NOTRE DAME — Max Wittek threw down the gauntlet just hours after it had been passed over to him.
USC’s redshirt freshman quarterback was thrust into the spotlight earlier this week after the Trojans (7-4) announced that starter Matt Barkley (shoulder) would be out for the Notre Dame game.
Despite having never started a college game and only nine passes under his belt, Wittek talked about hosting the top-ranked Irish (11-0) on Saturday.
“We’re going to win this ball game,” Wittek told Los Angeles’s 710 ESPN Radio.
Cianna Lewis heard the boast and dialed up her younger brother, Notre Dame defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore, to share the news.
The 6-foot-4, 306-pound fifth year senior barely batted an eye at the comment.
“What do you expect?” he said of Wittek’s comments. “You don’t expect that he’s going to say, ‘We’re going to lose.’ I think people are making a bigger deal than what it is. He’s a confident quarterback...That’s what you want out of your quarterback.”
Wittek went on to tell The Los Angeles Daily News that Notre Dame’s No. 1-ranked defense didn’t faze him.
“Every defense has its soft spots,” Wittek said. “We want to take advantage of their soft spots. They haven’t seen me and what my strengths are.”
Not that this is the first time a USC player has jabbed at Notre Dame.
After the Trojans won 31-17 in Notre Dame Stadium last October, linebacker Chris Galippo said he felt that the Irish quit in the waning minutes of the game.
“At the end there, when they could have called those timeouts, they just quit,” Galippo had said after the game. “And that’s what Notre Dame football’s about. They’re not anything like USC.”
That quote wasn’t posted in the Notre Dame locker room. Neither were Wittek’s comments. They weren’t discussed and dissected and used as fuel for this week’s rivalry game. The Irish don’t give the talk a second thought.
“They probably just mis-said a few words,” Irish nose guard Louis Nix said during a Wednesday media session. “Who knows. Sometimes people speak out of turn and people try to boost it up. If he said it, he said it. If he didn’t mean to, he didn’t mean to. I don’t really care. I’m just going out to the Coliseum and trying to play good football.”
Not exactly fighting words from one of Notre Dame’s most candid players.
But turning the other cheek is nothing new from Notre Dame. Whether they’re being called “irrelevant” or “overrated” or if they’re being splashed on the cover of Sports Illustrated just two days after moving to No. 1, they avoid the noise — at least publicly.
“There’s no reason to put yourself out there like that,” center Braxston Cave said. “The biggest thing is what we show on the field so far, winning every game. At the end of the day, when there’s no losses on the record, I think you’re doing the right stuff.”
That last push for an unblemished record comes in the Coliseum on Saturday night. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said every player on the roster learned a lesson after last year’s loss at home.
“I learned we can’t beat ourselves, and that’s what I feel like happened last year,” receiver John Goodman said. “(USC) played a good game, but I still think that there were a lot of plays that should have gone our way. That was something that was our fault. The game was lost by us, not necessarily them winning it. We obviously haven’t let that happen this year, and that’s why we’re 11-0.”