TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Before 2009, when Mark Ingram Jr. made one of the greatest and most heartfelt acceptance speeches in the history of the Heisman Trophy, the “H” word was one that University of Alabama fans didn’t use too much.
“At Alabama, our players do not win Heisman Trophies,” Paul W. “Bear” Bryant famously said. “Our teams win national championships.”
Times change. The Crimson Tide now wins both.
Alabama’s landed two in the past 10 years. Ingram and Derrick Henry are the only non-quarterbacks to win during that span, and sophomore Tua Tagovailoa is vying to become the first Crimson Tide quarterback to take home the game’s most prestigious individual award.
But Alabama doesn’t have a player who should be going to New York as a finalist.
It has two.
Nose tackle Quinnen Williams has been that good for the Alabama defense.
We’re 10 weeks into the regular season, byes included, and it’s already painfully obvious that not only does Alabama have the best offensive player in the game, but the top one on the other side as well.
Even his own teammates are in awe of what he’s been doing
“We’re glad we’ve got him on our team and not on the other team,” junior tight end Irv Smith Jr. said. “He’s making a play just about every play. So, it’s awesome just seeing what he’s doing out there.”
The most telling quotes about Williams may have come from teammate Jonah Williams, who might be his biggest competition for this year’s Outland Trophy for best interior lineman. Not only did the left tackle say “we’re honestly a little relieved as an O-line that we’re like, ‘OK, no one else can block him either,” but he called him a “300-pound bar of soap.”
CBS mentioned both comments during its broadcast of No. 1 Alabama at No. 3 LSU showdown, college football’s highest-rated game so far this season. Just about every national writer was in attendance when Q tallied 10 tackles, 3.5 stops for loss and 2.5 sacks during the 29-0 shutout at Death Valley.
It was reminiscent of Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh’s jaw-dropping performance in the 2009 Big 12 championship game. Although the Cornhuskers lost 13-12 he had a career-high 12 tackles, 4½ sacks and a school-record seven tackles for loss against No. 3 Texas. Longhorns coach Mack Brown was quoted after the game as saying his offense simply couldn't block him.
That performance was enough to get Suh to New York as a Heisman finalist. He finished fourth in the balloting, just behind the guy he had been terrorizing at Texas, Colt McCoy (who a few weeks later was knocked out of the title game by Marcell Dareus), and ahead of previous winner Tim Tebow. Ingram ended up winning, edging Stanford running back Toby Gerhart in the closest voting in the award’s history.
Williams has been the most disruptive defensive tackle in college football during a year that will be forever known for its outstanding defensive linemen. Last week he was named the national defensive player of the week by the Walter Camp Foundation, the Chuck Bednarik Award (Maxwell Club) and the Bronko Nagurski Award (Charlotte Football Cub).
He has a good chance of eventually winning one or two of those season awards, especially since he played his best game on such a big stage.
“It’s cool,” he said of all the attention. “It’s not a distraction to me right now, but it’s cool to have my parents and my grandmother to be proud of me and watch stuff. But I really don’t look at it. I make sure I’m focused on my team, focused on the defense itself and just focused on what we have at stake. We’ve got a lot of games left, so I want to finish the season out like we started the season. I don’t want to fall off on what I’m listening about the NFL and all this stuff like that. I
“If my head is straight, everybody else around me head is straight. I don’t want to get cocky or complacent or anything like that.”
Although Williams doesn’t have ideal size for his position, Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com lists him fifth on his draft big board.
That’s remarkable since heading into this year Williams was considered the question mark of the line, playing between Isaiah Buggs Raekwon Davis. Now all three could be selected in the first two rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft.
During this week's episode of the Instinctive Scouting Podcast, two-time NFL general manager Scot McCloughan argued that the talent and depth along Alabama's defensive line is better than half of those in the NFL.
So Williams has a signature moment, and an MVP-type presence on the No. 1 team in the nation — two things often mentioned as Heisman voting criteria. But the sophomore won’t win the award no matter what he does the rest of the season.
His numbers aren’t good enough. Williams has been credited with 43 tackles, including 12 for a loss and four sacks, and notched a safety. He’s not the leading candidate on his own team. Plus, for some idiotic reason a lot voters just won’t cast a ballot for a defensive player.
In 1980, Hugh Green won the Walter Camp, Maxwell and Lombardi awards, and finished second for the Heisman to South Carolina running back George Rogers. As a senior, the Pitt linebacker had 123 tackles, 17 sacks, seven forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and 17 quarterback hurries.
Consequently, Charles Woodson in 1997 remains the lone defensive winner, but he also returned punts and occasionally played wide receiver. Williams would love to catch a touchdown pass like Da’Ron Payne did against Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal Sugar Bowl, only Alabama hasn’t used its defensive linemen as goal-line fullbacks this season.
Imagine what Williams could do if he stuck around for two years. Even if he returned for only one part of the offseason narrative will be about his potential and could he reach similar status to the likes of Bruce Smith, Reggie White, Jerome Brown and Alan Page.
It’s time for his name to be in the Heisman discussion.