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Notre Dame’s Rees vs. Michigan’s Gardner QB battle takes center stage

Updated: October 7, 2013 1:34PM

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Tommy Rees and Devin Gardner impacted last year’s Notre Dame-Michigan game. Only they did it in different roles than the two quarterbacks will have Saturday.

Rees came off the bench to aid Notre Dame in the 13-6 victory against the Wolverines. He had 115 passing yards and rushed for a touchdown in the win.

Gardner was a wide receiver at the time for Michigan. He finished with three catches for a team-high 40 yards.

Both are now starting quarterbacks for one of the marquee games of the weekend. No. 14 Notre Dame plays at No. 17 Michigan at 7 p.m. at Michigan Stadium.

“It’s the biggest stage in college football,” Gardner told reporters in Ann Arbor, Mich., earlier this week. “This is what every quarterback dreams of; being on a big stage and being able to perform like this.”

Gardner played in 13 games last year, seeing time at wide receiver and quarterback. He made nine starts, five at wide receiver and four at quarterback.

Gardner takes over at quarterback from Denard Robinson.

“Robinson was a spectacular player. He had a lot of attributes that we had to prepare for,” Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt said. “Gardner is a pretty good passer and he’s very mobile. … He can get out the pocket and throw the ball very far.”

Gardner went 10-for-15 for 162 yards and one touchdown in the opener against Central Michigan. He rushed for 52 yards.

“I felt like I was pretty efficient,” Gardner said. “I felt like I ­performed on third down, which is big for us.”

Gardner also threw two interceptions.

“That’s what it comes down to,” Gardner said, “not turning it over.”

Rees had a clean game from that standpoint in Notre Dame’s 28-6 victory over Temple. He was 16-for-23 for 346 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.

“There’s some room to improve,” Rees said. “There are a couple of throws I wished I had back, a ­couple of plays I left some opportunities out there. But I thought the offense did a good job of going out there and executing. We’re moving forward and continuing to get ­better.”

Rees was the starter the last time the Irish played at Michigan Stadium in 2011. He was 27-for-39 for 315 yards and two touchdowns in the 35-31 loss. He also had two interceptions.

“The moment is not quite as large as it was two years ago [for Rees],” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Thursday. “Probably two years ago, he was operating on instinct a little bit, and now he’s operating a little bit more on just a clear understanding of everything. A lot more comfortable. When I say instinct, he was reacting.

“I think you’re going to see somebody that’s so much more proactive in the game. He’s going to see it before it happens. He did a very good job in that game; he’ll do a better job of taking care of the football. You’ve got a mature guy, and I think you’ll see that Saturday.”

Notes: Running back Will Mahone and wide receiver DaVaris Daniels are healthy and cleared to play Saturday for the Irish. Mahone missed the opener because of a high ankle sprain. Daniels had three catches for 69 yards and two touchdowns against the Owls. He left the game in the second quarter because of a groin injury and did not return.

◆ Third-string quarterback Malik Zaire will miss his second straight game with mononucleosis.


Twitter: @lamondpope

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