SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Manti Te'o had trouble feeling his face and when the blood suddenly started gushing, he knew something was wrong. Turns out the star linebacker for Notre Dame broke his nose in last week's win over Army.
Surgery will come next week. First, though, there's another football game to play Saturday against a school he almost attended — Southern California.
The Irish's leading tackler as a sophomore, Te'o expects that his nose will be tender, especially when he's hitting ball carriers. But he's OK with the pain.
"I didn't know what it was. I just couldn't feel my face," he said of the injury suffered in the third quarter of the 27-3 rout at Yankee Stadium. "So I got up and knew something was wrong and when I looked down and saw blood coming out, I just walked off."
He'll sport a helmet visor against the Trojans, but he's still going to feel it when he makes a tackle — and he's made quite a few this season with 118.
"Oh, yeah, it's going to hurt, but it's going to be fine," Te'o said. "Your helmet is going to hit it, but it's what I signed up for and what I love doing."
As one of the nation's top prep linebackers at Punahou High School in Hawaii — the same school attended by President Obama — Te'o had choices to make on where to play college football.
"I was going to go to USC, but I prayed about it and everything pointed to Notre Dame. I just had faith and I came here. And it's been great," said Te'o, a devout Mormon. "I'm glad to be here. I'm happy to be here. I'm grateful to be here. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
Te'o said he's acquainted with a couple of players on the Trojans' team, including fullback Stanley Havili and quarterback Matt Barkley, who sprained his ankle last week against Oregon State.
"It's just another football game for me. Of course it's a rivalry. But it's nice ... I know a lot of guys," Te'o said.
USC (7-4) has won eight straight against Notre Dame and 11 of 14. But Notre Dame (6-5) is hoping that Te'o and the rest of the defense can stay on a roll.
The Irish have not given up a touchdown on defense in 11 quarters, not since Tulsa scored on its opening drive on Oct. 30. They've yielded just two field goals the last two games in wins over Utah and Army. But Southern Cal's overall talent is certainly rated higher than that of Tulsa, Utah or Army.
"USC has dynamic players, fast players, physical athletes," Te'o said.
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It will be the biggest challenge yet for the improving Irish defense that's played well despite the loss of nose guard Ian Williams to a knee injury.
"We're turning that corner. Everybody has seen in these past two games the type of defense we can be and the type of defense we're becoming," Te'o said.
"We knew what we could do and just focused on each other and didn't worry about what everybody else was saying. ... It's just a combination of things. I can't pinpoint one thing. We're jelling. We know where each other's going to be. We know where we have to be. We're getting more comfortable."