Louis Nix continued his quarterback hunt on the sidelines. He wanted a piece of Everett Golson, not to take the Notre Dame sophomore down, but to pick him back up.
A year earlier Nix was the one who struggled with getting benched, enraged at the end of Champs Sports Bowl loss to Florida State and needing Brian Kelly to cool him before entering the locker room. Now Nix saw Golson struggling with getting pulled before what turned into Notre Dame's game-winning drive against Purdue.
Whatever Nix said to Golson, it got the quarterback off the bench to watch Tommy Rees drive the Irish to victory. And as much as the nose guard's game has improved this season with three tackles for loss and two pass breakups already, his attitude has too.
"You've got a guy there who cares about Notre Dame, cares about his teammates and that's the fun part of this business, when you see the maturation of those young guys and turning into the young men they're going to be," said head coach Brian Kelly. "As you know, he's a multi-faceted guy."
Not only did Nix show leadership in helping Golson, he showed leadership in not talking about it. Asked about what he said to Notre Dame's quarterback and how he said it, Nix ducked the question entirely.
"I don't even remember the moment," Nix said. "All I remember is going in the locker room and singing the fight song. That's about it. I was just happy we won the game."
Safe to say Nix has come a long way from the overweight freshman who became a difficult sophomore and now a reliable junior.
Off the field, Nix is now known more for the Chocolate News than his perpetual homesickness, placated by his mother's first trip to South Bend last weekend. The YouTube segments have gone viral among Notre Dame fans, hilarious clips of grocery shopping, Ritz Carlton exploring and international travel.
On the field, Nix is no longer all potential. Against Purdue he broke up passes, recorded his first full sack and showed that the Boilermakers' Kawann Short wasn't the only elite interior lineman in the game.
Kelly said Nix played at a "championship level" although Nix didn't take the compliment. For a player who'll talk about virtually anything, from hugging Andrew Luck to moose hunting in Ireland, Nix goes quiet when it comes to his own game.
"I'm not the one to judge," Nix said. "I just went out there to compete. Tried to play my hardest and that's what I did. Some people say it was (my best game), some people say it wasn't a big deal."
But it was a big deal for Notre Dame's defense in advance of Saturday night at Michigan State and running back Le'Veon Bell. The Irish held Bell to 27 yards on seven carries last year with Nix playing anchor. The season before in East Lansing, Bell ran 17 times for 114 yards, a game that didn't include the red-shirting freshman.
"Hopefully it's loud and exciting and hopefully the fans hate us a lot," Nix said. "I'm going to tackle (Bell) like I do any other back. They say he's got all these Heisman accolades … that doesn't matter to me. I know he's a great player, so I'm going to come at him like one."
Nix didn't guarantee a victory, didn't predict double-digit sacks, didn't call out Michigan State's offensive line. Instead, a player who showed how much he's matured during Notre Dame's game-winning drive simply continued to prove he's come a long way.
"I just like to fight to the death, to the end," Nix said. "I've lost enough in my life. I want to win for once. There's an opportunity in front of us. I just want to keep fighting.
"My head's on more straight, my mom got to a game so I feel better about a lot of things now. School work's going well. I'm taking a lot of classes, that's all on track. No problems anywhere. I think I matured as a person and a player."