Vorel: Time for Notre Dame RB Josh Adams to receive the national recognition he deserves

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Josh Adams deserves better.

Brian Kelly has a point.

“He's a stud,” Notre Dame’s eighth-year head coach said last Saturday, after his junior running back needed just eight carries to gobble up 159 yards and two touchdowns in a 52-17 win over Miami (Ohio).

“I mean, look,” Kelly continued, “(running back Saquon) Barkley is a great player at Penn State, but you know, Josh has got to start to get some kind of national recognition for the kind of season that he's having.”

He’s right. But to the national media masses, bring it in. Let’s hug it out.

Like Will and Sean at the end of “Good Will Hunting,” say it with me: It’s not your fault.

After all, it’s not like Notre Dame launched a website with the specific purpose of drumming up Heisman Trophy support for Adams, as Stanford did for running back Christian McCaffrey in 2015.

It’s not like Adams squats 495 pounds, like Barkley does, and the accompanying video proof seeps into every crack and crevice of social media.

Notre Dame certainly wasn’t considered a preseason College Football Playoff front-runner, like Penn State was, saddled with a No. 6 AP ranking and a searing national spotlight.

And, remember: when the Irish did steal that spotlight, they squandered it. Adams mustered just 53 rushing yards and Notre Dame fell at home to Georgia 20-19 on Sept. 9.

Maybe part of it is the aesthetic. Notre Dame boasts a dominant offensive line, which earns and deserves a large chunk of the credit. Behind it, Adams runs upright, more violent than graceful, like an angry ostrich tearing through tall grasses (or feeble arm tackles in the open field).

Heck, a restless number of ND fans hesitate to anoint Adams the best running back on his own team. Support for fellow junior Dexter Williams, who is averaging 10.7 yards per carry in limited action, remains steadfast.

But here’s the most obvious reason Adams has yet to be smothered with nationwide recognition: He doesn’t want it. Seriously. Unlike his stance towards footballs, he’d prefer you give it to someone else.

"Anybody can run the ball, especially behind this fantastic offensive line," Adams insisted on Wednesday.

Adams — a 6-foot-2, 225-pound junior — doesn’t have a Twitter account, and he stiff-arms controversial questions like they’re unfortunate cornerbacks near the goal line. He doesn’t celebrate big plays with elaborate celebrations, nor does he care to accept the credit that should accompany his growing list of accomplishments.

He doesn’t want your attention.

But he deserves it.

Because of the numbers, and everything else.

In 30 career games, the Warrington, Pa., native has rushed for 2,426 yards and 15 touchdowns, averaging a smoldering 6.97 yards per carry. If he retired tomorrow, Adams would finish second in school history in career yards per carry, behind only Reggie Brooks (7.6).

Adams’ 835 rushing yards in 2015 are the most by any freshman in program history. He’s also the only Irish running back to eclipse 800 rushing yards in each of his first two seasons.

The single longest run in Notre Dame Stadium history — a 98-yard gallop against Mike Elko’s Wake Forest defense in 2015 — belongs to Adams. Who else?

In 73 carries this season, the true junior has amassed 658 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 9.01 yards per carry. At this clip, he’s on pace to claim school records for rushing yards per game in a season (130.6 by Vagas Ferguson in 1979) and yards per carry in a season (8.1 by George Gipp in 1920).

He’s also on pace to destroy Ferguson’s single-season rushing record … while finishing with 126 fewer carries.

Through five games, Adams has amassed five rushes of 50 yards or more, a feat that has only been accomplished by three entire FBS teams.

He ranks fourth nationally in rushing yards … despite the fact that he has fewer carries than anybody else in the top 14.

He ranks seventh in rushing yards per game (131.6) … despite the fact that he has not played in six of his team’s 20 quarters (30 percent).

But enough numbers. What about leadership?

Adams is the only junior captain on his team. Check.

Enough about leadership. What about toughness?

In two and a half years at Notre Dame, Adams has yet to miss a game. That’s despite a hamstring injury that lingered throughout much of his sophomore season and a “cranky ankle” — those are Kelly’s words, not mine — that has nagged him early this year, too.

Enough about toughness. You’re still not convinced?

Check out a few of Adams’ references.

“I think (Adams) will probably go down as one of the great running backs of this school, and that's probably saying a lot,” Temple coach Geoff Collins said after Adams ran for 161 yards and two touchdowns on Sept. 2.

“He would have had 350 (yards) if he played in the second half,” Miami head coach Chuck Martin marveled last weekend. “He could have set some records today.”

Turns out, Adams already has his fair share of records, and he’s got all the attention he needs.

Maybe he isn’t a better player than Barkley, or, for that matter, Stanford running back Bryce Love.

Or, maybe his best work is still ahead.

After all, North Carolina (1-4) — which hosts Notre Dame on Saturday — ranks 113th in rushing defense (221.8 yards per game) and 109th in opponent yards per carry (4.97). In five games, the Tar Heels have allowed five rushes of 30 yards or more.

Maybe I don’t need to convince you that Adams deserves a steady spotlight.

Maybe, all you need to do is turn on the game and see for yourself.


Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame's Josh Adams (33) celebrates a touchdown with teammates during the Notre Dame-Temple NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN