Notre Dame football: Tuitt a handful for USC offense

Bob Wieneke
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- On the one hand, there was Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly's assessment of Stephon Tuitt and his seven-tackle, two-sack performance in Saturday night's 14-10 victory over USC.

The Irish coach termed Tuitt's performance "dominating," backing up his observation by awarding Tuitt the game ball.

On the other hand, there was Louis Nix, Tuitt's good buddy and running mate on the Irish defensive line. Big Lou's take?

"I don't think he did that well. I think he can do better," Nix said, tongue firmly in cheek. "He has a lot of potential to do better than he did tonight. A lot of people might give him a lot of credit for getting sacks, but I think he can go out there and do way better."

Those words can be scary, particularly if you're an offensive coordinator for one of ND's next five opponents.

Tuitt's play helped the Irish stuff USC, holding the Trojans scoreless for the final 2½ quarters as the Irish improved to 5-2, in turn dropping USC to 4-3.

Tuitt, for his part, took Nix's bait, agreeing that there's room for improvement.

"I can," he said. "There's so much stuff I can get better at."

The dominant performance capped an interesting week for Tuitt, a junior projected to be a first-round draft choice in next spring's NFL Draft, who on Wednesday told the student newspaper that he would be back for his senior season. Kelly a day later said a decision wouldn't be made until after the season, words Tuitt echoed late Saturday.

"What I said the other night, I wasn't really thinking," Tuitt said. "I was just thinking about the game. When the end of the season comes, whatever (situation) that I'm in, I'm going to talk to coach Kelly, my mom, my family and see what the best decision will be then."

Performances like Saturday's should make Tuitt's decision relatively easy, and probably won't be the one on which Irish fans are hanging hope.

"He was all over the place," Kelly said. "They couldn't handle him today. If you're wanting to talk about a defensive lineman that was dominating, you could throw that word out there. He was a force out there today."

And a big reason why Notre Dame beat its biggest rival for the third time in four years.

"That's our rival," Tuitt said as Saturday melted toward Sunday." It feels really good. We're going to have a great night."

He already had.

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Notre Dame defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt (7) celebrates a fourth-down stop during an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, at Notre Dame. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER