the 2018 version was no exception. Tried to mix it up a bit with some fun ones aside from the standard fare of team MVP, offensive and defensive players of the year, etc., just wanted the season to be reflected as a whole. Let’s get to it.
Offensive Play Of The Year
So many candidates here: Dexter’s opening carry against Stanford, his 97 yarder against Virginia Tech, the Wimbush to Finke touchdown against Michigan, amongst many others, but this one stands out for its execution, its timeliness, and overall impact. Book read the play perfectly and knew exactly where to throw the ball, Jones whipped his head around quickly knowing the ball would be on its way (and was so excited he almost looked upfield too soon), and Miles Boykin provided the devastating block to send Jones Jr. on the way to the end zone. It sealed the game, ensured their first ever playoff berth, and prevented me from having a heart attack.
Defensive Play Of The Year
Jalen Elliott Breaks Up 4th And Four Pass Against Vanderbilt
Again, tons to choose from, there are about 10 Alohi Gilman plays that could fit here. But, if Vanderbilt makes this catch, they are very likely going to win the game and there is no playoff berth, no undefeated season, and we are thinking about what could have been. Vandy was set to make the great play, but Elliott stayed with it, landed on the ball and jarred it loose. There are other plays that could have swung the game against Notre Dame had they been made, but this one was the most direct line to a loss among them.
Brandon Wimbush Against Michigan
I think about this game all the time, I just can’t get over it. First, knowing what we know now, if Notre Dame loses this game, there is no playoff berth. They weren’t going to get in with one loss. This game was the season.
Notre Dame was without their first round picks on the offense line, they lost their top two receivers, their top two running backs, and they started a former receiver who had never played a college game to fill in for Dexter Williams. The Irish had no business winning this game with the offense they put out there against this defense. Brian Kelly said afterward, they started Brandon because they weren’t sure what they would get from anyone else. And Wimbush went out there and won the game against the best team Notre Dame saw all season. He made the plays he needed to make with his arm and his legs and he did it knowing without a big game from him the team had no shot. He had to be the offense. And he was.
Dexter Williams’ First Carry Of The Season
First, Dexter is a very easy person to root for. He always seems happy, with a smile on his face, and an easy going character. The type of guy that thinks every joke is funny and will laugh hysterically no matter how good the joke actually is. So that’s fun.
Second, Notre Dame really needed him to be good this year. He was the final piece once we learned Book was going to be really good. The Irish offense couldn’t continue the way they were without some consistent explosiveness at running back. At least they could continue that way and be good. That first carry that went for 45 yards and a touchdown was a revelation: this team had a chance to be really good. Dexter was shot out of a cannon, read his blocks saw the cut back, and exploded upfield like a projectile with a rocket pack attached to him. This was the moment when everything seemed possible for the offense and the team. And it turned out, that possibility was true.
Elliott was not very good at football in 2017. He was a notch below replacement level as a safety. He didn’t have the instincts, wasn’t a playmaker, and missed too many tackles. The conventional wisdom was he needed to be replaced by someone, anyone. A year later, he didn’t just improve, he was very good.
He finished fourth on the team in tackles with 63, was third in passes broken up with six, first in interceptions with four, and ended up with our pick for defensive play of the year. He was part of a back end that ended up 8th in passing defense S&P+. To say this was a remarkable turnaround would be an understatement.
The offense was bad, and then it was good. Everything was the same except for one position, the quarterback. Book was what this team needed on offense and he made everyone better. The runners weren’t just runners, they could be receivers. The receivers weren’t just big bodies, they were playmakers. The tight ends were suddenly receiving threats. Book opened up everything for this team on offense and they are where they are because of the way he played. He mitigated some running game weaknesses of the offensive line and emphasized their ability as pass blockers. Notre Dame was a 9-3 team without him, undefeated with him. Seems pretty valuable to me.
Love played at the highest level week in and week out for a defense that is 4th in S&P+. He’s 8th in the nation in passes broken up with 15 after finishing #1 a year ago, he finished 5th on the team in tackles, obviously first in passes defended, scored the only non-offensive touchdown of the season on a fumble recovery against Virginia Tech, and was as close to lock down at corner as this team gets. An underrated play from him this season was his chase down fumble recovery for a touchback against Vanderbilt where he seemingly comes out of nowhere, jumps on the player, dislodges the ball, and recovers it all in one motion. He’s been doing this his whole career and it’s a joy to watch him play.
He is quite simply the face of the team and their heart and soul. Seeing him go down against Navy with his ankle injury that looked so much worse than that was gut punch. It had the feeling of, this is it, this is the one they can’t recover from.
Tranquill finished third in tackles, fourth in tackles for loss, and fourth in sacks while playing with a broken hand and a pretty seriously injured ankle. He never comes off the field, runs down on special teams, and pretty much does whatever they ask. Being an MVP of a team is more than just raw numbers, it’s about being that teams representative in many ways, and I’d say it’s no coincidence the team went undefeated under his guidance and leadership.