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.

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.