Notre Dame wins Joe Moore Award honoring nation's premier offensive line

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

The newest addition to Notre Dame's offensive line room weighs a little more than 350 pounds.

It's not a player.

It's a trophy.

On Tuesday, the Irish offensive line was named the 2017 recipient of the Joe Moore Award, which honors the premier offensive front in college football. Notre Dame beat out fellow finalists Alabama and Auburn for the prize.

“The thing voters felt separated Notre Dame’s O-line this year from the other deserving units was their technique and how they consistently finished their blocks,” Cole Cubelic, SEC Network Sideline Analyst and Chairman of the Joe Moore Award voting committee, said in a statement.

“As impressive as the other finalists and semi-finalists were, no one consistently finished blocks in 2017 like Notre Dame, and that really seemed to make the difference this year in the eyes of the voters.”

The Joe Moore Award voting committee judges eligible candidates with a criteria of six traits: toughness, effort, teamwork, consistency, technique and the ability and willingness to finish plays.

That aforementioned committee is comprised of "college football experts, especially people who played or coached the offensive line position, including all of the current offensive line coaches at the Division I/FBS level as well as former players, coaches, colleagues of coach Moore and select media," according to the award's official website.

In a 9-3 regular season, No. 14 Notre Dame's offensive line — guided by position coach Harry Hiestand — finished seventh nationally in rushing offense, averaging 279.1 rushing yards and 6.4 yards per carry. The Irish piled up 26 rushes of 30 yards or more, ranking second behind only Arizona (28).

Moreover, Notre Dame leads the nation in in rushing touchdowns (nine) and ranks third in rushing yards (877) against Associated Press top-25 opponents. The Irish also lead the nation in rushing yards (2,253) and rank second in rushing touchdowns (23) in games against FBS programs with winning records.

The Irish are the only FBS team with at least 2,000 rushing yards and at least 20 rushing touchdowns this against FBS opponents with a winning record.

Notre Dame left guard Quenton Nelson — a 6-5, 330-pound native of Holmdel, N.J. — is a big reason why. The senior was recently named the program's first unanimous All-American since linebacker Manti Te'o in 2012, and was one of three finalists for the Outland Trophy. His partner on the left side, graduate student left tackle Mike McGlinchey, earned consensus All-American honors.

Nelson and McGlinchey are the first pair of offensive line teammates to be named first-team All-Americans in the same season by the Football Writers Association of America, which has been publishing All-America teams since 1944.

Notre Dame's six primary contributors on the offensive line this season — McGlinchey, Nelson, senior center Sam Mustipher, senior right guard Alex Bars, sophomore right tackle Tommy Kraemer and freshman right tackle Robert Hainsey — own a combined 135 career starts entering the Citrus Bowl against No. 16 LSU on Jan. 1.

Mustipher, Bars, Kraemer and Hainsey are all expected to return next season.

They'll do so under the leadership of Hiestand, Notre Dame's sixth-year offensive line coach. The Malvern, Pa., native has coached the offensive line at the college or professional level for 28 consecutive years.

Hiestand continues a Notre Dame offensive line coaching lineage that was solidified, in many ways, by Moore. The award's namesake served as the Irish offensive line coach under head coach Lou Holtz from 1988 to 1996.

Now, Moore's name and face are etched on the award's more-than-350-pound bronze trophy, which arrived in South Bend this week.

It will take a cohesive unit to lift it, which shouldn't be a problem at Notre Dame.

Notre Dame lines up against Stanford defenders during the Notre Dame-Stanford NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017, at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN