- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Stephon Tuitt hails from Monroe, Ga., an area where all kinds of funky ground-based offenses reign supreme.
"When you've got a bunch of fast people, you've got to get the ball around," Tuitt quipped.
So forgive the 6-foot-6, 322-pounder for actually looking forward to these next two weeks, when Notre Dame's defense will receive the kind of tests that Michigan, Oklahoma and USC could not give it.
The Irish travel to Colorado Springs, Colo., this Saturday to play Air Force. Next week they will renew their rivalry with Navy at Notre Dame Stadium. If nothing else, they will get a little bit of consistency in practice by having to prepare for option offenses in consecutive weeks.
"Most of my teammates and I have played the option teams before, so we understand what we're about to go into," Tuitt said. "It's going to be a battle, but practicing and going from not playing option teams to option teams is a transition that we're going through right now."
Others might feel differently about it, particularly fellow All-American defensive linemen Louis Nix III, who is battling a sore shoulder suffered in a physical win over USC this past weekend and whose feelings about facing these kind of offenses were described by Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly:
"Option football is not his cup of tea," Kelly said.
Nix, a redshirt junior, is as good as gone to the NFL after the season after passing on a potential high-round NFL opportunity last year. Tuitt reiterated this week that his decision will come after the season, a week after inadvertently saying that he planned to come back for another year.
The junior end did make headlines for other reasons by boosting his potential draft stock this past weekend, though, as he notched two sacks, two quarterback hurries and one pass break-up against the Trojans, earning himself the game ball for his efforts.
It is no coincidence that Tuitt -- who was slow to recover from offseason hernia surgery and has dealt with some back issues -- had his best performance of the season in the game following Notre Dame's bye week.
"The bye week helped a lot," Tuitt said. "It helped me be able to focus more on my body a little bit, get a chance to really get my confidence under me again."
Coming off a 12-sack season a year ago, Tuitt has 6.5 quarterback takedowns through seven games, seven short of Justin Tuck's school single-season record, a mark that will be considerably harder to climb toward in these next two games.
"It's something that you don't see and prepare for, so it's difficult in its preparation, because you have to be so disciplined to face it," Kelly said of the option. "And you know the game of football, especially on defense, is that you want to play a little bit reckless at times. And it really slows you down and forces you to play assignment football and takes away sometimes that skill advantage that you have, that size advantage becomes minimized in some instances, because you have to play so disciplined and play assignment football."
Kelly, for his part, is not complaining about facing the Falcons and Midshipmen back-to-back, even if the scheduling quirk was not of his doing.
"You can ask me how the Democrats and Republicans work together more so than putting the schedule together," Kelly said, adding, "I think this is more of a coincidence than it is, Hey, you know Coach Kelly would like to get both option teams together back‑to‑back weeks. I don't think that conversation ever happened."
16hSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information