Amid the hype, Nix begins to embrace role

Amid the hype, Nix begins to embrace role
September 12, 2013, 1:00 pm
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Louis Nix isn't here to replace Manti Te'o. Apparently, that merits an explanation.

"They expect me to make, like, 10 tackles, and I don't think they really watch me," Nix said. "Last year, I barely made a tackle a game. I don't think people know what I actually do.

"But I get frustrated with that because people expect me to make Manti tackles and interceptions and that's not my job."

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Nix doesn't have as direct an impact on the box score as Te'o, a territory that comes with playing nose guard in a 3-4 defense as opposed to inside linebacker. It's basic stuff, but when Nix -- tabbed by about every observer as the best or second-best player on Notre Dame prior to the season -- doesn't fill up the stat sheet, he hears about it.

When Notre Dame gives up 41 points and loses to Michigan, the noise probably grows louder. But it isn't coming from inside the program, in which the expectation is for Nix to fill up the interior along the line of scrimmage.

"Louis Nix was a beast. (Michigan) couldn't block him," coach Brian Kelly observed. "Played as well as he's played for us. They just had no answers for him inside."

Nix recorded four tackles, including one for a loss, while bottling things up in Ann Arbor. Take away Fitz Toussaint's 22-yard run in the fourth quarter, and the Michigan running back ran 21 times for 49 yards. Any on-the-ground success Michigan had came on reverses or quarterback scrambles.

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Granted, the interior of Michigan's offensive line is inexperienced and features a walk-on starter. But he took on double teams with aplomb in Ann Arbor a week after committing three penalties and showing general frustration against Temple.

"Double team life ain't no joke #NoseTackleProblems," Nix tweeted after the Temple game.

The personal frustrations weren't nearly as great after the Michigan game.

"Based on the defense we run, I know it's my job to take double teams. I just do my job," Nix said Wednesday. "If I have to step up and do more, I do more, but now I take my double team how I get them."

Despite Nix's prowess, Notre Dame's defense still allowed 41 points to Michigan -- one fewer than Alabama scored while steamrolling the Irish in the BCS Championship. It was a collective struggle, but one that Kelly said displayed an improved trait of his nose guard.

"He wouldn't come to the sideline and be, you know, pointing a finger," Kelly said. "It would be, all right, what do we got to do here. I think that's a sign of maturity and a guy that's battling his butt off, getting double‑teamed in there and still giving us really good information."

In the past, that wasn't always the case. Kelly said it was sometimes hard to communicate with Nix when he was frustrated in the last two years, and Nix added that he's far less prone to "get mad at the whole situation" this year.

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There's another wrinkle to Nix's focus this fall, and that's why a preseason All-American and quote machine hadn't spoken to the media in over a month before Wednesday. He's been less active on social media, too, all part of what Kelly described as a "focus on being the best football player."

While Nix may not care for the unrealistic expectations that come with the All-American hype, he said he's found a way to channel it into something positive.

"I had to take it to another level," Nix said. "People consider me an All-American, and I gotta practice and play like one."