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POPE: Brian Kelly tries to shift focus to field for ‘historic rivalry’

SOUTH BEND IN - AUGUST 31: Head coach Brian Kelly Notre Dame Fighting Irish waits run onfield with his team

SOUTH BEND, IN - AUGUST 31: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish waits to run onto the field with his team before a game against the Temple Owls at Notre Dame Stadium on August 31, 2013 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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The Big Number

Michigan has zero losses in 15 home games during the Brady Hoke era. The Wolverines have not lost at home since falling to Wisconsin on Nov. 20, 2010.

The Extra Point

Of the 543 yards of total offense against Temple, 328 came on first downs. The Irish gained at least 15 yards eight times on first-down plays.

on The Web

The Notre Dame running backs remain in a tight competition after Week 1. Read the story at posttrib.suntimes.com/sports.

Updated: October 5, 2013 6:36AM



SOUTH BEND — Brian Kelly wanted to clear something up at the start of his Tuesday news conference.

“This is a great and historic rivalry that we’ll be playing this Saturday, so let’s get that out of the way right away so we don’t have to answer any more questions about this rivalry,” the Notre Dame coach said, referring to the top-20 showdown with Michigan.

This was a smart way of turning the page. And turning the attention to the football field.

“We’re excited about this game, we’re excited about playing it,” Kelly said. “This will be decided by the players on the field, and the preparation that goes along with it. So we can stick with that and dispense with the nonsense.”

There was bound to be big buildup for the game. It is Notre Dame-Michigan, after all.

But the coaches have helped add an extra layer.

In May, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Notre Dame was “chickening out” of the series. Next year’s meeting will be the last for some time. The schools had extended their series through the 2031 season, but it was on a three-year rolling basis. Either school had the option to opt out with three years’ notice. Notre Dame did just that before last year’s game in a letter from Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick to Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon.

Let’s fast forward to Sunday. Kelly made headlines by saying he hadn’t seen the game as “one of those historical, traditional Notre Dame rivalries.”

Hoke responded the next day, saying it was a historic rivalry “to us.”

Kelly attempted to put the story to rest Tuesday.

“People have made a lot of (Hoke’s ‘chickening out’) comments. Look, he’s talking to his alums. I didn’t take anything from it,” Kelly said. “I know Brady, he’s never been one to show disrespect to anybody or anything. It’s really, for me, about two programs that share a boarder, that it makes sense to play. It’s just, there are so many complexities with our schedule and with our agreement with the ACC that it’s difficult and frustrating. I can see the frustration that would be there.

“He’s a first-class guy. I know him from our time way back; he was at Grand Valley State and Ball State. There’s nothing there other than he’s done a great job at Michigan, and I know he wants to continue to play Notre Dame, and we’d like to oblige him. But right now it’s difficult with the commitments that we have.”

Rivalry games always made an impression on Hoke.

“As a guy who grew up loving college football and grew up loving those games, those big games that were few and far between televised nationally, but you always had that Nebraska-Oklahoma game, Notre Dame-Michigan, USC-UCLA. Those were always games you were interested in,” Hoke said during Tuesday’s Big Ten teleconference. “And obviously Michigan and Ohio (State, Hoke refers to the Buckeyes only by Ohio).

“I hope for college football that this series comes back. I know we have two more games, but I hope it comes back.”

Something will be lost down the road. But there’s plenty to look forward to Saturday.

Both teams are coming off home wins in their respective openers. The starting quarterbacks for each team accounted for three touchdowns in those games. Notre Dame’s Tommy Rees had three touchdown passes in the 28-6 win against Temple. Michigan’s Devin Gardner rushed for two touchdowns and threw for one more in the Wolverines’ 59-9 victory against Central Michigan.

ESPN’s College GameDay will be there to add spice to the proceedings. And the game will be at night. The last time the teams played at Michigan Stadium produced a classic, with the Wolverines winning 35-31.

Not that Notre Dame needs any reminders.

“Anybody who was there will certainly remember it, but it doesn’t do anything to affect the outcome of the game. I mean, the game will be affected by how you prepare this week and how you play on Saturday, so if that’s motivation for them to prepare better, that’s great,” Kelly said. “If that’s going to help them play better, that’s great.

“But I think we all know it’s still about the players preparing and not relying on past history. Our guys have been through it enough that they’ve been in those kinds of games before and under that environment. I think they understand how important it is to prepare the right way.”



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