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Notre Dame braces for Big House distractions

Sports reporter Steve Greenberg studio. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times.

Sports reporter Steve Greenberg in studio. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times.

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No. 14 Notre Dame
at No. 17 Michigan

The facts: 7 p.m., ESPN, 890-AM.

The records: ND 1-0, Michigan 1-0.

The line: Michigan by 31⁄2.

Updated: October 8, 2013 6:14AM

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Zack Martin has started at Notre Dame since 2010.

He’s lined up at offensive tackle for road games at USC, Oklahoma and Stanford, among others.

Visiting Michigan Stadium for the 2011 night game topped them all.

“There’s no other place I’ve played at since I’ve been here that compares to two years [ago] when we were up there,” the senior captain said earlier this week. “Just the atmosphere. The fans. All that together was something to see.”

Notre Dame expects more of the same under the lights Saturday in what could be the final meeting between the Irish and Wolverines in the Big House for years to come.

“We know it’s going to be loud,” Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees said.

No. 14 Notre Dame pointed to drowning out the noise, limiting turnovers and jumping out to a quick start as crucial steps to winning in Ann Arbor for the first time since 2005. No. 17 Michigan has won six of the last seven home games against the Irish. The Wolverines are 15-0 at home under coach Brady Hoke.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly believes Rees provides the proper leadership to guide the Irish into the tough environment.

“The noise in that stadium and just the atmosphere is definitely going to help him because it is obviously an incredible atmosphere there,” Kelly said. “It’s loud, the fans, it’s a night game. Any time that you put a veteran quarterback in that situation, it has a calming effect to everybody because he’s been through it.

“There’s no question that that’s going to help in this instance. He’s still going to have to play through that, but it definitely helps in this instance.”

Rees said preparation is essential for this road trip.

“What you do the week before, really focusing on throughout the week of practice [and] getting the hours of film study in,” Rees said. “Michigan can present some different looks. You have to make sure you are in tune to all those different things.”

Rees performed well the last time Notre Dame went to Michigan. He finished with 315 passing yards and three touchdowns in a 35-31 loss. But he also threw two interceptions.

Turnovers were a big factor last year. Michigan threw five interceptions and lost a fumble as Notre Dame won 13-6.

Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner had two interceptions in a Week 1 victory against Central Michigan.

Rees was spotless in that department while throwing three touchdowns against Temple.

Two of the touchdowns came in the first quarter. Kelly said another fast start is vital.

“It’s part of what we talk about to winning football games. Getting off to a quick start, start strong is important,” he said. “If you look at the last time we played there, we would have liked to have finished strong, and we got off to a good start but we didn’t finish strong. It’s four quarters of winning for us.”

The last four Notre Dame-Michigan games have been decided by seven or fewer points.

“Get off to a fast start, attention to detail, great effort, and then finish strong. It’s going to take four quarters,” Kelly said. “The numbers have suggested that a number of these games have only been decided by just a few points, and so it’s going to require that fast start, but it’s going to require four quarters in this kind of matchup.”


Twitter: @lamondpope

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