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November 22, 2012

No bulletin, no board

Story With Sidebar

There is a time and a place to gain motivation through the words of others.

Coaches throughout the history of competitive athletics - at least since the comments of others have been chronicled in print - have used the motivation that a verbal slight can generate.

If the current No. 1 college football team in the country falls back on such motivation, it's rarely evident, and it certainly isn't the basis for Notre Dame's excitement to take on cross-country rival USC this weekend in Los Angeles.

"First of all, speak for yourself," said Kelly earlier this week in trying to explain his approach. "Don't comment on things you don't know about, and they see that every day on the sign that we have in our building. Don't fuel any expectations because we're the only ones in here that know what we want to accomplish on a day-to-day basis."

Some Irish fans began preparing for the big game this weekend by clinging to comments made by USC freshman quarterback Max Wittek, who steps into the starting lineup against Notre Dame following the regular-season-ending shoulder injury suffered by Matt Barkley.

"It he wants to air it out, let's air it out," said Wittek of head coach Lane Kiffin's preferred mode of attack against the Irish. "If he wants to pound it on the ground, let's do that. I'm gonna go out there, I'm gonna play within myself, within the system, and we're gonna win this ball game."

To say the Irish players "ignored" the comment by Wittek wouldn't be accurate. They couldn't ignore it. It was thrown in their faces.

"I heard it from students," said defensive Kapron Lewis-Moore of Wittek's comments. "You heard it all over twitter, the news. My sister called me and I was like, 'Just chill. It's okay. He's a confident quarterback. We're just going to go out and play our game.'"

"Yeah, I heard about it," said safety Zeke Motta. "It's whatever. If I were on that team, I'd want my quarterback to be confident, too. You can say what you want but he's got to have some sort of motivation going into this game, trying to get everybody else fired up. But that also could be to our advantage. Who knows?"

Or for that matter, who cares? Not the Notre Dame players.

"Nothing really," said center Braxston Cave when asked what he thought about Wittek's comments. "He's not going to sit there and say they're going to lose. Any guy who is competitive is going to try to motivate his team and try to get a win. That's really not a big deal. We're going to continue to prepare the same way.

"Like Coach Kelly always says, avoid the noise, and I guess that goes in that category. If someone is going to talk, we're going to go do our talking on the field. People can say whatever they want, but the game is where it's decided.

"For us, there is no reason to put yourself out there like that. The biggest thing is what we've shown so far - winning every game -- and people can say whatever they want. At the end of the day, when there are no losses on your record, I think you're doing the right stuff."

Added cornerback Bennett Jackson: "You've got to be a confident kid when you're playing at such a high level. That's his opinion and it doesn't really have any effect on me. We're going to show up regardless."

Adding to the voice of reason is Irish nose guard Louis Nix, who came to the defense of the young USC signalcaller.

"(He) probably just mis-said a few words," Nix said. "I don't take comments that people say because sometimes people speak out of turn, 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 some good football. I just want to go out there and do my job and hopefully we get a win."

Nix is allowing for the possibility that Wittek might know what he's talking about.

"He could be just as good as Matt Barkley, so you can't underestimate a young guy," Nix said. "We have Everett Golson and a lot of people didn't have high hopes for him and he's turning out very well. So I expect (Wittek) to be as good (as Barkley)."

It sounds like a mantra that Kelly has pounded into their heads, but it isn't. Kelly preaches a "control what you can control" mentality. What's said outside of the white lines has no bearing on Notre Dame's preparation for the biggest game the program has experienced in 19 years.

"No, I don't coach them about what they say and how they say it as much as they understand the basic tenets of being part of a championship program," Kelly said. "We stay so much more small picture that we never get outside and think of it from 35,000 feet."

And so as the Irish head to Los Angeles to earn the right to play for the national championship by defeating the Trojans, there isn't anything that the USC players or the media or the fans can say that is going to deter Notre Dame from focusing on its goal.

"I think people are making it a bigger deal than it is," Lewis-Moore said. "He's a confident quarterback and you want to play for a confident quarterback. By him coming out and saying (they're) going to win, that's what you want out of your quarterback.

"We're not over-thinking it. We're not hanging it up in the locker room. It's no bulletin board material; it's just something we know about. We shrug it off and we go to work."

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