Notre Dame Football 2018 Mid-Season Awards

A little over half of the 2018 football season has passed, Notre Dame is headed into the bye week undefeated and ranked #4 in the nation. A lot of mid-year All-American teams have been released this week, and it would not be an awards season without the UHND submission. Don’t want to beat around the bush too much, so let’s get right into it.

MVP- Jerry Tillery

Tillery was a first team midseason All-American according to The Athletic, and 2nd team from the AP. Tillery leads the Irish in sacks with seven, is second in tackles for loss with 7.5, and first in forced fumbles with three. He’s been the anchor of a defense that is currently ranked 4th by S&P+, and took over against Stanford with a six tackle, four sack performance that ranks as one of the best from a Notre Dame defensive linemen in recent memory. If he keeps this up over the final five weeks, he will have made himself a lot of money as an NFL prospect.

Julian Love has also been outstanding, but I gave the nod to Tillery based on his huge game against Stanford.

Breakout Player- Ian Book

Book has been a revelation. He’s completely transformed the offense since taking over for Brandon Wimbush in week 4, averaging 39.5 points a game, 474 yards of offense, and 6.3 yards per play. He is currently leading the nation in completion percentage at 75%, and has accounted for 14 touchdowns in his four games as the starter. Most saw him in the preseason as a changeup from Wimbush as more of the passer to his predecessors running ability. Book has been close to the complete package, although he did have a hiccup in the first half against Pitt. He’s taken Notre Dame from a possible double digit win team to a possible playoff team. If anyone tells you they saw THIS coming, well, I just wouldn’t believe it.

Julian Okwara would be second for me just based on his last three weeks, where he morphed into a bonafide game wrecker. This is more about how well Book came in and played, he’s been outstanding.

Most Improved Player(s)- Jalen Elliott and Asmar Bilal

This two players were downright liabilities in 2017 on defense, let alone future playmakers on a top 10 defense. What we’ve seen from them so far in 2018 has been dramatic.

Bilal was 17th on the team in tackles last year with 18 and 1.5 tackles for loss. He is currently 5th in tackles this season, on pace for 69 on the year, and has tallied three tackles for loss. He’s held up much better in coverage this season, something considered to be a weakness of his, and has been disruptive at times in the running game, frequently blowing up plays on the edges and either making the tackle himself or aiding his teammates.

Just ahead of Bilal for the team lead in tackles in Elliott, who started all 13 games last season but what mostly underwhelming in coverage and as a tackler. He finished with 43 tackles in 2017, is on pace for 70 this year, has already broken up five passes this season after just two in 2017, and registered two interceptions after getting none last year.

Top Unit- Defensive Line

This group has been nothing short of elite from the start, with three players playing championship caliber football in Tillery, Okwara, and Khalid Kareem. Daelin Hayes has also been an underrated player against the run, with Ade Ogundeji, Kurt Hinish, and the Ademilola twins flashing in different moments. There is direct correlation between the defensive line putting more pressure on quarterbacks and the secondary making more plays and creating more havoc. This isn’t a secret to anyone who watches football, but it’s nice to see it come to life on the field.

They key to any winning team is a strong defensive line and Notre Dame’s is talented and it is deep. There is no greater indicator of the Irish’s playoff hopes than this unit.

Top Assistant- Clark Lea

This may seem a no-brainer, but Chip Long has really been excellent calling plays this year, people’s distaste for the Pitt game notwithstanding. The team changed quarterbacks and took off, and in the meantime he had to deal with a running unit without it’s clear best player, Dexter Williams, for four games and who’s starter in the opener against Michigan was a former receiver who had never played in a college football game before. So, he’s been really good.

But, the job Lea has done can’t be overstated. They’ve given up 20 points or less in five of the seven games, are currently ranked 4th in the nation in S&P+, and has given up just a single touchdown three times (Michigan, Ball State, Pitt). (Haha, Michigan.) He’s gone up against Don Brown of Michigan, Duane Akina of Stanford, Bud Foster of Virginia Tech, and Pat Narduzzi of Pittsburgh, and come out on top every time. Pretty good for his first coordinator gig.

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  1. Elliott is one of the great improvement stories of recent years. It underlines the importance of:
    Player development.

    And I find “mere” stats to be inadequate in quantifying or measuring his improvement.

    What’s going on now on the roster is a reduced reliance on freshmen. Good. Let them learn by practice and learn by watching successful people demonstrate how it is done.

    Elliott’s idol is Sean Taylor, who I opine was the greatest college safety ever, and yeah I mean better in college than Jack Tatum or Ronnie lott. He did not choose #21 idly.

  2. Top groups also in the running: LBs and CBs

    Coney and Tranquil have been consistently dominant with Bilal most deservedly as the most improved- and Pride and Love have been lock down CBs.
    It’s great to have so many to choose from!

    If the OL improves, there is an outstanding ceiling to be achieved, but it’s very difficult to stay among the elite without dominant OL and DL units.

  3. This is a good list but saying Chip Long has been excellent at play calling is a bit of a stretch. Apparently you also forgot about the play calling in the Ball State game to make Wimbush a pocket passer for the entire first half. I still feel he is lacking in utilizing his players’ strengths in a lot of the aspects of the play calling. I think Ian Book fits perfectly into his play calling style from a passing perspective because he calls a lot of plays to get the ball out quickly. Book is clearly accurate and typically makes good, quick decisions on throwing to the open receiver. However, the run plays have been suspect as some posters have pointed out that they are too obvious and don’t mix them up enough. And then as I have previously mentioned, the 3rd and short and 4th and less than a yard play calls are just mind boggling as well as not running more fades and stretching the field with our massive receivers. When I watch other teams that have receivers that are tall like ours, they actually run 50/50 jump balls in the endzone against man coverage all the time. I specifically remember watching the Miami and Florida State game and them throwing a 10 yard jump ball in the endzone to their 6’5″ receiver which was contested by the DB but the receiver just dropped it. The receiver after the play was mad at himself and even pointed at the coach saying he wanted it again. Richt called the exact same play. Result? TD. Why? Because prob more than 75% of the time this is going to convert as this is a mismatch against a 5’10” DB. I just don’t know why we don’t take advantage of these same types of mismatches. Give me Claypool, Boykin, and Kmet against a 5’10” DB one on one and I exploit that all day!!!

    1. Agreed. I see Chip Long as the beneficiary of abundant talent, not a creative offensive schemer. Needed: more 50/50 balls downfield as you say, misdirection (entirely missing this season except for Book’s throw across the field to Mack against Stanford), and at least one gimmick play a game to keep the defense guessing. I vote for Philly Philly with Avery Davis throwing to Book.

  4. Tillery has shown the consistency to be a first round pick. Plays with NFL style intelligence and never see Him on the deck. Teammates all follow His leadership.

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