Putting Tuli Tuipulotu's incredible junior season in perspective
If looking for perspective on junior defensive end Tuli Tuipulotu's exceptional season, well, it won't come from him.
Almost as hard as stopping Tuipulotu on a pass rush is getting him to talk about himself in any meaningful way, and yet his performance each week makes him a central part of the conversation, leaving his teammates and coaches to lend the merited adjectives and reaction.
After racking up 2.5 more sacks Friday night against Colorado, Tuipulotu moved his FBS-leading sack total to 11.5 through 10 games. He also ranks third nationally with 17.5 tackles for loss, putting together one of the best individual defensive seasons at USC in many years.
Tuipulotu already has the most sacks by a USC player since Morgan Breslin had 13 in 2012. The only other single-season totals on record better are Tim Ryan's 20 in 1989, Kenechi Udeze's 16.5 in 2003, Willie McGinest's 16 in 1992, Jack Del Rio's 13 in 1983 and Marcus Cotton's 12 in 1987.
"He's been so consistent, he really has. It seems like each week he impacts the game, and he gets special attention from every single offense that we play," coach Lincoln Riley said. "Our guys have done a good job being creative enough to use him in different ways to maybe make that a little bit tougher. I think Tuli's versatility as a player has certainly aided in that. You feel like you can use him different ways because of how versatile and how smart a player he is."
Tuipulotu was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week for the second time this season for his performance in the 55-17 win over Colorado, which also included a forced fumble. He is the first player this season to win Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week twice and first Trojan to do it since LB Rey Maualuga in 2008. He also won his third Pac-12 Defensive Lineman of the Week honor.
"[What makes him great is] just the ability to do it from a physical standpoint and a speed standpoint. He's one of those guys that just has that mentality on every single snap he's going to get home, and it's noticeable," defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. "Just because you expect him to have it, you still want to appreciate what the guy does for you. He just works his tail off. Again, hasn't missed a practice, hasn't missed a rep, doesn't want to come out of the game. Just goes about his business and he's an elite dude."
Riley echoed those sentiments, as he has throughout the season.
"We've been saying it since camp, he's just one of our most consistent and mature competitors. He's the same guy everyday -- his demeanor, his attitude, his effort, it doesn't vary. How he looks now is how he looked the first day of spring ball and how he looked in the middle of camp and how he looked six weeks ago," Riley said. "He gets better and he's just kind of always a factor because he is so consistent. He's just a great example for our young guys. Obviously, he's played at a high level and has been our best playmaker."