SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Notre Dame junior linebacker Te'von Coney ran maybe five yards to make what would end up being a game-changing play that lasted all of 10 seconds.

On Southern California's first offensive play of the game at the Irish 43, quarterback Sam Darnold could not come to grips with a high, hard snap. Coney, already in the USC backfield, quickly wrapped Darnold up for a six-yard loss and he stripped the ball from his grasp and recovered it. A short time later, quarterback Brandon Wimbush hit Equanimeous St. Brown with a 26-yard touchdown pass and the Irish were on their way to a 49-14 rout of their long-time rival.

The sack was one of two tackles behind the line of scrimmage for the 6-foot-1, 240-pound Coney, who had a team-high 11 stops in the game.

"It set the tone for the entire game," senior linebacker Nyles Morgan said.

And maybe for a season.

If No. 9 Notre Dame (6-1) continues its turnaround this Saturday against No. 14 North Carolina State (6-1), people may point to Coney's play as when all the forgettable memories of a 2016 season - both off the field and on it during a dreadful 4-8 campaign - officially disappeared.

Coney's nightmare season a year ago included nine starts and just 62 tackles, only 1 ½ of them behind the line of scrimmage. Off the field, he and four teammates were pulled over in Fulton County, Indiana, in late August and marijuana and a gun were found in the car.

"I made a mistake," the 6-foot-1, 240-pound Coney said Wednesday in his first meeting with reporters since then. "It embarrassed the university, it embarrassed my family and myself as well."

Instead of giving up on the former standout from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida,, coach Brian Kelly, his teammates and Notre Dame support staff rallied around Coney.

"By following the traits that Coach (Kelly) talks about a lot - traits that help you become a better person, a better football player, a better student - I've seen improvement in my life on and off the field," Coney said.

Kelly has become a big fan of Coney, who leads the team with 53 tackles.

"Te'von has grown off the field," he said, "and now he's growing as a football player."

Senior rover Drue Tranquill likes what Coney brings to Mike Elko's 4-2-5 defense, which has forced 17 turnovers.

"Te'von lives in the (opponents') backfield," Tranquill said. "When you feel his energy and his passion, it's contagious. I think he's just realizing how important this is to him and how many guys are affected by the decisions we make on and off the field."

Coney has been making plays all season for the Irish. Last week, he remembered what Elko and linebacker coach Clark Lea had told him about Darnold.

"All week, they said he didn't hold the ball tight, so if you had a chance to yank at it," Coney said. "I got the opportunity and did."

He added: "I'm happy to make plays that help us win games."

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