Capitals

Freshman QB leads USC against No. 1 Notre Dame

201211171609581773094-p2.jpeg

Freshman QB leads USC against No. 1 Notre Dame

LOS ANGELES (AP) Not many young quarterbacks would even have the audacity to imagine making their first career starts under the circumstances surrounding Max Wittek at the Coliseum on Saturday night.

The freshman is replacing Matt Barkley, an injured senior who has claimed most of the career passing records at Southern California. He's facing Notre Dame (11-0), a storied football power with a No. 1 ranking and the nation's most feared defense.

The Irish need just one more win to book a spot in the national title game, and the struggling Trojans (7-4) have lost three of four. Yet Wittek also has arguably the best receiving duo in the nation catching his passes and a sold-out stadium firmly at his back.

If the enormity of this occasion is scaring Wittek, the confident 19-year-old with a bigger arm than Barkley hasn't shown it a bit.

``You really can't ask for a better opportunity to show what you've got,'' Wittek said. ``I just want to get that first snap, maybe that first hit, out of the way, and I'll be ready to go.''

Although USC has dominated the past decade in this delicious intersectional rivalry, winning nine of 10 and missing a clean sweep by one dropped touchdown pass two years ago, Wittek and the Trojans realize most of the pressure is on the other sideline this time.

The Irish are just one win away from completing a remarkable run to the BCS title game in coach Brian Kelly's third season. With so many pressure-packed wins already behind them this season, the Irish will hit the field in downtown Los Angeles simply trying not to get caught up in the matchup's history - or the history they'll make with a victory.

``You think about it,'' Notre Dame safety Zeke Motta said. ``In the back of your mind, it's there that if you win this game, you're going to play in the national championship. What more motivation do you need? But I think we want to treat it like any other game. Obviously it's a rivalry game, so we're going to be playing fierce and tough. We're just focused on who we're playing against and sticking it to them.''

Notre Dame has done its part to make the schools' 84th meeting appropriately memorable. The Irish headed to the Coliseum with the No. 1 ranking for the sixth time in the schools' shared history, and they're unbeaten when facing USC for the first time since 1993.

USC is headed to a lower-tier bowl game, but could halt its late-season slide from the preseason No. 1 ranking by crushing the Irish's title dreams. USC has stumbled after a 6-1 start to a season of enormous expectations, losing to Arizona, Oregon and UCLA in the previous four weeks.

``This is a game where we can get our respect back and get a good feeling about ourselves,'' USC safety T.J. McDonald said.

Both teams are made up of teenagers and young adults who can't possibly have the same connection to this rivalry as thousands of alumni, former players or football fans who simply enjoy the college sport's best traditions. The USC coaching staff attempted to remedy some of those educational gaps this week, with coach Lane Kiffin and defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron speaking up in team meetings about the series' meaning and lore.

Kiffin also played Notre Dame's fight song during USC's practices this week, hoping to remind the Trojans of their 31-17 upset win in South Bend last year.

``My dad never beat them, so he definitely has a chip on his shoulder when it comes to this rivalry,'' said McDonald, whose father, Tim, also was a defensive back at USC. ``All of the Trojan family is watching. Everyone wants to see how the Trojans are going to play, how they're going to respond from last week. We've just got to be able to go out there and make a statement.''

Everybody on the USC offense knows all about the imposing Irish defense led by linebacker Manti Te'o, which has allowed just 10.1 points per game and eight touchdowns all season. Notre Dame's punishing run defense has been almost impenetrable, but its pass defense has yet to be tested by an offense with USC's talent - even with a freshman quarterback at the controls.

Wittek has played only sparingly this season, but has known he would be under the spotlight this week since the injured Barkley texted him after last week's loss: ``Let's go beat the Irish.''

After two full years of practice in Kiffin's offense, Wittek is eager to show the Trojans won't have to keep it simple as they did two years ago, when backup Mitch Mustain filled in for the injured Barkley in Notre Dame's 20-16 win at the Coliseum.

``They're a great defense, obviously one of the top defenses in the NCAA, but every defense does have their soft spots,'' Wittek said. ``Theirs are obviously limited in being such a great defense, but we are looking forward to taking advantage of some of those soft spots.''

Wittek's confidence doesn't seem so outlandish given the talent around him: receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods along with tailbacks Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd. Wittek's teammates are completely familiar with the quarterback who got about 25 percent of the first-team snaps in practice this year - and he's superior to the decorated Barkley in at least one area.

``Max throws much harder. It hurts,'' Lee said with a laugh. ``I have faith in Max. I know he can do it. It's about waiting for your time, and his time is here.''

If the Trojans can crack Notre Dame's vaunted defense, the Irish offense will be required to produce a big game against USC's struggling defense. USC's last four opponents have combined for 156 points, and Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson is coming off a 346-yard passing performance against Wake Forest - the seventh-biggest in school history, accomplished in just 2 1/2 quarters, no less.

But every number in Notre Dame's favor won't matter when the Trojans go after a historic upset in a rivalry series full of unexpected twists. The Irish understand the perils looming in those 60 minutes before they earn the right to play for another national title.

``It's very exciting,'' Notre Dame center Braxston Cave said. ``This is what guys come to Notre Dame for. We've finally got the program back to where it belongs, and I think guys are really excited about that.''

---

Associated Press writer Tom Coyne in South Bend, Ind., contributed to this report.

Quick Links

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What does the future hold?

caps-faceoff-101.png
USA TODAY Sports

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What does the future hold?

In this week's mailbag podcast, JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir answer several questions about the Caps' prospects and Hershey.

How does the future look on the farm? Plus, they talk about potential weaknesses, their biggest surprises and more!

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

Quick Links

Machado homers as Orioles beat Rangers 6-5

usatsi_10954621.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

Machado homers as Orioles beat Rangers 6-5

For well over six seasons, Manny Machado's value to the Baltimore Orioles has been solely his ability to hit and play the field.

All that has changed, now that the Orioles are looking to receive a huge return for their All-Star shortstop in a blockbuster trade.

Machado homered before being removed on a wet day, Adam Jones hit a three-run double and Baltimore rallied past the Texas Rangers 6-5 Sunday.

Machado was taken out of the game in the fifth inning by manager Buck Showalter after a 26-minute rain delay. The move was designed to get their star player off a sloppy field, because the last-place Orioles are entertaining offers for Machado before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

"Obviously there's a different situation going on with Manny. You all know that," Showalter said. "That had a lot to do with it."

Plain and simple, the Orioles can't afford to have Machado get hurt. Now, more than ever.

"A month ago he wouldn't have come out of the game," Showalter acknowledged. "We know that. You know it."

After being replaced by Jace Peterson, Machado sat in the dugout, wearing a sweatshirt and joking with his teammates.

"I don't know why (Showalter) did it or not," Machado said. "He just told me, `I'm going to take you out. You had a good first half and go represent us well in the All-Star Game.'"

Machado is Baltimore's lone representative for Tuesday's showcase. He has spent his entire career in Baltimore, but his contract expires after this season and the Orioles don't appear interested in locking him up with a long-term deal.

"I'm going to the All-Star Game as an Oriole and as a shortstop. It's just always a blessing," Machado said. "I thank God. I thank my family for always supporting me, my teammates, the fans, the organization. I mean it's just been very incredible."

In a matchup between two teams staggering into the break, Texas got a first-inning grand slam from rookie Ronald Guzman but quickly gave the lead away in losing for the seventh time in nine games.

Machado ignited the comeback with his 24th homer, and Jones' bases-clearing double in the third off Mike Minor (6-6) put Baltimore ahead to stay.

"I'll be fine," said Minor, who yielded five earned runs in 2 2/3 innings. "I'll reflect a little bit and then get back to it."

The game ended when Texas pinch-runner Carlos Tocci was thrown out at the plate on a double by Elvis Andrus. Running from first base, Tocci was tagged out by catcher Caleb Joseph following throws by right fielder Mark Trumbo and second baseman Jonathan Schoop.

"Textbook," Showalter said.

Texas manager Jeff Bannister called it a "situation where they had to throw it on line to throw Tocci out. They executed well."

Tanner Scott (1-1), the first of four Baltimore relievers, earned his first big league win.

Zach Britton, another Oriole supposedly on the trading block, worked the ninth for his fourth save, the second in two days.

Texas broke on top when Miguel Castro issued three straight walks and Guzman sent a one-out drive over the right-field wall for his first career grand slam.

It was 4-1 in the third when Joseph hit an RBI double and Jones doubled down the left-field line following a walk to Machado.

Shin-Soo Choo homered in the seventh to get the Rangers to 6-5.

STREAKY

Choo opened the game with a walk, extending to 51 his single-season club record streak of games reaching base via a hit, walk or HBP. ... Texas' Delino DeShields went 0 for 3, stretching his hitless drought to 28 at-bats. ... Jones snapped a 1-for-16 skid with his third-inning double.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Rangers: RF Nomar Mazara was given the day off after hurting his hand Saturday night in the outfield.

Orioles: RHP Chris Tillman (back) was set to make his final rehab start Sunday for Triple-A Norfolk. ... INF Steve Wilkerson (oblique) and OF Craig Gentry (rib fracture) likely won't come off the DL before August, Showalter said. ... RHP Andrew Cashner (neck strain) will be activated from the DL on Saturday or Sunday to face Toronto, Showalter said.

UP NEXT

Rangers: The rotation after the All-Star break, beginning Friday against visiting Cleveland: Martin Perez, Bartolo Colon, Cole Hamels, Yovani Gallardo and Minor.

Orioles: After the All-Star break, Dylan Bundy will start at Toronto on Friday night.