NOTRE DAME — At some indeterminable point in the 2012 season, a sledgehammer appeared on the Notre Dame sidelines during pre-game warmups.
It was last spotted in the hands of linebacker Prince Shembo, who wildly swung the sledgehammer up and down the sidelines before the BYU game like William Wallace preparing his troops for battle.
Shembo isn’t quite sure when the sledgehammer was introduced to the defense or even whose idea it was — though he think it might have been defensive coordinator Bob Diaco — but he does know what it stands for.
“It pretty much symbolizes toughness,” Shembo said. “It’s been through a lot of things, smacks stuff around, nails and stuff. That’s what we do.”
Shembo said he isn’t sure if the sledgehammer is making the trip to Norman, Okla., but if it does, he plans on grabbing it to greet a hostile crowd at Owen Field on Saturday.
Not that the 82,000 roaring, crimson-and-cream clad Sooner fans will bother Shembo at all. If anything, the 6-foot-2, 250-pound outside linebacker thrives off it.
“I like road games,” he said. “I like when people and when they have stuff to say, when everyone’s against us.”
Shembo also doesn’t blink at Oklahoma’s offensive prowess. When he was asked about the Sooners’ 6-6, 260-pound freshman quarterback Blake “Belldozer” Bell — famous for running over opposing defenses and scoring in short yardage situations — Shembo responded with silence and a blank stare.
“Oh, that dude?” Shembo said, laughing. “He’s a big guy. Six-foot-six, 260. I squat 600. So we’re just going to put our pads on and meet him in the hole.
“We just got to get to him. Defeat the guys in front of us and meet him. They have a whole bunch of threats. He’s just one of them.”
Despite the fact that Bell has scored eight times in 15 carries in Oklahoma’s “Belldozer” goal-line packages, the only emotion he draws from Louis Nix is a hint of jealousy.
Nix, Notre Dame’s affable 6-3, 340-pound nose guard, said he’d like his team to focus on an “Irish Chocolate” package, featuring Nix as the ball carrier in scenarios akin to Bell’s. It’s just a matter of bringing head coach Brian Kelly on board.
“One of these days, (Kelly) might come around,” Nix said. “He might give me the ball and get in there on 4th-and-1 and when I (score), he’ll probably just keep giving it to me. I might get to throw it around a little bit.”
“I do want to get in at quarterback one time in my life,” he added as an afterthought.
Like Shembo, Nix isn’t shying away from a goal-line stand with Bell, although he might overestimate the Sooner’s size.
“He’s a big guy — like 6-8, 340 pounds or something like that?” Nix said easily. “He’s a huge guy, and you just got to do your best to tackle him. He doesn’t try to get out of bounds. He tries to go through people. I would love a one-on-one matchup with him.”
As Shembo pointed out, Bell is only one of several Oklahoma’s scoring threats. The Sooners have the fifth-ranked scoring offense in the nation, the 34th-ranked rushing offense and the 26th-ranked passing offense.
Quarterback Landry Jones is averaging nearly two passing touchdowns per game and has only three interceptions the entire year, while tailback Damien Williams is averaging 7.5 yards per carry and one touchdown per game.
Shembo doesn’t get caught up in the numbers or the rankings or the hype.
“I just play football. That’s what I do,” he said. “When you start thinking about it too much, you start freezing. When you’re a little kid and play freeze tag, you just run around, right? That’s what I do.”
Though BYU snapped Notre Dame’s 17-quarter streak of not giving up an offensive touchdown, the Irish defense still haven’t given up a rushing touchdown all year.
Nix says keeping opposing runners in front of the goal-line has little to do with the score or streaks or sledgehammer mentality.
It’s all about H20.
“You get sick of being on the field for so long,” he said. “You’re ready to just go and sit on the bench and get some water, and these guys are trying to score so you have to stop them and get some water.”
Water? That’s it?
“If you want water,” he said sagely. “You have to stop them.”