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October 19, 2013

Tuitt turns it up

NOTRE DAME, Ind. - After an unusual few days perhaps no Notre Dame player wanted to get on with the USC game more than Stephon Tuitt.

Earlier in the week Tuitt told the student paper he intended to return for his senior year in South Bend, a declaration that made waves. His mother and mentor downplayed those comments and head coach Brian Kelly attempted to clarify.

Tuitt did so on his own after helping the Irish to a 14-10 win over USC, its first home win against the Trojans in over a decade.

“What I said the other night, I wasn’t really thinking,” Tuitt said. “I was just thinking about the game. At the end of the day, when the end of the season comes, I’m gonna talk to coach Kelly, my mom, my family and see what the best decision will be.”

Making a choice between declaring for the NFL draft and returning for another year in college won’t be so easy if Tuitt keeps turning in strong performances.

He finished second to linebacker Carlo Calabrese in tackles with seven total, four of which were solo, and added two sacks for a total loss of 16 yards. Twice Tuitt recorded quarterback hurries and he broke up a pass at the line of scrimmage as well.

And yet fellow defensive lineman Louis Nix couldn’t help but rib his teammate just a little bit.

“I don’t think he did that well,” Nix deadpanned after the game. “I think he can do better. He has a lot of potential to do better than he did (Saturday). People might give him a lot of credit for getting sacks but I think he can go out there and do way better.”

All jokes aside, Tuitt tended to agree.

Tuitt admitted to a laborious beginning to this season while continuing to round into form after sports hernia surgery last spring. But in the last couple games he has looked more active. Against Arizona State he collected one sack, 1.5 tackles-for-loss, one forced fumble and two quarterback hurries.

“It’s just hard work,” Tuitt said. “It’s just going in every week and going out there and doing what I do. Early in the season started off kind of slow but it just means going out there every week and playing your butt off no matter what happens. Things will turn around if you just play your butt off no matter what. I played within my team and played within my team as a family.”

Coming off the Arizona State performance and a bye week, Tuitt did enough against USC to help contribute to an important victory and receive a little extra recognition.

“He got the game ball,” Kelly said. “He was all over the place. He was, in the run game, outstanding. He let the ball outside the defense one time late in the game but they held him. 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.”

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