Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo didn’t need to look at the stat sheet in last year’s 56-14 loss at Notre Dame to know how mucb Manti Te’o controlled the game.
Manti Te'o had a dominant performance in last year's 56-14 victory versus Navy.
“We tried to misdirection him, tried to get him lost and tried to do some different things with eyes, and that kid was dialed in,” Niumatalololo said. “We tried a lot of different blocking schemes, and we could not get him blocked.”
Officially, Te’o finished with 13 tackles (2.5 for loss) while helping limit the Navy offense to 229 yards total offense, including just 196 on the ground, well off the 312.25-yard rushing average it finished with during its 5-7 season. Te’o downplayed the compliment because Niumatalolo happens to be “Uncle Ken” to him, the cousin of his father, Brian.
“I only see my uncle Ken after the game,” he said. “The only thing he tells me is ‘I love you, nephew.’ It’s always good to see one another.
“I was just flowing throughout the game, picking up tendencies and I was just using my instincts. My guys did their jobs … that’s the biggest thing I got out of it is that I helped my team win.”
It was a gratifying win for Te’o after going 0-2 against the Midshipmen his first two years. The first loss, 23-21, pretty much set the wheels in motion for former head coach Charlie Weis’ ouster. The second, 35-17 in 2010, was a humbling experience in which the Irish defense yielded 367 yards rushing while being unable to adjust to Navy’s alignment. That is why Te’’o cannot take anything for granted despite last year’s blowout and the 17-point spread favoring the Irish this year.
“I think a lot of people think Navy is tough to play because of their scheme,” Te’o said. “Their scheme has nothing to do with the way they play. They play to the whistle, non-stop playing, no talking, just do their job and get back to the huddle. So when you have a team like that, that’s what makes it hard … they’re always competitive.
“That’s what football is all about. You line up on the opposite side of a guy and expect him to give you his best and you give him your best … that’s pure football right there.”
Te’o is the face of Notre Dame’s defense, if not the entire program, that is one of 13 Football Subdivision teams that has allowed less than 21.0 points per game each of the last two seasons. Alabama is far and away No. 1 during that time with a 10.85 cumulative average those two seasons, while LSU is second at 14.63.
If Notre Dame is to enter BCS territory or beyond, Te'o and Co. might need to ratchet it up to a level where the scoring defense falls into the teens. That hasn’t occurred since 2002, when it yielded only 16.7 points (9th place finish nationally) per game and propelled a surprising 8-0 start through the first two months of the season.
Named one of four captains this year, along with Kapron Lewis-Moore, Tyler Eifert and Zack Martin, Te’o was deeply moved when one teammate after another came up to congratulate him and inform him how much he deserved the title.
“That meant more to me than actually being named the captain,” Te’o said. “It showed that I’ve got the trust of my teammates, and when I have that trust of my teammates, we can do big things.
“It’s the first time I feel like I’ve accomplished something that is worth something”
Even with recent setbacks such as the two-game suspension of senior running backs Cierre Wood, the top Irish rusher the past two seasons, Te’o is dispensing sage advice to teammates.
“My dad always says, ‘A smart guy learns from his mistakes, but a wise man learns from the mistakes of others,’” Te’o said. “Hopefully our guys learn from this from other brothers who went down.”
Notre Dame has fallen down plenty of times on the gridiron even with Te’o, who is 22-16 in his three seasons. The time to put all that learning to good use has arrived in his final chance with the Irish.