By TIM REYNOLDS
MIAMI — Louis Nix III is the talker. Stephon Tuitt is the thinker.
Put them together, and you’ve got the start of quite a stout defensive line for top-ranked Notre Dame.
Personality-wise, there would seem to be little that links the loquacious Nix and the church-quiet Tuitt. Yet both on and off the field, they find ways to click in just about every way imaginable — and they’re generally considered the two most productive defensive linemen on an Irish team that plays No. 2 Alabama on Monday night in the BCS title game.
“Guys want to talk, I like to talk,” Nix said Saturday. “Tuitt, he just hits people. I think that’s the talking he does.”
For the Irish, it works.
Nix, Notre Dame’s stellar nose guard, leads the line with 45 tackles despite regularly seeing double-teams, at minimum — and he was chosen as the team’s defensive lineman of the year. Tuitt had a breakout season, 42 tackles and a team-best 12 sacks from his defensive end spot, along with a fumble return for a score in the season-opening win over Navy.
That seems so long ago. The Irish were unranked then, and now are not only No. 1 in the land, but one win away from maybe a most unlikely national title.
“It’s exciting. I’m glad to be here,” Tuitt said. “It’s something we’ve worked for all year. We made it. We’ve worked hard for six weeks and we’re ready to come out and play.”
So much about their personalities was made clear on Saturday when the Irish arrived at Sun Life Stadium for the BCS media day festivities.
Tuitt took a spot inside a tent, his backpack obstructing the number and name on the back of his jersey. Nix, on the other hand, stood outside the tent, surrounded by a half-dozen television cameras as he discussed the upcoming return of his reality show of sorts, a YouTube sensation he calls “Chocolate News” where he basically shows snippets of behind-the-scenes life at Notre Dame.
“Chocolate News” has been on hiatus this fall, with Nix simply too busy because of football.
“Hopefully I have one soon, depending on how this game goes,” Nix said, when asked when the next episode is coming. “If we win, I’ll be happy and I’ll have one out the next day.”
Sitting nearby, Tuitt could hear his affable teammate, and just grinned.
“I’m just the person who’s just here,” Tuitt said. “I don’t really do that much talking.”
Except on the field. That is, with his play — not even words there.
“Tuitt? He doesn’t talk on the field at all,” Nix said. “No. He doesn’t talk on the field at all. Like, he’ll talk with us, talk with his team. He doesn’t talk at all.”
It’s probably not a coincidence that Tuitt’s two highest-tackle games this season came in Notre Dame’s two closest escapes. He had seven tackles in a 20-13 overtime win over Stanford, and six stops in a 29-26 triple-overtime win against Pittsburgh.
Between Heisman finalist Manti Te’o, Nix and Tuitt, Notre Dame’s offense gets to regularly go up against three of the toughest challenges in the nation in practice.
Don’t think that isn’t one of the reasons why the Irish have made it to Miami.
“Going against guys like Manti and Tuitt and Louis and those guys, you have to be on your assignments,” offensive lineman Zack Martin said. “You have to be on your technique or you’re going to get beat.”
Nix may be at the center of perhaps the biggest mano-a-mano matchup in the title game, when he lines up across from Alabama center Barrett Jones.
It’s one of those tussles that both players have been thinking about for weeks.
“I think I’ve gone up against a lot of good players,” Nix said of Jones. “But this guy, he’s the cream of the crop. Everybody’s talking about him. So I’m just glad that I got the opportunity and we’ve got the opportunity to play against him.”
Added Jones: “It’s going to be one in the trenches. It’s going to be a game that certainly comes down to who wins up front, on both sides of the ball.”
Different styles, different personalities aside, Nix and Tuitt have come to rely on one another, both on and off the field.
They do speak and text often, and Tuitt said Nix — even though the positional duties are considerably different — makes him better.
“We’re good off the field,” Tuitt said. “We’re two good teammates. We believe in one another. He’s a really good guy and I look up to him, because he can teach me a lot of things. It’s a different feeling when it’s game time. It’s time to go out there with the right mindset to help my teammates out. I don’t play for myself. I play for my teammates, so that’s what makes it different when it’s time to play.”
No other words need be said.