The entire Notre Dame defense—not just Manti Te'o—is going to have to ball up their fists and come out swinging Saturday against Michigan State to stop standout running back Le'Veon Bell.
Folks like to highlight individual matchups in big games, but just like Bell can't get going without his offensive line, Te'o can be rendered useless if all of the pieces of the defense are not running like a machine.
Unlike a cornerback versus a wide receiver in a man-to-man coverage battle, stopping the run is a joint effort. If one piece fails, they all run the risk of failing. For Notre Dame, a team that has the bodies in the front seven to stop Michigan State's ground assault, that all starts with their point man: Louis Nix III.
Nix is a big boy who will start the action by swallowing two Spartans defenders on the snap. He'll occupy one side A-gap while giving Te'o or Dan Fox a free run-thru in the opposite A. That's the start of how tackles get made.
At the defensive end spot, Stephon Tuitt, Sheldon Day and Kapron Lewis-Moore will be looking to play from B-gap to C-gap. They'll force the guard to help his tackle on some run plays, swallowing up the B-gap. On other runs, look for this defensive end trio to play a truer long-stick technique, where they sit hard for B-gap and then disengage to help on runs that go wide to the C-gap.
The next cog in the system will be the outside 'backers Prince Shembo and Ishaq Williams. These guys flat out make plays. They force the run back inside by holding the edge. They also flow backside to look for cutbacks and make tackles.
This Notre Dame front seven is, like any good front seven, a defensive system. Everyone has a destination on every play, and because this group is matured and used to playing together, more often than not they are in the right place.
Look for the defensive line to funnel the backs through the run-thru gaps. Watch as the outside players shut down the corner and turn all things back into the teeth of the defense.
Watching this game is going to be a treat if you like physical football. Michigan State wants to run the ball. Notre Dame is built to stop the run. These players are going to be in for a fist fight, and odds are neither team shies away from bloodying the opponent's nose.
Obviously, Manti Te'o will play a big role in Notre Dame's success should they stop the run, but he'll just be a part of a massive joint effort by this front seven.