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Louis Nix, Notre Dame defense look to contain Robinson

Christopher Masoud | Thursday, September 8, 2011

One of the more closely watched contests within the larger game, the battle of the trenches generally provides an indication of which team has taken control of momentum and, often times, the lead. As such, Irish coach Brian Kelly has maintained that he will be closely monitoring that battle on both sides of the ball.

While sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees’ success depends on the protection the offensive line can provide, the outcome of Notre Dame’s first road game of the season against Michigan rides largely on the defensive line’s ability to contain the Wolverines’ premier talent, junior quarterback Denard Robinson.

Anchored by junior nose guard Sean Cwynar and senior defensive ends Kapron Lewis-Moore and Ethan Johnson, the Irish line has prepared extensively for the number of offensive formations, schemes and run-options first-year Michigan coach Brady Hoke could include in his playbook.

“All of those things have to be part of your defensive preparation,” Kelly said. “We’ve been accustomed to having that within our defensive game plan because of last year, but we spent obviously a great deal of time in making sure we have answers to defend the run portion of a quarterback.”

Notre Dame faced a number of dual-threat quarterbacks last season, but none were more talented than Robinson, who tallied 258 yards on the ground en route to 502 yards of total offense in the Wolverines’ 28-24 victory.

Despite the limited success against Robinsons last season, Kelly maintains the experience will pay dividends heading into Saturday’s game. More importantly, the Irish roster features a number of players capable of filling the void in the trenches, including sophomore nose guard Louis Nix.

“[Nix] has been very consistent in his approach, and we’ve gotten to know Louis a lot better as a staff,” Kelly said. “We know when to push him, we know when to back off. What he’s brought to our attention is that he can be that consistent guy day-in and day-out.”

Nix recorded seven tackles, in addition to forcing Bulls quarterback B.J. Daniels out of the pocket on a number of occasions, during Saturday’s loss to South Florida. Junior linebacker Manti Te’o credits the entire second line of freshmen Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt, and Nix in particular, for providing support in key situations.

“I thought they did pretty well, especially Louis,” Te’o said. “Louis did a real good job in there, he was in on a lot of plays and he was the first one to the ball in some cases. He definitely played real hard, and he played real well. The other two did a good job as well. It was definitely nice to see [them] out there getting some reps.”

An early enrollee last spring, Lynch tallied seven tackles, five unassisted, in the annual Blue-Gold scrimmage April 16. Lynch recorded one tackle in limited action last Saturday against the Bulls.

“I know I’m ready to play because the coaches have developed me,” he said last week. “I don’t think I’m 100 percent ready to play yet, but I know I’m ready to help out the team.”

Although Tuitt first stepped foot on Notre Dame’s campus as a player this summer, he credits the mentorship of Lewis-Moore and Johnson for putting him in a position to factor into the defensive rotation.

“Right now things are going well,” Tuitt said last week. “At first it was kind of rough because we had to adjust to the new system. [Our development] is due to the great coaching staff and the great leadership of the defensive line, and due to that help we’re able to move on and become better players on the field and off the field.”

Despite the hype surrounding Saturday’s contest as the first night game in Michigan Stadium, the unique atmosphere only adds to the defense’s challenge of containing Robinson for 60 minutes.

“It’s definitely going to be a great challenge,” Te’o said. “Whenever you have an athlete like Denard, it’s going to be a good challenge, so I’m definitely looking forward to it.”