Colorado v USC

Max Wittek: “We’re going to win this ballgame”

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With senior quarterback Matt Barkley on the sidelines for Saturday’s game, the Trojans will turn to redshirt freshman Max Wittek to pilot their high-powered offense. Having appeared in only three games in his USC career, Wittek is far from a proven commodity. But that hasn’t stopped the young quarterback from calling his shot.

“We’re going to play our offense, whatever Coach Kiffin feels comfortable giving me,” Wittek told ESPN LA 710’s Mark Willard. “It he wants to air it out, let’s air it out. If he wants to pound them on the ground, let’s do that. Like I said, I’m going to go out there, play within myself, within the system, and we’re going to win this ballgame.”

Broadway Joe meet Bulletin Board Max.

Wittek is no stranger to success. Nor is he a stranger to replacing Matt Barkley. At Orange County powerhouse Mater Dei, it was Wittek that replaced Barkley as the quarterback, continuing an incredible stretch of signal-callers that have gone on to star for the Trojans the past decade, joining Mark Sanchez and Matt Leinart.

It’s that type of pedigree that helps make Brian Kelly’s job easier, as he can expect an elite skillset on whatever quarterback Lane Kiffin trots out behind center.

“When you get a scholarship to USC, you’re one of the best quarterbacks in the country,” Kelly said. “He’s a big, strong, physical kid, he’s got a live arm, he certainly fits into their offensive scheme of things. He’s a perfect fit for what they do.”

In Wittek, USC might just have their prototype. Another quarterbacking creation, Wittek’s family relocated to California to help find better competition in his prep years, after working as a junior high prodigy with noted quarterback guru Steve Clarkson, who flew to Connecticut for multiple training sessions. The Wittek family was introduced to Clarkson by none other than Joe Montana, who is a business associate of Wittek’s father in the commercial real estate field.

Never shy to praise a former student (it was Clarkson who dubbed Jimmy Clausen the “LeBron James of high school football”), Clarkson praised the unique skills Wittek brings to the game, with a country-strong arm and surprisingly agile feet and speed for a quarterback his size.

“What he brings to the table that some other USC quarterbacks have not is a real sense of athleticism,” Clarkson told the LA Times. “In a lot of ways, he has Brett Hundley capability in his foot dynamics.”

It was Hundley that tormented the Trojans defense with his ability to move and create both inside and out of the pocket, something Everett Golson has done fairly well this season. And while Wittek is facing the nation’s top scoring defense this weekend, he’ll be armed with the top receiving duo in the country, Robert Woods and Heisman candidate Marqise Lee.

“We’re going to do what we do, absolutely,” 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 is really crazy. This guy has watched football all year, he’s going to be watching film, he knows our defense. We’re going to do what we do, because that’s gotten us to that point. No big changes on our end.”

What that likely means is challenging Wittek and the Trojans to march down the field, giving USC’s receivers the chance to catch underneath passes while the Irish rally to make tackles. And while they won’t dramatically alter their plans, expect Bob Diaco to mix three and four man fronts and bring a few exotic pressure looks to confuse Wittek, who will likely do most of his passing from the confines of the pocket.

For the Irish, the stakes are clear: Win and advance to the national championship.

For Wittek, this could kick-start another era of the Notre Dame-USC rivalry, a series that’s leaned heavily in the Trojan’s favor the past decade.

“His story starts this weekend,” USC receiver Robert Woods said.

Drue Tranquill named first-team Academic All-American

Drue Tranquill
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Drue Tranquill was named a first-team Academic All-American. The junior safety, who returned from his second major knee injury during his three-year career, earned the honors after posting a 3.74 GPA in mechanical engineering.

Tranquill is Notre Dame’s first academic All-American since Corey Robinson earned the honor after the 2014 season. He finished second on the team in tackles with 79 and lead the team in solo stops with 52. He also had two TFLs and an interception.

Tranquill is Notre Dame’s 60th Academic All-American, the third-most of any school behind Nebraska and Penn State. He’s active in the university community, serving as a mentor for the Core Leadership Team for Lifeworks Ministry, and is a member of Notre Dame Christian Athletes. He is a also member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) and Rosenthal Leadership Academy.

 

Postseason Mailbag: Now Open

SAN ANTONIO, TX - NOVEMBER 12: Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly leads his team onto the field before the start of their game against Army in a NCAA college football game at the Alamodome on November 12, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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It’s been too long. Let’s talk about the season, the decisions ahead and where Notre Dame stands after its nightmare of a 2016 season.

Drop your questions on Twitter @KeithArnold or in the comments below.

 

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If you’re interested in hearing my recap on the USC game and where Notre Dame’s goes now that the season is over, give a listen to the latest episode of Blown Coverage, with Newsweek’s John Walters. 

 

Report: Zaire set to depart with graduate transfer

Malik Zaire
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The wheels are in motion for Malik Zaire‘s exit from Notre Dame. What felt like an inevitability after Zaire lost out to DeShone Kizer after the Texas game is now a reality, as the Ohio native is expected to receive his release tomorrow, according to a report from Pete Sampson at Irish Illustrated.

Sampson identified four programs as potential landing spots for Zaire: Florida, Pitt, Michigan State and Wisconsin, Power Five programs that all had better seasons (minus the Spartans) than Notre Dame. All have uncertainty atop their quarterback depth chart, though none look like guaranteed jobs.

With Notre Dame out of a bowl, Zaire can get a jump start on looking around, capable of taking visits and finding a home after the semester. That would let him join a program in time for spring drills, where he’d compete and be able to play out his final year of eligibility.

When Zaire leaves he’ll join a line of recent quarterbacks to finish their eligibility elsewhere. Dayne Crist, Andrew Hendrix, Gunner Kiel and Everett Golson all either played or were recruited by Brian Kelly and finished their careers elsewhere. That could leave a scenario—one many predict—where the top-two on Notre Dame’s depth chart depart, Kizer to the NFL and Zaire elsewhere, turning the keys over to Brandon Wimbush who redshirted this season.

Tillery apologizes for actions during USC game

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Sophomore Jerry Tillery issued an apology for two controversial incidents against USC. Notre Dame’s defensive tackle was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after a referee caught him stepping on Zach Banner‘s ankle. Cameras also spotted him intentionally hitting Aca’Cedric Ware‘s head after the Trojan running back was injured after a collision with Nicco Fertitta.

Tillery wrote on Twitter:

“I want to take full responsibility for my actions on Saturday. I am truly sorry. I acted in a way that was out of character for me. What I displayed in those two instances were completely unbecoming and not indicative of the kind of player or person I am. My actions in those two instances do not represent what my family or Notre Dame has molded me to be. I want to especially apologize to Aca’Cedric, Zach, their families and anyone else affected by what I did. I assure you I will learn and grow from this moment and become a better man because of it.”

While the backlash on social media has been harsh, USC head coach Clay Helton downplayed it.

“It was a poor decision by a young person. I know it’s not Notre Dame football and I know that’s not Brian Kelly,” Helton said. “He’s been a class act the whole way and I know he’ll address it with his player and handle it in a way that he sees fit. I have always found Brian to be a man of class and integrity.”

Ware himself responded via Twitter, doing his best to put the incident to rest.

Kelly stated after the game that he’d review the incidents, both plays Kelly didn’t see happen live. With the season over, Tillery’s discipline will be handled internally.