USC v UCLA

Shoulder injury knocks Matt Barkley out for Saturday

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Perhaps Irish fans shouldn’t be too heartbroken about losing out on Anthony Barr. Once a highly touted prep prospect looking at Notre Dame, the son of former Irish great Tony Brooks seemed destined to follow his dad’s footsteps, but decided to play closer to home, committing to Rick Neuheisel and UCLA, where he spent his first two seasons as a jack-of-all-trades offensive player for the Bruins.

But on Saturday afternoon, Barr, now a first-year star linebacker with 12 sacks and 18 TFLs,  made a mighty impact on the Irish season when his nasty blindside sack of Matt Barkley sent USC’s senior quarterback hard into the ground, with Barkley suffering a shoulder sprain that will keep him on the sidelines for this weekend’s battle for the jeweled shillelagh.

“He has an AC sprain and will be out this week,” Lane Kiffin confirmed Sunday. “It’s very unfortunate for his career, you know, now that two times in a row Notre Dame has come into the Coliseum — he’s gone to South Bend twice and won — and now twice he won’t be able to play them at home. I feel very bad for him and his family. Obviously this is not the way that anybody pictured the team’s season going, or his season going.”

In 2010, another Barkley injured forced former five-star prospect Mitch Mustain into action, and Harrison Smith intercepted a late Mustain throw to ice the Irish’s 20-16 victory. (After an assist from former Trojan WR Ronald Johnson.) Now it’ll be another former five-star prospect, redshirt freshman Max Wittek, who will get the call for the reeling Trojans, now 7-4 and unranked after starting the season as the No. 1 team in the country.

“Max will start. We have great confidence in Max,” Kiffin said. “I thought he did well yesterday in a very difficult situation — three-and-a-half hours of standing around and in the rain — and to go into that game isn’t easy to do. I thought he did a good job.”

Wittek has only seen spot duty this season, mopping up in blow-out victories against Hawaii and Colorado before coming in late against UCLA. On Saturday, Wittek was three of three passing for 40 yards, and he’s completed 8 of his 9 throws on the year.

Still, Barkley’s injury is a huge break for the Irish, where the stars have been aligning above South Bend for a berth in the national championship game. In Barkley’s two starts against the Irish he’s killed them, throwing for 380 yards and two touchdowns on just 19 completions in 2009 as a true freshman, before completing 24 of 35 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns last year in the Trojan’s 31-17 victory.

In a senior season where Barkley decided to come back to cement his legend and potentially win a Heisman Trophy and a national championship, it’s been a nightmarish season for the Trojans’ captain, with his completion percentage down almost six points from his junior season and his 15 interceptions more than he threw as a true freshman.

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.