SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Defensive end Stephon Tuitt wants to learn a little about the history of the great Notre Dame defenses. Then he wants to rewrite the record books along with his teammates.
"We want to be great. To be honest, I want to break the history books. I want our name to go down for doing things that past teams haven't done," Tuitt said. "I just really just want to play on a great defense. A great defense. Like completely lock-down and shut-down with a head-banging mentality."
The seventh-ranked Irish (5-0) are on pace to have one of the best Notre Dame defenses in recent memory heading into their game Saturday against No. 17 Stanford (4-1). They have given up three touchdowns, the fewest in the nation, and haven't given up a TD the past three games — the longest such stretch by an Irish defense since 1980.
The Irish are second in the nation in scoring defense (7.8 points a game), fourth in red zone defense, 10th in pass efficiency defense, 13th in total defense, 17th in rush defense and 20th in sacks. Tuitt has six of Notre Dame's 20 sacks.
"Sacks are like an energizer. Once you've got one, you can't stop," Tuitt said. "You just keep going. I get really excited because I know during the summer I was working really, really hard to increase my pass rushing skills to get some of the pressure off of the defense and make some plays for them. It's really exciting for me."
He had two sacks apiece against Navy and Purdue, then one each against Michigan State and Michigan before being shut out for the first time against Miami.
Coach Brian Kelly said the drop in Tuitt's sack numbers doesn't mean a drop in production.
"His numbers didn't show a productive player, but he was outstanding for us in what we asked him to do against Miami," he said. "This is how he was graded out by the defensive coaches and in my observation as well. He was very, very effective for us in what we asked him to do on Saturday."
The 6-foot-6, 303-pound lineman from Monroe, Ga., is quicker on his feet than most big men, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said.
"He can really run like a little guy. He's got a lot of foot action. He can change directions," Diaco said.
Diaco attributes much of the improvement in the sophomore to him learning how to play in the defensive system and working with his teammates, saying his game is maturing.
Tuitt got a tweet earlier this year from former Notre Dame standout Justin Tuck, now with the New York Giants, urging Tuitt to break his school record of 13.5 sacks in a season, set in 2003.
"I remember telling him I'd do my best," Tuitt said.
He on pace to do it. If he can remain productive, he could also have a shot at Tuck's career record of 24.5. He's already looking at ways to get stronger, asking in a tweet recently if anyone with a farm might be looking for some help next summer.
"I've met a lot of really, really big-time country offensive linemen. They're kind of strong, so I thought maybe in the offseason, I might be trying to go on a farm and move some hay or do whatever they did to get stronger," he said.
He's said he has received some interest. For now, though, he's focusing on being part of a defense that has been part of a key role in the strong start by the Irish.
"The stuff we've been able to accomplish, I'm not going to lie, is really, really cool to do," he said.