Aaron Donald has been blowing up offenses all season, and this Saturday night he'll be lined up opposite Notre Dame.
There will be 10 other players there with him, of course. But from all the buzz surrounding Pittsburgh's senior defensive tackle this week, you'd have a hard time knowing it.
"Aaron Donald has been a one-man wrecking crew," Irish coach Brian Kelly said. "He's a powerful guy, but he's also extremely quick at the point of attack. He uses a lot of different techniques to get into the backfield, and we're going to have to-we were just talking about things that we will have to do to mitigate some of the things that he does."
Donald has certainly earned the attention. The 285-pounder is the FBS active leader in sacks with 27.5, and he leads the country with 19.5 tackles for loss this year. Donald is coming off an incredible showing against Georgia Tech last week in which he recorded 11 tackles, six for a loss, two forced fumbles and a sack. That performance earned him multiple weekly honors, as well as heaping praise for his play-making ability from teammates and opponents alike.
"He's able to affect the play whether it's going to him or away from him," Panthers coach Paul Chryst said. "I thought that's what stood out to me with his production the last couple weeks. He's a special player. I love the way he's approaching it and we need him to continue to be even more special."
For a banged-up Notre Dame line that has already lost one starter to injury, Donald may serve to be its biggest test of the year. Irish graduate student guard Chris Watt has run in with Donald in each of Notre Dame's hard-fought battles with the Panthers over his career and believes Donald's perceptiveness on the line is what makes him a unique challenge.
"He's a guy that's possibly the smartest line player we'll play this year," Watt said. "He does a really good job of reading O-linemen. He does a really good job of knowing formations, what the offense is running. We're going to have to do a really good job this week of being balanced in what we're doing and not giving anything away in our stances."
The brunt of dealing with Donald will fall to junior center Nick Martin, a first-year starter. Martin deals with the likes of Louis Nix and StephonTuitt every day in practice but said his matchup on Saturday will require more discipline and versatility than ever.
"He's a great player," Martin said. "He's smart. A block works on him, but the next time the guy tries to do the same thing he has a counter for it. He's slippery. He gets skinny. He's a really good player."
For all the attention that has surrounded him, though, Donald still hasn't seen many double-teams run against him on the inside. Martin said the Irish won't be running any special schemes to deal with Donald on Saturday, which is just to the Panther's liking as he and his teammates look to flip the script on last year's triple-overtime loss.
"A couple of times teams have tried to double team me, but I've been getting a lot more single blocks this year. When I get single blocks I've just tried to take advantage of it and do what I can do to help my team win," Donald said. "Notre Dame is a big opponent. We want to go out there and get the win."
Contact Jack Hefferon at firstname.lastname@example.org