Irish not changing gameplan with confident USC QB Wittek starting

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Irish not changing gameplan with confident USC QB Wittek starting

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Max Wittek has only thrown nine passes in his college career, but that lack of experience didn't stop the redshirt freshman from telling an ESPN Radio affiliate in Los Angeles "we're going to win this ballgame."

That's probably nothing to get worked up about, seeing as it's just a player expressing confidence in his team to beat its next opponent, which happens to be No. 1 Notre Dame. Wittek didn't say the politically correct thing, instead sharing a common belief: Our team is going to beat your team, and we're confident in that.

Maybe Notre Dame will use that comment as bulletin board material, maybe not. For a defense that's allowing the fewest points per game this season and has only allowed nine touchdowns in 11 games, perhaps the added motivation won't be necessary.

Even without Matt Barkley quarterbacking USC, Notre Dame knows what they're up against. USC's offense is loaded with blue-chip playmakers, headlined by sophomore wide receiver Marqise Lee and his 107 receptions, 1605 yards and 14 touchdowns. Fellow wide receiver Robert Woods has 66 catches for 721 yards and 10 touchdowns, while running backs Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal -- who rushed for 118 yards against Notre Dame in 2011 -- form a solid 1-2 punch in the Trojan backfield.

"We're going to do what we do," coach Brian 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. This guy has watched football all year. He's going to be watching film. He knows our defense. So we're going to do what we do, because that's gotten us to this point."

USC has scored 28 or more points in nine of its 11 games, although turnovers have been an issue. Barkley made the largest contribution to those woes, throwing 15 interceptions to go along with 14 team fumbles, giving USC's offense the fifth-most turnovers among FBS schools.

Woods' production has fallen off in recent weeks, with Barkley choosing to target Lee more. That's not necessarily a knock on Barkley -- although perhaps it has something to do with his high interception total -- but maybe Wittek will distribute the ball a little more.

"There's only one football, so it just seems like he's gotten more of the catches, whether by design or not," Kelly said of Lee. "Either one those guys can beat you by themselves. The numbers just have gone his way this year. But you're talking about two of the best in the country. I don't know that you can really choose. They're both terrific players."

Wittek is a relative unknown, a quarterback without much collegiate film for a defense to work with. Kelly has some experience with him -- Notre Dame recruited him out of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., -- but offered an axiom to explain why the Irish won't take USC's offense lightly without Barkley.

"He's on scholarship at USC," Kelly said. "When you get a scholarship to USC, you're one the best quarterbacks in the country."

With Ben Zobrist sidelined by sore wrist, Cubs move Ian Happ to second base

With Ben Zobrist sidelined by sore wrist, Cubs move Ian Happ to second base

LOS ANGELES – The Cubs drafted and developed Ian Happ with the idea of turning him into a Ben Zobrist-type player who would move quickly through the farm system and surface as a versatile big-league contributor and/or legitimate trade chip.

With Zobrist sidelined because of a sore left wrist, the Cubs got their first look at Happ playing second base in The Show during Saturday’s 5-0 loss at Dodger Stadium. That kind of depth – plugging in a 2015 first-round pick while a World Series MVP rests – should ultimately propel the Cubs over the course of a 162-game season.

Even as the Cubs stutter-step through a 25-23 start, there are enough choices for the best defensive second baseman on the team and a National League Championship Series co-MVP (Javier Baez) to sit on the bench.

“We know that the talent’s there,” Zobrist said. “It’s not like having any one or two guys out of the lineup is a big drop-off for us because of the talent that’s there. And we know that just because we have a lot of young players doesn’t mean that they’re not extremely capable of doing the job as well.”

Zobrist – who’s reached base in 23 straight games and emerged as a new leadoff option with Kyle Schwarber struggling – felt something on an awkward swing in the first inning of Friday’s 4-0 loss to the Dodgers. Zobrist played through it that night and called it a “day-to-day thing” that didn’t require an MRI.

[MORE: Is Joe Maddon turning Kyle Schwarber into a platoon player?

Facing Clayton Kershaw on Sunday after back-to-back shutouts will be a game-time decision.

“It’s tough,” Zobrist said. “We just haven’t strung together enough quality at-bats to score runs the last two games. It’s not just because of us. They’ve pitched well. Their pitchers are pretty hot right now. They’ve spotted up. They’ve gotten early strikes where they needed to and then gone to work pretty well on us.

“The task doesn’t get any easier tomorrow with Kershaw. We just got to keep trying to chip away.”

Morning Update: White Sox officially announce signing of Luis Robert, split doubleheader

Morning Update: White Sox officially announce signing of Luis Robert, split doubleheader

Here are the top Chicago sports stories from Saturday: 

Preview: Cubs look to avoid getting swept by Dodgers today on CSN

Preview: Knights look to bounce back tonight on CSN

White Sox courting of Luis Robert leads to 'Christmas in May'

Cubs blanked again by Dodgers

Tyler Danish gets win in first big league start as White Sox beat Tigers in first game of doubleheader

After getting shut down by Buck Farmer, White Sox ninth-inning rally falls short

Scott Boras fires back at Jake Arrieta’s critics and makes another Max Scherzer comparison

Blackhawks sign defenseman Michal Kempny to extension

Luis Robert will start journey through White Sox organization in Dominican Summer League

With Ben Zobrist sidelined by sore wrist, Cubs move Ian Happ to second base