- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Manti Te'o was not too pleased when Notre Dame's defense gave up two first-half touchdowns Saturday to BYU -- the first two touchdowns it had surrendered in 42 days.
"It made me mad, and it made a lot of guys mad and when they scored again, it really made us mad," Te'o said after the 17-14 victory. "I think we learned; we learned that things are going to happen, and I think the way that our guys responded in the second half was a measure of our character and just our coaching."
The Irish shut the Cougars out the rest of the way, preserving their status as the nation's No. 2 scoring defense -- surrendering just 9.43 points per game.
Built to perform like few other players in the country, Te'o has been the catalyst for this unit, recording his fourth interception of the season Saturday to tie him for the nation's lead among linebackers. His two fumble recoveries this year give him six takeaways for 2012, No. 2 among all defensive players.
Funny thing is, the senior entered this season without an interception or fumble recovery in any of his previous three years with the Irish.
Now he is one of four players to be both a Butkus Award semifinalist and a Lott Trophy quarterfinalist, though he might be up for some even bigger hardware if the No. 5 Irish keep winning.
"I view myself as an integral part of this team and I just want to win," Te'o said. "As I said after spring, my whole goal is to win and if I win a Heisman or if I even get invited to New York, I'll be happy, I'll be humbled and happy. But as long as I'm winning, I'll enjoy that."
Te'o turned down a likely first-round draft selection to return for his senior season, and in turn he asked defensive coordinator Bob Diaco to coach him like the worst linebacker in the country.
Right now he is the best, and his lifting of the program and campus -- and each's subsequent embracing of the captain following the deaths of his grandmother and his girlfriend last month -- have validated the decision.
Notre Dame is 7-0 for the first time in 10 years, and it is now 7-1 in its past eight games decided by seven points or less -- after losing nine of its previous 11 games decided by the same margin.
That turnaround starts with the defense, and with a leader whom Brian Kelly calls the best he has ever had in his 22-year head-coaching career.
"Just the mentality of our guys. We want to win," Te'o said. "When we get into these close games, the mentality now is we are going to do whatever it takes to win. It's no longer just crossing our fingers and going please, please, please, waiting for the next shoe to drop. We are always just trying to be that person -- making things happen."