Notre Dame not just another game at Michigan

The Sports Xchange

September 03, 2013 at 10:36 am.

True freshman RB Derrick Green scored a touchdown in his Michigan debut. (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Notre Dame is coming to the Big House, and try as the Fighting Irish might, Michigan refuses to buy into chatter that Saturday’s matchup between unbeaten, storied programs isn’t a big game.

A nasty brew that has been simmering for four months should reach a boiling point this weekend when Brady Hoke’s foul remark from May comes center stage.

Back then, after Notre Dame had let it be known it would end the series with the Wolverines, saying it would do so in order to meet its new commitment to the Atlantic Coast Conference, Hoke bristled.

“The Notre Dame game, that rivalry, which they’re chickening out of,” Hoke said at a West Michigan Sports Commission annual luncheon in Grand Rapids. The crowd at the event went wild – they loved the mark and the snort with which Hoke delivered it.

“They’re still gonna play Michigan State, they’re gonna play Purdue, but they don’t want to play Michigan,” Hoke said. “I don’t know how they made that decision … I really don’t … but anyway, that’s a great national rivalry game. It’s a great game.”

The Wolverines have played Notre Dame 40 times, and the two powers have met each season since 2002, but the Irish have called off the games against Michigan from 2015-17. Coach Brian Kelly said last week Notre Dame was not a traditional rival.

When asked about the future of the series, and if it remains a big rivalry, Hoke did not back off.

“It is for us,” he said. “Everybody looks at things differently.

“I think it’s great for college football. It must have some sort of national appeal. Coaching in a lot of places, and maybe it’s just me, but I know that whenever Michigan and Notre Dame was on TV, I was going to be watching it. I know people in Corvallis, Ore., they are going to be watching it — for one reason or another.”

Michigan all-everything offensive tackle Taylor Lewan said he will enjoy facing he Irish again, because he still feels this is one of the top matchups in the nation.

“It’s a huge national rivalry,” Lewan said. “To be around that team and play that team … the idea of a rivalry and being there on Saturday, it’s a phenomenal feeling. There are three big rivals, now it’s coming down to two. I’m fortunate to be playing them my senior year, so that’s huge. It’s unfortunate that it’s ending, but I’m going to get over it.”

Hoke, who backed off the throttle early in the opening rout of Central Michigan, spreading freshmen all over the field in the second half, still saw his team put up 59 points, the most of any Wolverines’ season opener since 1905.

The Michigan coaching staff is spending part of its prep time making certain its young players know how different this week will be.

“I think the best thing we do is try to educate them as to what it’s going to be like,” he said. “We’ll talk more about the atmosphere and have some of the older kids talk about what it’s going to be like. That’s part of it. With technology today, you can show them it. We also talk about not being distracted. That’s taking care of your job and being accountable to your teammates.”

Notes: OT Taylor Lewan, who passed up the opportunity to be a high first-round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft in order to return to Michigan for a fifth season, has started 36 career games at left tackle — including 29 straight. Lewan is on track to become only the ninth Michigan offensive linemen to be a four-year starter. … With senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint back in the starting lineup for the first time last week after a broken leg ended his 2012 season, Hoke expects to need a handful of running backs against the Irish, and beyond. “There are going to be a lot of guys who are going to handle the football,” Hoke said. “There are a lot of guys now that we’re counting on.” … Derrick Green, a highly-touted true freshman, gives the Wolverines a different look with his compact size and powerful build. He had a team-best 58 rushing yards on 11 carries in his collegiate debut and scored a touchdown.