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Hoonhout: Adams is good, but he won’t win the Heisman

| Saturday, November 4, 2017

Saturday was supposed to be Josh Adams’ day.

With all the hype for “#33Trucking” and the sea of trucker hats in the student section, few expected the junior to be unable to deliver in the opening act of what can be considered Notre Dame’s first-ever Heisman campaign (they didn’t exist in the Tim Brown days).

But even though the No. 3 Irish (8-1) ran for over 300 yards for the fifth-straight game this season, Adams wasn’t part of the equation. After opening with five attempts for 22 yards, the junior appeared shaken up after junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush spun and fumbled the ball in the first quarter. While Notre Dame recovered, Adams didn’t.

Chris Collins | The Observer

Irish junior running back Josh Adams runs past a defender during Notre Dame’s 48-37 victory over Wake Forest on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

After seemingly suffering some sort of injury, Adams did not return. However, while there was speculation as to whether the junior had suffered a back injury or a concussion, Kelly clarified after the game that there was no injury. Because Adams just didn’t feel 100 percent, Kelly elected to sit and protect his running back, trusting that his offense would be able to make up for his absence. Wimbush and Co. responded, of course, and churned out a season-high 710 yards of offense.

Notre Dame’s depth has been the reason why the Irish are firmly entrenched in the playoff conversation. It’s also why Josh Adams won’t win the Heisman.

No Heisman winner besides Jameis Winston has ever sat six fourth quarters in a season. It just doesn’t happen. But with the way the Irish have been blowing out teams this season, it has been a luxury Brian Kelly can afford. And it makes sense.

This year, Notre Dame is built on depth at skill positions on both sides of the ball. It has given the Irish the security to both protect against injuries and also force teams to try and prepare for a variety of different positions. On offense, whether it’s junior Equanimeous St. Brown or sophomores Kevin Stepherson and Chase Claypool on the outside or graduate student Durham Smythe or junior Alize Mack at tight end, Notre Dame has a host of weapons at its disposal.

And in the run game, while Adams has been the bright spot, he’s not the only one. Combining Wimbush’s outstanding ability to run the ball and the other three quality running backs who all have seen time this season, the Irish have been content to let their best player sit when he’s not at his best and handle business.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the decision to sit Adams. Kelly and the Irish are completely warranted in wanting to preserve Adams for games where they might actually need him. But in the context of this weekend, the decision to sit Adams makes the “#33Trucking” campaign, with its hats, hashtags and hype, look ridiculous. Just take a look at what Kelly said on the decision to keep Adams out.

“We were just really cautious with Josh … Josh was really being conservative,” he said. “He was not ruled out of the game other than him just not feeling right. He had a busy week, he made all those hats by himself this week … no, he had a busy week with exams. He was a bit run down this week, he wasn’t feeling himself and so we were really conservative with him in terms of not putting him in the game.

“… [He wasn’t injured], he just wasn’t feeling right. He worked out on the sideline, he just didn’t feel good. And we’re not going to put anybody in a game if they don’t feel [good]. … It’s about balance, coordination, can they protect themselves the right way, and he just didn’t feel 100 percent. And we’re not going to put someone in the game if they just don’t feel 100 percent.”

All the jokes about the hats aside, does this sound like Notre Dame needs Adams the way Penn State needs Saquon Barkley? Are you kidding me?

This Notre Dame team has never been about individuals. To me, that’s why the Heisman campaign seems so hypocritical. On one hand, Josh Adams deserves the recognition with such a great season. But at the rate Notre Dame has been using him, it makes it seem like he’s just a piece of the puzzle, and Saturday just reinforces this. Roll out a huge campaign with a lot of hype and then elect to sit the guy? It just doesn’t add up.

Compare that to the likes of Baker Mayfield, who absolutely put Oklahoma on his back this weekend with 598 passing yards and five touchdowns in a Bedlam shootout win over Oklahoma State. As explosive as Josh Adams has been, I just can’t see an argument in how you compare the two.

In the end, the Heisman goes to the type of player that a team can’t live without. As good as Josh Adams has been, Wake Forest was just another example of why the Irish can — and have — consistently lived without him.

#33TruckStop.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Tobias Hoonhout

Toby is a junior PLS/Economics double major from Smithtown, New York.

Contact Tobias