Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o continues to grow as a defensive leader.
The sophomore set another career-high in tackles with 21 in Saturday's 37-14 loss to No. 16 Stanford.
"He had a look on his face, a toughness to him, that he hasn't displayed since he's been a player here at Notre Dame," coach Brian Kelly said of Te'o's performance against Stanford. "Today is one of those watershed moments for a defensive player that we can model."
Te'o said he couldn't have racked up the big numbers without his teammates. Even though, he did have the tackles since Chinedum Ndukwe's 22 against Air Force on Nov. 11, 2006.
"I don't see myself at a higher level than my teammates," Te'o said. "It is a team game. There is a reason why there is 11 guys on the field, and if I didn't have the other 10 guys, I wouldn't have been able to make those plays.
"We just as a whole have to get better. We have to execute better and focus on the little things."
Te'o said the defense has gotten better, and he was happy that Stanford had to settle for five field goals.
But the linebacker also know there is still work to be done to improve a defense that surrendered 404 total yards.
"They had a lot of field goals," Te'o said. "We just have to work on not letting them get all the way down the field and have long drives and getting those three points. It will be nice if we can stop them, and they get zero."
Stanford feasted on Notre Dame's defense in third-down situations Saturday.
The Cardinal converted 11 of 16 third-down attempts against an Irish defense that was No. 18 in the country on third down plays, giving up only 14 third-down conversions in 50 attempts in the first three games.
Stanford did most of its third-down damage early in the game. The Cardinal went 7 for 9 on third downs in the first half, and their 11 third-down conversions were the most by an Irish opponent since Michigan's 12 in 2003.
"They are a great offense, and Andrew Luck is a great quarterback," cornerback Darrin Walls said of Stanford's third-down success. "They executed their game plan. They made those plays, and we didn't."
Kelly said two plays changed the outlook of Saturday's loss and swung the advantage to Stanford.
The first play was Notre Dame's failure to pick up a first down on fourth-and-1 from its 49-yard line early in the fourth quarter with the Irish trailing 19-6.
Then on the ensuing Stanford drive, Notre Dame was unable to keep the Cardinal from getting a first down on a third-and-7 when quarterback Andrew Luck hit running back Stepfan Taylor for a 23-yard pass and a first down.
"In a hard fought game, those are the key plays that turned the game eventually to where it finished," Kelly said.
Success ahead, Kelly says
Saturday's loss to Stanford left Notre Dame at 1-7 in their last eight games, and it was the Irish's 11th straight loss to a ranked team.
As bleak as the season looks right now, Kelly said there is still time for Notre Dame to turn the year around.
"We played three, four really good football teams, physical teams, and our kids have battled each and every week," Kelly said. "We came up short this week, but they're not going anywhere. They're going to be back next week, and they're going to strap it back up and they're going to fight and play as hard as they can.
"We're going to build this program to where it needs to be."