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Notre Dame has nothing special planned for USC’s Max Wittek

USC quarterback Max Wittek will make his first college start Saturday against Notre Dame. | Getty Images

USC quarterback Max Wittek will make his first college start Saturday against Notre Dame. | Getty Images

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Updated: December 24, 2012 7:24AM



Two years ago, a sprained ankle kept USC quarterback Matt Barkley on the sideline when Notre Dame visited Los Angeles. The Irish knocked off the Trojans and their backup quarterback, Mitch Mustain, 20-16 to end an eight-game losing streak against their archrivals.

This weekend, Notre Dame heads to Los Angeles again. And Barkley will be on the sideline again, this time with a sprained right (throwing) shoulder.

‘‘Luck of the Irish, I guess,’’ USC coach Lane Kiffin said.

That remains to be seen. As Irish cornerback Bennett Jackson pointed out, Barkley has been far from perfect during the Trojans’ dis-
appointing four-loss season.

‘‘Barkley has 15 interceptions this season,’’ Jackson said.

Redshirt freshman Max Wittek, meanwhile, is a virtual unknown. All Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has to go on is nine career passes on film and his brief recruitment of Wittek two years ago.

‘‘We don’t know a lot about Max,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘But he’s on scholarship at USC. When you get a scholarship to USC, you’re one of the best quarterbacks in the country. He’s a big, strong, physical kid. He’s got a live arm and will certainly fit into their offensive scheme of things. He’s a perfect fit for what they do.’’

And he certainly doesn’t sound overwhelmed by the prospect of playing against the top-ranked team in the country and its top-ranked scoring defense, either. Wittek went on a Los Angeles radio station Tuesday and essentially guaranteed a victory.

‘‘I’m going to go out there, I’m
going to play within myself, within the system, and we’re going to win this ballgame,’’ he said.

Later Tuesday, Wittek had a somewhat backhanded compliment for the Irish defense.

‘‘They are a great defense; they have playmakers all over the field,’’ he said. ‘‘But every defense does have their soft spots. Theirs are
obviously limited, [but] we are looking forward to taking advantage of some of those soft spots.’’

Notre Dame players collectively rolled their eyes at those comments and at Kiffin’s ‘‘luck’’ barb.

‘‘We hear all of it, but all it really is is white noise,’’ Jackson said.

The question is whether Wittek can back up his talk. In three very brief appearances, including the end of the Trojans’ loss last week to UCLA after Barkley was injured, Wittek is 8-for-9 for 95 yards and a touchdown. But he has been drawing rave reviews from his teammates this week, including star receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, who marveled at his arm strength.

‘‘You’ll feel it on your hands when [the ball] hits you,’’ Lee said.

Notre Dame nose guard Louis Nix III said that, based on USC’s recruiting track record, he expects Wittek to be as good as Barkley. And Kelly said the Irish won’t treat him any differently than they would Barkley. They’ll stick to the script.

‘‘We’re going to do what we do,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘At this point, for us to go into one game and say, ‘All right, we’re going to do different things to confuse Max,’ that’s really crazy. . . . We’re going to do what we do
because that’s gotten us to this point. So no big changes on our end.’’

That said, if Notre Dame finds any weaknesses in the young quarterback early on, it will attack.

‘‘With a rookie quarterback like that, his decision-making probably isn’t going to be as good as the veteran,’’ Irish safety Zeke Motta said. ‘‘So we’ll probably try to use that to our strength.’’

Wittek has been getting a crash course in Notre Dame’s defense all week. And Kiffin said Lee and Woods were going out of their way to keep Wittek’s confidence high, even making diving grabs during mundane drills Tuesday.

‘‘We’ve got to keep his confidence high [and] make some plays when the ball is not perfect,’’ Woods said.

Of course, based on the way
Wittek is talking, his ego doesn’t need much help.

‘‘I’m so excited for this opportunity to get out there and play in front of the Coliseum, all our fans, the No. 1 team in the country,’’ he said. ‘‘You really can’t ask for a better opportunity to show what you’ve got.’’



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