Two years after letter to Brandon, final game arrives

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By Max Cohen, Daily Sports Editor
Published September 4, 2014

It has been two years since Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon was handed the letter that said Notre Dame was opting out of its series with the Wolverines.

Now, the final meeting is here. Saturday’s game in South Bend will be the last meeting between the programs for the foreseeable future, ending a historic rivalry.

There has been no shortage of controversy and bold statements since Brandon received the letter. Michigan coach Brady Hoke called the Fighting Irish “chickens” for opting out and Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly deemed the rivalry “regional” before the game was played in 2013, a sentiment with which Hoke and many fans disagreed. Just last week, Michigan senior defensive end Frank Clark said the conclusion of the rivalry felt like “a slap in the face.”

Another perceived slap in the face to the Wolverines came with Thursday’s announcement of a home-and-home series between Notre Dame and Ohio State in 2022 and 2023. The Fighting Irish said they didn’t have room for the series with Michigan, and the announcement indicates that they may view the Wolverines’ chief rival as a better program despite Michigan winning four of the last five games against Notre Dame.

But this week, both coaches have noticeably avoided creating more drama.

Kelly was careful with his words at his weekly press conference Monday to prevent adding any additional fuel to the fire. He was asked if the end of the rivalry would be a good thing for college football because of the opportunities both teams will be able to pursue in its place. The coach jumped around the question but still wanted reassurance that he did well in his response.

“How did I do with that? Pretty good?” Kelly asked.

Hoke has been more coy than usual this week, particularly in regard to his own team. He hasn’t commented on injuries since Monday and refused to reveal which offensive linemen will play. The status of freshman cornerback Jabrill Peppers and senior linebacker Desmond Morgan, both potential difference-makers, is uncertain.

The offensive line also comes into the game with numerous questions. Hoke has maintained that he has a plan for the unit all week, but he hasn’t divulged what exactly it is.

At center, redshirt junior Graham Glasgow has fulfilled his one-game suspension, meaning he could possibly replace redshirt junior Jack Miller at the position. Fifth-year senior Joey Burzynski started at right guard against Appalachian State but was replaced by redshirt sophomore Kyle Kalis in the first half. Hoke has given no indication about which players have been earning the reps in practice or who will play Saturday.

Hoke has acknowledged that crowd noise will be a factor on the road. He has taken to playing the Notre Dame fight song in front of his players all week so it won’t faze them. He predicted Wednesday that the preparation of his players will help them overcome the road environment despite the difficulties it presents.

“The intensity in the stress that we can continue to put on our players so that when you do go to a great venue and play a game, a place where it’s going to be loud — they pipe in their own music, as we all know,” Hoke said. “It’s right in back of us.”

On the field, Notre Dame presents its own problems. Quarterback Everett Golson looked sharp in his return last week after missing the 2013 season because of academic dishonesty. He threw for 295 yards and two touchdowns in addition to rushing for three more in Notre Dame’s 48-17 drubbing of Rice.

Michigan’s pass defense shut down Appalachian State, but Golson presents a far greater challenge, as does the entire Fighting Irish team.

Michigan lost the last time it played in South Bend, when Brandon was handed the letter that ended the rivalry. Saturday is the Wolverines’ chance to get the last word.