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."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will Gar Forman's plan work?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will Gar Forman's plan work?

On the latest edition of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, David Kaplan is joined by Rick Telander (Chicago Sun-Times) and Mark Carman (WGN Radio) to talk Bulls. 

The panel breaks down the trade with Oklahoma City and question whether the team is better or worse now. 

Later, the guys talk about the Blackhawks' trade for Tomas Jurco and also break down the upcoming Daytona 500. Finally, Telander discusses his five-part series chronicling the Orr High School basketball team as they excel on the court and try to survive off it. 

Listen to the SportsTalk Live Podcast below. 

Blackhawks acquire Tomas Jurco from Red Wings

Blackhawks acquire Tomas Jurco from Red Wings

General manager Stan Bowman saw the potential in Tomas Jurco several years ago.

For the 24-year-old forward, it wasn’t working out with the Detroit Red Wings. Perhaps a change of scenery, an opportunity on a team that could vie for another Stanley Cup, makes a difference. The Blackhawks are about to find out.

The Blackhawks acquired Jurco for a third-round pick in this year’s draft on Friday afternoon. The 24-year-old Jurco has played in 16 games with the Red Wings this season but has yet to collect a point. In four seasons with the Wings, Jurco had 15 goals and 24 assists in 159 games. Red Wings general manager Ken Holland told Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press that, “things haven’t worked out” for Jurco there and that he wanted to go elsewhere.

Jurco was on a bye as a member of the Red Wings but, now that he’s with the Blackhawks, the bye ends. Bowman was hopeful Jurco would join the Blackhawks at practice on Saturday. Also, to clear a roster spot for Jurco, the Blackhawks reassigned Vinnie Hinostroza to the Rockford IceHogs.

[RELATED: Nick Schmaltz gaining confidence, effectiveness with Blackhawks]

Bowman said he’s been watching Jurco for a few seasons now.

“We’ll be patient with him but we really think there’s a good fit there, looking at his skills and the style of hockey we play,” Bowman said. “He’s been an accomplished player at a lot of different levels. He’s shown flashes in the NHL, not as consistently as he or the Wings would like, but you can see the talent and potential. You have to have some patience with these guys. It doesn’t always come together right away. I’m not expecting him to carry our team but I think he can contribute.”

It was an under-the-radar trade for Bowman but that’s not surprising. In late January, Bowman said he probably wouldn’t do much at the trade deadline; he liked how the Blackhawks’ young players were progressing and figured, if that continued, the team would be in good shape. Since then the Blackhawks have won eight of their last nine and are just three points behind the Western Conference-leading Minnesota Wild. As the Blackhawks kept winning it looked like, if they did anything, it would be a depth move.

So will there be any more moves? At this point it doesn’t seem likely, be it on forward or defense – Bowman didn’t have an update on Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body) but said he’s happy with the depth in Chicago and Rockford on defense. Bowman said he’ll keep talking but, “but it’s a little bit different than in previous years when I thought we definitely needed something and were lacking in an area.”

“I’ve had a feeling about our team, not just recently but even a month ago. I liked the way this group was starting to come together,” Bowman said. “We’ve seen that enhanced over the last couple of week here. We’ve seen players step up, [Nick] Schmaltz in particular. [Ryan] Hartman’s been good all year. We’ve seen Jonathan [Toews] become a dominant player again. It gives your team a confidence that you have balance, scoring in different lines. We just added a young player to help us now as well as in the future. There’s a lot to be excited about. I’m not expecting more trades. I can’t predict more will happen but I have a good feeling about this group right now.”