ANN ARBOR—If nothing else, the last scheduled meeting between Michigan and Notre Dame on a football field is sure to bring about plenty of anticipation before kickoff Saturday night at the big house.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly stirred up the apparently non-existent pot holding the Michigan/Notre Dame ‘rivalry’ on a conference call Sunday stating, “I haven’t really seen it as one of those historic, traditional Notre Dame rivalries.”
Instead, Kelly added, “I’ve seen it as just one of those great football games that Notre Dame has played.”
Taking to the podium for a press conference Monday, Michigan coach Brady Hoke, when asked what his thoughts were on Kelly’s comments and his own take on the Michigan/Notre Dame rivalry, not surprisingly, took a different approach.
“It is (a big rivalry game) for us,” Hoke said. “Everybody looks at everything differently.”
Hoke added later, “Number one, I think it’s great for college football. I mean, (college) gameday’s been here six times for this football game. That’s pretty significant if they’re coming to this campus or the campus in South Bend. So it must have some sort of national appeal.
Perhaps Hoke’s comment in May alluding to Notre Dame “chickening out” for putting the annual match-up on hiatus had something to do with Kelly and Notre Dame’s stance. Or perhaps Kelly and the Irish are attempting to downplay the significance of this potential, final chapter.
Or perhaps none of it matters at all.
If Taylor Lewan and Devin Gardner have it their way, their play on the field will do all the talking for them.
“I personally don’t (need bulletin board material),” Gardner said Monday. “But some guys, it gets them fired up. I love football and I love to compete so I’m going to be fired up regardless. It doesn’t take anyone saying anything bad about our team or anything like that to get me fired up. I’m ready to play at all times.
“But sometimes the bulletin board material is a little extra for others. They get a chance to get a little extra fire in them.”
Lewan, one of four Michigan captains, wouldn’t bite either.
“I don’t know,” Lewan said when asked about Kelly’s comments. “I don’t have anything to say about that. I’m playing football on Saturday. My coach can say what he wants. Coach Kelly can say what he wants. Devin Gardner can say what he wants. I’m playing ball, so it doesn’t matter to me.”
Michigan will be looking to avenge their 13-6 loss to Notre Dame in 2012, a game in which the Wolverines turned the ball over six times.
Senior safety Courtney Avery missed the Central Michigan game after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee at the end of fall camp. Originally expected to miss a minimum of two weeks, Hoke didn’t completely rule Avery out for Notre Dame but didn’t exactly give him a ringing endorsement for Saturday.
“Courtney is close,” Hoke said. “I can’t tell you if he will or not.”
Senior wide receiver Joe Reynolds, who made a couple of big plays against the Chips including a fumble return for touchdown, is expected to be ready to go for Notre Dame with Hoke stating simply, “he should be fine.”
Shake up at RB
With redshirt freshman running back Drake Johnson now out for the season after suffering a torn ACL in the season opener Saturday, true freshman, and yes, Michigan’s leading rusher after carrying the ball 11 times for 58 yards and a touchdown against Central Michigan, Derrick Green, moves up from No. 5 to No. 2 on the depth chart for Notre Dame week.
“He ran the ball pretty well,” Hoke said. “Don’t put all that stock into all the depth charts all the time. There’s going to be a lot of guys that are going to handle the football. But I thought, and Fred (Jackson) thought, and Al (Borges) thought that he did a nice job on the carries he had. He missed a read in there one time that we would like to have a little better.
“But at the same time it was good to get Fitz back out on the field. He made some good cuts, did a good job in protection, and we thought DeVeon Smith did a good job, and then ‘Rawlsy’ (Thomas Rawls) had a good run in there.
“There’s a lot of guys right now, we’re counting on.”
To watch video of Hoke’s press conference from Monday, press play below. Video provided by Josh Newkirk.