Better Still

Junior defensive end Stephon Tuitt played his best game in nearly a calendar year in last week's 14-10 Irish victory over the Trojans. According to the team's top player, Tuitt's best is yet to come.

At times it can be hard to discern if Notre Dame senior nose guard Louis Nix is joking, dead serious, or somewhere in between. The affable Irish run-stuffer ranks as the go-to quote for local and national media members alike, which is why it's surprising Nix's frank post-game assessment of Stephon Tuitt's evening against USC flew under the radar.

"Uh, I don't think he did that well. I think he could do better," said a straight-faced Nix. "He has a lot of potential to do a lot 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."

Reminded head coach Brian Kelly presented Tuitt with the game ball, Nix offered, "He still got it, but guess what, he'll keep working and he's going to get better."

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Both are capable of better days; both have doubtless produced them in the past, but Tuitt's last two games have produced more sacks (3) than did his previous five combined (2). Off-season surgery to repair a sports hernia resulted in weight gain -- and a loss of explosion and flexibility for the future first round NFL Draft pick.

"I'm fully healthy to go out every week and play hard and go out there and do what I have to do and what I'm supposed to do," Tuitt said. "It was just getting my confidence back under me. That was one of my setbacks.

"The bye week helped a lot. It helped me be able to focus on my body a little bit, give me a chance to really get my confidence under me again."

Long Road Back

Tuitt's injury occurred at some point between last year's October 13 win over Stanford and the ensuing week's practice or contest vs. Brigham Young.

He never missed a game, though his position coach Mike Elston noted in the spring, it was obvious something was missing.

"I think it affected him a tremendous amount. His production went down, his confidence in his play went down…I think it hurt him significantly and he's to be commended for fighting through it." said Elston. "That's a tough injury and he fought through that for however many weeks and was a very serviceable player, but he's the kind of guy that wants to change the game. Physically he was unable to change the game. But he fought through it and did a great job."

Tuitt was unable to change the game during the 2013 season's opening month as well.

There were highlights, notably a remarkable diving interception in the end zone at Michigan, but the consistent pocket push and domination vs. opposing running games was noticeably absent.

Opposing quarterbacks be warned: it's coming back.

"He's continued to work hard in the weight room," said head coach Brian Kelly. "He's continued to monitor his nutrition. He's doing the things we've asked him to do from post-surgery on and I think it's just a collection of those things.

"He's played himself into the kind of condition and shape necessary for him to exert his physical prowess on the football field. Playing at a high volume of plays for a longer period of time."

Seven tackles, two sacks, two official quarterback hurries and one pass breakup show on the post-game stat sheet. Notable as well was a holding call drawn on third down, and that both of his sacks and his pass breakup occurred on third or fourth down.

"Every week I go out and play harder and harder," said Tuitt post-game. "I don't see setbacks, no matter what anybody says. I just think within myself and within my defense, we're capable of great plays."

Told that Nix said he could do better, Tuitt agreed. "I can. There's so much stuff I can get better at. I'll look at the film and see some missed plays."

Two of Tuitt's tackles limited Trojans running back Silas Redd to two yards on the field side (Tuitt's side) of the formation. Another occurred after Redd gained 17 to the boundary. In other words, Tuitt sprinted 17 yards across scrimmage and through a phalanx of bodies to knock Redd out of bounds.

Better still indeed. Top Stories