DALLAS (FWAA) – Notre Dame safety Xavier Watts’ two interceptions off USC quarterback Caleb Williams would have been notable enough in the No. 21 Irish's 48-20 domination over the No. 10 Trojans. But in addition to scoring those picks off the reigning Heisman Trophy winner that set up Irish tourchdowns, Watts also scored one himself on a fumble return that sealed Saturday’s primetime affair. For playing a key role on three of Notre Dame’s six touchdowns, Watts earned the Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week honor for games during the weekend of Oct. 14, as selected by the Football Writers Association of America.
Each week during the regular season, the FWAA has selected a Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week since 2001. The FWAA and the Charlotte Touchdown Club will announce finalists for the 2023 Bronko Nagurski Trophy on Nov. 15. The national defensive player of the year will be chosen from those finalists who are part of the 2023 FWAA All-America Team and presented with the trophy at the Bronko Nagurski Awards Banquet on Dec. 4 at the Charlotte Convention Center.
Players may be added or removed from the Bronko Nagurski Trophy watch list during the course of the season. If not already on the watch list each week’s honored player, including Watts this week, will be added at that time. Already on the preseason watch list from Notre Dame are linebacker JD Bertrand and cornerback Benjamin Morrison.
Watts, a 5-11, 200-pound senior safety but with junior eligibility from Omaha, Neb., stood out among all defenders Saturday. Watts made seven tackles to go with a forced fumble and a pass breakup. His fumble-return touchdown went 15 yards, and he took his interception returns back 61 yards.
His impact was notable in the transitions on the play-by-play ledger. Both of Watts’ interceptions resulted in Notre Dame touchdowns. The first came on USC’s game-opening drive, and the 38-yard return to the USC 12 led to the Irish’s first touchdown and set the tone for Notre Dame’s commanding defensive play. The next pick came in the second quarter, which he returned 23 yards to the USC 2. Notre Dame scored on the next play. Later in the fourth quarter, Notre Dame forced a USC fumble that Watts scooped up and returned 15 yards for the Irish’s final score. On USC’s final drive, Watts forced a fumble to allow Notre Dame to close the game in victory formation.
Watts and the Irish defense held a USC team that came into the game leading the nation in scoring offense (51.8 ppg) to just 20 points, and USC’s passing offense that was third in the nation (355.2 ypg) gained only 199 yards through the air. On the season, Notre Dame’s defense now ranks third nationally in passing yards allowed (153.1), fourth in team passing efficiency defense (97.49), fourth in red zone defense (0.640), sixth in passes intercepted (9) and seventh in defensive touchdowns (2).
Worth noting for future trivia reference – Watts is the only player to individually intercept Caleb Williams twice in one game in Williams’ college career.
Watts, who began his Notre Dame career as a wide receiver, has been a playmaker and score-maker all season. All four of his interceptions that currently tie for third in the FBS have set Notre Dame up in the red zone and directly led to 24 points. And he now has Saturday’s fumble return touchdown on his ledger as well.
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy in 2012 and is the Irish's lone winner. Fellow linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was a finalist for the award in 2020, as was cornerback Shane Walton in 2002. The Fighting Irish have had a defensive back earn FWAA All-America status in three of the past five seasons – two-time first-team All-America safety Kyle Hamilton did it in 2020 and 2021, and cornerback Julian Love earned it in 2018, also on the first team.
The FWAA All-America Committee, after voting input from the association’s full membership, selects a 26-man All-America Team and eventually the Nagurski Trophy finalists. The Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner will be chosen from the five finalists named in November. Committee members, by individual ballot, select the winner they regard as the best defensive player in college football.
The FWAA has chosen a National Defensive Player of the Year since 1993. In 1995, the FWAA named the award in honor of the legendary two-way player from the University of Minnesota. Nagurski dominated college football, then became a star for professional football’s Chicago Bears in the 1930s. Bronislaw "Bronko" Nagurski is a charter member of both the College Football and Pro Football Halls of Fame.
The Bronko Nagurski Trophy is a member of the National College Football Awards Association. Founded in 1997, the NCFAA includes college football’s most prestigious awards and its 24 awards have honored more than 900 recipients dating back to 1935. This season, 12 NCFAA awards will honor national players of the week each Tuesday. For more information about the NCFAA and its award programs, visit the redesigned NCFAA.org or follow on Twitter at @NCFAA.
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Founded in 1941, the Football Writers Association of America consists of 1,300 men and women who cover college football. The membership includes journalists, broadcasters and publicists, as well as key executives in all the areas that involve the game. The FWAA works to govern areas that include game-day operations, major awards and its annual All-America team. For more information about the FWAA and its award programs, contact Steve Richardson at email@example.com.