Best Individual Performances of the 2018-19 College Football Season

Jonathan Taylor's shredding of Purdue was the most impressive effort in a season full of them

Heisman Trophy finalists — and should-have-been finalists — provided some of the most memorable moments of the 2018 college football season.

 

The campaign kicked off with some outstanding performances; tone-setters like Trayveon Williams rushing for 240 yards, a mark he'd just about bookend in bowl season. Some, like Memphis running back Darrell Henderson, began on historic paces. And when the calendar turned to 2019, the efforts of postseason stars like Justyn Ross and Josh Allen closed the year in style.

 

Honorable Mention

 

Stanford WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside vs. San Diego State, Aug. 31

6 receptions, 226 yards, 3 touchdowns

 

NC State RB Reggie Gallaspy at North Carolina, Nov. 24

27 carries, 129 yards, 5 touchdowns

 

Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins Jr. vs. Michigan, Nov. 24

20-of-31 passing, 396 yards, 6 touchdowns; 7 carries, 34 yards

 

Memphis RB Darrell Henderson vs. Navy, Sept. 14

13 carries, 212 yards, 3 touchdowns

 

Alabama QB Jalen Hurts vs. Georgia, Dec. 1 (SEC Championship Game)

7-of-9 passing, 82 yards, 1 touchdown; 5 carries, 28 yards, 1 touchdown

 

UCLA LB/DE Keisean Lucier-South at Cal, Oct. 13

6 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception, 1 touchdown (scoop-and-score)

 

UCF QB McKenzie Milton at FAU, Sept. 21

21-of-32 passing, 306 yards, 3 touchdowns; 13 carries, 81 yards, 3 touchdowns

 

Purdue WR Rondale Moore vs. Ohio State, Oct. 20

12 receptions, 170 yards, 2 touchdowns

 

Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray vs. Texas, Oct. 6

19-26 passing, 304 yards, 4 touchdowns (1 interception); 11 carries, 92 yards, 1 touchdown

 

Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray at West Virginia, Nov. 23

20-of-27 passing, 364 yards, 3 touchdowns (1 interception); 9 carries, 114 yards, 1 touchdown

 

Appalachian State QB Zac Thomas at Charlotte, Sept. 8

14-of-14 passing, 295 yards, 3 touchdowns; 8 carries, 29 yards, 1 touchdown

 

18. Washington LB Ben Burr-Kirven vs. Arizona State — Sept. 22

The nation's leading tackler roamed fields with all the singular focus of a Terminator seeking Sarah Connor. He was at his most destructive in Washington's early-season defeat of Arizona State, racking up a year's best 20 tackles. In addition, the ball-hawking Burr-Kirven forced two fumbles and recovered one.

 

17. Charlotte LB Juwan Foggie vs. Southern Miss — Oct. 27

The former wide receiver showed he can still catch the ball quite effectively, playing a critical role in Charlotte's 20-17 defeat of Southern Miss in Conference USA play. Foggie intercepted two passes in the 49ers' win, one of which he returned 79 yards for a touchdown.

 

Foggie added six tackles, including one for a loss, to go with his highlight-reel moment.

 

16. Louisiana Tech DE Jaylon Ferguson at North Texas — Sept. 29

Any question that Ferguson has NFL credentials, one need look no further than his dominance at North Texas. Louisiana Tech slowed the prolific Mean Green offense en route to an upset win, with Ferguson setting the tone. He recorded four sacks and a pair of quarterback hurries, resulting in North Texas quarterback Mason Fine playing one of his least effective games in his standout career.

 

15. Texas A&M RB Trayveon Williams vs. NC State — Dec. 31 (Gator Bowl)

In what was somewhat quietly one of the best individual seasons of 2018, Williams saved the best for last.

 

Williams — who rushed for more than 200 yards twice previously on the year, and had a three-touchdown game prior to the Gator Bowl — bombarded NC State with an onslaught for which it had no answer. He matched his high of three rushing touchdowns, and although his 236 yards fell a shade below the 240 he rolled up on FCS opponent Northwestern State, Williams' average of 12.4 yards per carry marked a season high.

 

14. Ole Miss QB Jordan Ta'amu at Arkansas — Oct. 13

A team going over 500 yards of total offense is a remarkable accomplishment. Ta'amu did it all by himself to lead Ole Miss in a rollicking, come-from-behind win over Arkansas this past October. Ta'amu completed 26-of-35 pass attempts for 387 yards, with another 141 rushing yards.

 

13. Northern Illinois DE Sutton Smith at Western Michigan — Nov. 20

Smith came into the 2018 season already well established as one of college football's most fearsome pass rushers — he led the nation in sacks in 2017, after all. No amount of prior warning could have prepared Western Michigan for what Smith was set to unleash in their late-season meeting, however.

 

Smith went off for a season-high four sacks with five tackles for a loss, and ran back a fumble 85 yards for a touchdown. Northern Illinois lost, but this performance stands out as the crown jewel in Smith's All-American campaign.

 

12. Kentucky LB Josh Allen vs. Penn State — Jan. 1 (Citrus Bowl)

At the heart of Kentucky's breakout 2018 was its defense. And the soul of the Wildcats D was Allen. To that end, it's only right that the consensus All-American put an exclamation mark on Kentucky's season with a stellar individual showing.

 

Allen sacked Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley three times in Kentucky's thrilling, 27-24 Citrus Bowl win. He also came through with a blocked field goal that proved to be a difference-maker when the final horn sounded.

 

11. Colorado WR Laviska Shenault Jr. at Nebraska — Sept. 8

Although he was slowed by injury midway through the season, Shenault looked the part of Heisman Trophy candidate throughout the first half of the 2018 season. His best showing came early on in a renewed rivalry with Nebraska.

 

The versatile Shenault scored a touchdown both via reception and rush. As important as his scores were, Shenault was also there for some critical, first-down converting plays in Colorado's comeback win. Forty of his 177 yards receiving came on the touchdown grab, which doubles as one of the most spectacular plays of the 2018 season.

 

 

10. Clemson WR Justyn Ross in the College Football Playoff — Dec. 29, Jan. 7

Quarterback Trevor Lawrence left the College Football Playoff the national star of Clemson's championship run, but the freshman signal-caller could not have done it without a spectacular freshman hauling in passes.

 

Ross went for 148 receiving yards and two touchdowns to key Clemson's Cotton Bowl rout of Notre Dame. His encore was one of the most dazzling individual showings against an Alabama defense ever, as he hauled in 153 yards — almost all of which came in jaw-dropping fashion. Not since Scipio Africanus at the Battle of Zama had anyone so effectively taken down a herd of elephants.

 

9. Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins Jr. at Maryland — Nov. 17

Haskins may very well have booked his ticket to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony with his showing in Maryland. Haskins led the Buckeyes on a comeback from down two touchdowns in the second half, scoring five of his six touchdowns after the deficit.

 

Remarkably, the Maryland game was the first of two straight in which Haskins scored six touchdowns. The other — included above in Honorable Mention — might well deserve to sit ahead of this performance. But considering the stakes, with Ohio State falling behind and the prospect of losing the Big Ten with a loss, this showing wins out. What's more, Haskins had to outduel another player in the same contest, who put forth one of the season's most iconic games.

 

8. Maryland RB Anthony McFarland vs. Ohio State — Nov. 17

Had Maryland completed its upset bid of Ohio State, running back McFarland would have been the talk of college football. He gashed the Ohio State defense for 298 rushing yards on just 21 carries, including two touchdowns. One was a 75-yarder, the other, 81 yards.

 

7. West Virginia QB Will Grier vs. Oklahoma — Nov. 23

Much like Anthony McFarland against Ohio State, Grier's performance against Oklahoma might fall by the wayside due to the result. But Grier did everything in his power to shake up the college football landscape on Black Friday, going stat-for-stat with Heisman winner, Kyler Murray.

 

Grier erupted for 539 passing yards and four touchdowns without an interception in the wild back-and-forth affair. And although hardly the most prolific ball-carrier, Grier added a fifth touchdown on the ground.

 

6. Memphis RB Darrell Henderson vs. UCF — Dec. 1 (AAC Championship Game)

In the latest instance of Heisman voters badly snubbing the best the Group of 5 has to offer, Henderson finished 2018 just as strong as he started. The nation's leading rusher through the first month, it seemed improbable Henderson could maintain his almost 15 yards per carry average; and he didn't.

 

But on the Tigers' biggest stage of 2018, in what proved to be his final game, Henderson came awfully close. He finished with 13.1 yards per attempt for 211 in total and scored three times on the ground. Henderson also added another impressive highlight to his portfolio by throwing a touchdown pass.

 

5. Washington State QB Gardner Minshew vs. Arizona — Nov. 17

The air-raid offense has a distinguished history of cultivating some impressive individual box scores. None since the system's earliest days two decades ago were ever quite as impressive as Minshew's aerial assault of Arizona this past November.

 

Minshew completed 43-of-55 attempts for 473 yards with an incredible seven touchdowns. Minshew's display is made all the more impressive considering he spread the scoring wealth among six different targets.

 

4. Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa vs. Auburn — Nov. 24

What was a surprisingly close first half in the 2018 edition of the Iron Bowl became the Tua Tagovailoa Show in the second. Had the Heisman been awarded then and not two weeks later, there's a strong possibility Tagovailoa would have sealed the deal with the deluge he put on the Tigers: five TD passes, four after intermission; a fifth score via the run; and more yards of offense (350) than Auburn's whole team combined (283).

 

3. Alabama DT Quinnen Williams at LSU — Nov. 3

The best defensive tackle in college football put forth his defining game on one of the biggest stages. Undefeated Alabama came into Death Valley with LSU looking to remain in the SEC title hunt. More than 100,000 packed the house and were quickly silenced by the stifling defensive effort Williams keyed.

 

He recorded 10 tackles — 3.5 of which were for a loss — and 2.5 sacks. LSU managed just 196 yards of offense and the Crimson Tide pitched a shutout. Williams was wholly dominant, and it was the kind of performance one would deem a Heisman Moment, if only Heisman voters showed defensive players more love.

 

2. Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray vs. Baylor — Sept. 29

One can point to any number of individual performances from Murray's 2018 season and deem it reflective of his Heisman worthiness. That includes his gutsy second half in the College Football Playoff against Alabama. But if there's any one game that saw Murray at his eye-popping best, it was in Oklahoma's 66-33 rout of Baylor.

 

Murray completed 17-of-21 passes for a staggering 432 yards and six touchdowns — more than a touchdown every three throws. He added a seventh score via the run. Just about the only thing he didn't do was don an Oakland Athletics uniform and hit a grand slam.

 

1. Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor at Purdue — Nov. 17

Taylor's final month of the 2018 season could be included on this list in its entirety, including his pummeling of Miami in the Pinstripe Bowl. As it stands, his marquee effort — and the No. 1 best individual performance of 2018 — came against Purdue.

 

Taylor's 321-yard outpouring was a nod to the tradition of great Wisconsin running backs before him: Ron Dayne, Montee Ball, Melvin Gordon to name a few. But lest one think this was a stereotypical Big Ten grinder, Taylor's 321-yard, three-touchdown deluge keyed Wisconsin to a 47-44, shootout win.

 

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of TheOpenMan.com. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.

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