By DAVID VANTRESS
THE GOSHEN NEWS
SOUTH BEND —
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has apparently changed his mind about the importance of the Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry.
Two days after saying during his weekly Sunday conference call that he didn’t consider Michigan “one of those historic, traditional Notre Dame rivalries,” Kelly reversed field during his regular Tuesday press conference.
“It’s 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,” Kelly said in his opening remarks.
“We’re excited about the game, excited about playing it. This will be decided by the players on the field and the preparation that goes along with it so we can stick to that and dispense with the nonsense.”
The No. 14 Fighting Irish travel to Ann Arbor this Saturday night to meet the No. 17 Wolverines.
Kelly’s Sunday remarks came in response to a question about comments made earlier this year by Michigan coach Brady Hoke, who told a gathering of Michigan boosters that the Irish were “chickening out” of the rivalry.
This Saturday night’s game is the final scheduled matchup in the on-again, off-again series between the two iconic schools.
The Wolverines lead the series, 23-16-1.
Kelly said on Tuesday that the Irish are in good shape coming out of Saturday night’s opening win over Temple.
“We think the opener for us was an opportunity for really good preparation for a lot of young players, guys that got opportunities to play for the first time,” Kelly said. “We were able to achieve a number of things offensively in (quarterback) Tommy Rees’s first start in a year where he got into the game, deep into the game.”
Now the Irish need to maintain that momentum heading into a hostile environment at The Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Prior to last season’s 13-6 win over the Wolverines at Notre Dame Stadium, Michigan had won the past three meetings — all with touchdowns in the final 27 seconds of regulation.
Notre Dame forced six Wolverine turnovers and intercepted then-Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson five times to get the big win at home last season.
Kelly also said his planned handoff of play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Chuck Martin went smoothly. Kelly said it was the first time in 23 years as a head coach that he didn’t call the plays.
“I thought Chuck called a very good game,” Kelly said. “There were a couple of things I thought were outstanding. The one sack that we did have, I thought he managed that situation very well. ... It’s seamless, and I expect it to be that way all year.”
Kelly said he was impressed with the Notre Dame debut of junior running back Amir Carlisle, who had seven carries for 68 yards in the opener against Temple. “I thought he started off well, obviously got the ball outside to the defense early on and showed some good acceleration,” Kelly said. “It’s going to take some time. He hasn’t played in a couple years.” ... Kelly said senior quarterback Tommy Rees’ experience playing in the night game at Michigan in 2011 should help him this time out. “I think 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.” ... Kelly also said the Irish are still awaiting a doctor’s clearance for freshman quarterback Malik Zaire to return to practice.