SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Standing six feet tall and weighing 285 pounds, Aaron Donald doesn't come close to matching the size of the 6-foot-3, 340-pound Louis Nix. He doesn't play the zero technique, as Nix does, and generally lines up over an opposing team's guards. And really, there's not much of a comparison between the roles of each player.
The only real comparison: Both Donald and Nix are very, very good at what they do, and neutralizing them is key for each team's chances on Saturday.
No player in the country has more tackles for a loss than Donald (19 1/2), and he's fourth among FBS players with nine sacks. But the stats only tell part of the story, if you ask Notre Dame's interior offensive linemen.
"He's a guy that's possibly the smartest defensive line player we've played this year," left guard Chris Watt said. "He does a real good job of reading the O-linemen, does a really good job of knowing the formations the offense is running. We're going to have to do a really good job this week of being balanced in what we're doing and not giving anything away in our stances."
Center Nick Martin agreed.
"He's smart, so you'll see one block works one time, next time the guy tries to do the same thing and he has a counter for it," Martin said. "He's slippery, he gets skinny. He's a good player."
Pittsburgh is allowing 164 rushing yards per game this year, middle of the pack among FBS teams. But remove the 220 and 276 yards option offenses in Navy and Georgia Tech respectively ran for against Pitt, and the Panthers are allowing 136 rushing yards per game -- which would be in the top third of FBS defenses.
Donald, to be sure, has quite a bit to do with that.
"When you think he's not going to be going hard, that's when he's on you," Watt said. "And if you're not on your game every play he's going to make a play on you."