Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, after his team’s opening season victory, was quick to point out the obvious — the Michigan game looming on Saturday counts the same.
With that in mind, Kelly said he has made one message clear to his Irish players.
“Avoid the noise,” Kelly told reporters after Notre Dame’s 48-17 victory over Rice last Saturday.
Michigan plays at Notre Dame at 7:30 p.m. Saturday; there are no future games scheduled between the longtime rivals. Michigan coach Brady Hoke has not attempted to soften comments he made last year when he said Notre Dame was “chickening out” of the series.
But Kelly doesn’t want his players getting caught up in anything but preparations for the game.
“The guys are focused on getting better,” Kelly said. “They know who they are playing (Saturday). But it’s not going to get them any more ready by being distracted. They have got to focus on getting better, and we’ll stick to our routine and our preparation and we’ll let y’all get excited about the game. But our guys wants to play, and it doesn’t matter who they are playing.”
Quarterback Everett Golson is back at quarterback for Notre Dame after an academic suspension that held him out last season. He accounted for five touchdowns in Saturday’s 48-17 victory over Rice. He threw touchdown passes of 75 and 53 yards and ran for three scores. Five players sat out the game because of an investigation into academic fraud.
In Michigan’s opener against Appalachian State, a 52-14 victory, the Wolverines got strong production from its running game and solid blocking from the offensive line. Both had been lacking for the most part last season.
Sophomores Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith accounted for 285 yards rushing and three touchdowns — Green had 170 yards — to give Michigan its first running back tandem since 2007 to each run for 100 yards.
Quarterback Devin Gardner was consistent, completing 13 of 14 attempts for 173 yards and three touchdowns before Shane Morris came into the game in the third quarter. And receiver Devin Funchess, wearing the No. 1 jersey for the first time since Braylon Edwards in 2004, scored Michigan’s first three touchdowns on receptions.
Hoke was disappointed that Michigan’s defense didn’t force a turnover and had just two sacks, but the Mountaineers were held to 280 yards and two second-half scores.
After the game, the Wolverines were looking ahead to Notre Dame in South Bend.
Hoke’s “chickening out” comment stems from 2012, when before the teams met at Notre Dame Stadium, Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon was handed a letter by Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick that indicated the series would be terminated after the 2014 game.
The teams have played 41 times.
Hoke made the “chickening out” comment at a luncheon in west Michigan in May 2013. His players, with the win over Appalachian State behind them, said they support their coach’s feelings on the subject.
“I agree with him — that’s my coach, and I’m behind him all the way,” senior defensive lineman Frank Clark said.
“Everything he said is correct. It’s a slap in the face when you end one of those great rivalries for whatever reason you choose to. This is something for the people, something for the fans, one of those games everyone expects to watch every year.”
Clark said it’s important for the players at both schools to have an opportunity to play in the game, and he is relishing the opportunity to play in South Bend one last time. During the Big Ten football media days at the end of July, Clark told reporters the welcome at Notre Dame Stadium isn’t exactly warm and cuddly.
“I’ve never seen so many middle fingers,” Clark said. “I thought that was a Christian school.”
Clark said the Wolverines who have never been to South Bend can’t quite know what to expect.
“Some of the young guys don’t understand it,” Clark said. “I played there before, I know the environment. In Chicago (at the Big Ten Media Days), I said what they do as being a Catholic school or whatever you want to call it. We’re going in there to play the game and win.”
Senior linebacker Desmond Morgan grew up in Holland, Michigan, a big Wolverines fan. He is sorry to see the series end.
“It’s a huge game, it’s a night game, it’s a rivalry game — the last one — and, obviously, that’s something very important to us and it’s going to be a big stepping stone for our team,” Morgan said. “It’s a rivalry game that dates back a long time, something that’s been very important to both programs, in my opinion, and something we love being a part of.
“It’s unfortunate it’s coming to an end but we’re looking forward to playing the game Saturday.”
Hoke said after the Appalachian State game that the end of the Michigan-Notre Dame series is a sad thing for college football.
“It’s always been a great football game. Bo (Schembechler) would say, it kind of lets you know where your team was early in the season because of the similarities of the athletes on the field.
“For college football, it’s a great rivalry. The significance of being the last one down there, yeah, there’s significance to it.”
Michigan at Notre Dame
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana
Line: Notre Dame by 6
Records: Michigan 1-0; No. 17 Notre Dame 1-0
Series: Michigan leads 24-16-1 (Last: In 2013, Michigan won 41-30)
Did you know? In four previous night games at Notre Dame Stadium, the Wolverines and Irish have each won twice.