Michigan and Notre Dame will meet Saturday for the final time for the foreseeable future. The Blade
Corrected version: Story updated to correct Devin Funchess‘ game stats.
ANN ARBOR — When it came to the historic aspect of the rivalry, Brady Hoke downplayed the potential end of one of college football’s more noteworthy rivalries.
“From the standpoint of the last game, who knows when it’s going to be the last game,” Michigan’s fourth-year coach said Monday. “We just know we’re not going to play them in the near future.”
While the longtime series between Michigan and Notre Dame comes to a close Saturday in South Bend, Ind., Hoke didn’t focus on history. He instead pointed out what the UM football team needed to improve in preparation for the rivalry game at No. 17 Notre Dame, a matchup that typically serves as a the true early-season grade for the Wolverines (1-0) and the Irish (1-0).
Three areas in particular stood out to Hoke in Saturday’s 52-14 win over Appalachian State. He wants to see more precision in the offense, stronger play from the interior of the defensive line, and playing a more consistent fourth quarter.
“Winning the fourth quarter is always huge, and we didn’t do that as a team,” Hoke said.
It’s worth noting that the Wolverines replaced the bulk of their starters in the fourth quarter against the Mountaineers, a program in its first season as an FBS program. But Michigan saw its early strengths in Saturday’s season opener, namely converted wide receiver Devin Funchess (7 catches for 95 yards and three touchdowns), and Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith, sophomore running backs who combined for 285 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
First-year offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier wouldn’t focus on particulars as far as refinement goes, save for two points.
“Consistency and performance, and our ability to perform at a high level each and every day, we’re not there yet,” Nussmeier said. “We play well in stretches and then, at times, we don’t do things the way we need to do them.”
While UM faces Notre Dame for the last time in the foreseeable future, Irish coach Brian Kelly drew a comparison between his team’s first opponent and its second opponent of 2014, following its 48-17 win over Rice on Saturday.
“It counts the same,” Kelly said. “So we've already talked about, avoid the noise.
“We've got a good locker room. The guys are focused on getting better. They know who they are playing. But it's not going to get them any more ready by being distracted. They have got to focus on getting better, and we'll stick to our routine and our preparation and we'll let y'all get excited about that game.”
Still, Saturday carries its own weight.
“Everybody knows how big this rivalry is,” UM quarterback Devin Gardner said. “It sucks that it has to go. It’s not appreciated by everybody but I really appreciate it, growing up here and seeing all the great games. It was amazing for me, and I get one more shot to do it.”
PEPPERS’ STATUS: Freshman nickelback Jabrill Peppers sat out the second half of UM’s win over Appalachian State with an ankle injury, sustained in the first quarter on Saturday.
Hoke, however, said he expects Peppers to be ready against the Irish. Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said any injury to Peppers wouldn’t affect his role in the defense.
“Jabrill is Jabrill,” Mattison said. “He's part of the Michigan defense, so let's go.”