USC: Charlie Weis
October, 20, 2011
By Pedro Moura | ESPNLosAngeles.com
In football, like in life, you're usually either moving downhill or uphill. There's very little in between.
Notre Dame middle linebacker Manti Te'o is definitely a downhill mover. Or so says USC freshman fullback Soma Vainuku, in charge of emulating Te'o in Trojans' scout-team drills this week, and Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin -- and just about everyone else who talks about Te'o for any amount of time, for that matter.
They always bring it up. Te'o, they say, plays football fast, diagnoses plays quickly, and, above all, plays downhill.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesManti Te'o is an imposing presence in the middle of the Notre Dame defense and Lane Kiffin wishes he was in cardinal and gold.
So, what exactly does that mean on the field, and what does that mean for USC's game against the talented Te'o and Notre Dame in two days' time?
It means he's going to bring a lot of Trojans down. The junior from Hawaii is averaging just short of 10 tackles per game this season, tied for 21st in the country, and 8.5 tackles for loss, tied for 25th in the country. Both numbers are better than anyone USC has faced this season and, currently, better than anyone it will face in the second half of the year.
He also leads the Irish in sacks with four after posting just one sack a year ago. His overall tackles numbers are slightly off his pace from a year ago, but all the other figures represent significant improvements from his first year in coordinator Bob Diaco's 3-4 system -- or at least it appears so.
"I don't think it's that much different," Kiffin said this week. "I just think it's his second year in the system, even though he's started before. Now he's playing extremely fast. He's off-the-charts physical, downhill, aggressive, and he plays every snap like its third-and-one.
"He's a great player. I wish he was here."
Well, yeah -- he almost was. Everyone expected Te'o to sign with USC until the morning of signing day back in 2009, when he spoke with former Trojans coach Pete Carroll at length on the way to making his announcement that he was attending Notre Dame.
It was the surprise of the year at the time, and the decision's followed Teo throughout his first two-plus years in college. In the past he has admitted to feeling a different combination of excitement and nervousness in the week leading up to Notre Dame's annual game against the Trojans. But he says that feeling is no longer.