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.