The Norman Transcript

September 27, 2013

Saturday’s best battle will be an interior one

The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — There are dozens of obstacles Oklahoma will face Saturday against Notre Dame. But the biggest in terms of priorities and sheer size will be right in front of them all afternoon at Notre Dame Stadium.

The first thing the Sooners must do is figure out a way to block Fighting Irish nose guard Louis Nix III.

That bit of information didn’t catch OU center Gabe Ikard by surprise. He’s known for 11 months that his first trip to Notre Dame Stadium since he was a recruit at Bishop McGuinness High School in Oklahoma City wouldn’t be easy.

Ikard spent three-and-a-half hours in a grudge match with Nix last season when the teams played at Owen Field. Nix left an indelible impression that had Ikard planning for Round 2 for months.

“He's one of those guys that you can just tell how strong and talented he is on the tape. Last year was certainly the biggest challenge of my season,” Ikard said. “Excited to block the best in the country. He's definitely that, so we've got to prepare for him and the rest of that defense. Got to study a lot of film and get ready for a big challenge.”

It’s challenging because players like Nix don’t come around in college football very often. Sure, there are 300-pound players on every BCS roster. But Nix is 342 pounds and can move.

The impact he has on games isn’t easily explained on the statistics sheet. Nix had four tackles in last year’s meeting and none of those stops were for losses. Through four games this season, he’s only been credited with 14 stops.

But it’s the runs that he’s forced to the outside, the pockets he collapsed when a quarterback is trying to throw and the runs between the guards that were simply never called that best illustrate Nix’s impact.

OU offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, who is tasked with creating a blocking scheme to somehow move Nix off his mark, said it’s a task that doesn’t come around much.

Most All-American defensive tackles are a mix of strength and speed. Defensive tackles with the bulk of Nix typically play on Sunday, not Saturday.

“This guy is massive, you know? He’s a big, thick guy. You look at him on film and, hell, he covers up the center. You can’t even see the center. So he presents a challenge,” Bedenbaugh said. “He’s quick, he’s got good hands and they are all very well coached. So yes, it’s a big challenge.”

It will not be a one-on-one battle the Sooners will face. Ikard is an All-American, but he won’t go it alone. Don’t be surprised if OU double teams Nix on every snap Saturday.

“No doubt that Nix is the best in the country, constantly takes two guys to block him,” Ikard said.

It’s very hard to watch a game and train your eyes to not follow the ball. But if you leave them where the ball starts every time OU’s on offense Saturday, there will be a battle worthy of the attention right in the middle of the line of scrimmage.

John Shinn

Follow me @john_shinn