Kelly attempts to defuse 'rivalry debate' with Michigan

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Brian Kelly wasn't going to add any more fuel to the fire on the Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry debate on Tuesday. Two days earlier, Kelly said while Michigan was a great rivalry game he didn't see it as a traditional, historical rivalry game based on how many gaps their have been in the series through the years.

This Saturday marks the final time Notre Dame plays at Michigan for now after the Irish decided to end the series following next year's matchup in South Bend. Kelly's Sunday comments got blown out of proportion and were labeled as him basically saying "Michigan wasn't a rival" in most questions that were posed to the Maize and Blue on Monday.

Tuesday, Kelly began his weekly preview press conference by addressing the elephant in the room.

"This is a great and historic rivalry that we will be playing this Saturday. Let's get that out of the way right right away, so we don't have to answer any more questions about this rivalry ," Kelly said with a smile and added emphasis. "This will be decided by the players on the field. Let's stick with that and dispense with the nonsense."

Michigan coach Brady Hoke created a stir back in May when at an alumni function, Hoke said Notre Dame was "chickening out" of the series.

Kelly, who has coached against Hoke for more than a decade dating back to their days in the Mid American Conference, says, "he was talking to his alums. I didn't take anything from that."

"I know Brady," Kelly continued. "He's never been one to show dis-respect to anybody or anything. It's really for me about two programs that share a border, that it makes sense to play. I get that. There's so many complexities with our schedule and our agreement with ACC that it's difficult and frustrating. I can see the frustration would be there."

Kelly called Hoke a class act guy.

"I know he wants to continue to play Notre Dame," Kelly said of Hoke. "We'd like to oblige him, but right now it's difficult with the commitments we have."

Starting next season, Notre Dame will begin play five ACC opponents a year creating a scheduling mess.

Most view Notre Dame and Michigan as a great rivalry game mainly because its produced so many thrilling games over the last few years. The Irish won a dog fight in South Bend last year while Michigan won a thriller in the final seconds two years ago in the first ever night game at Michigan Stadium.

"Anybody who was there will remember it," Kelly says of the loss in Ann Arbor. "But it doesn't affect the outcome of the game."

Kelly says its all about how the players prepare this week. He says if two years ago motivates them to prepare better that's great but he doesn't think history will play an impact on this week's showdown in the Big House which will also be played in front of around 115,000 fans.

The one benefit for the Irish is that they have Tommy Rees at quarterback, who engineered what appeared to be a game winning drive in the final minute against Michigan two years ago--only to see Denard Robinson engineer a drive right back for the win in the final seconds.

But Rees having played in that atmosphere in the past will be a boost to the Irish Kelly says because he's been there and it will calm the rest of the team down to see a veteran QB who knows how to handle the situation.

Rees, who is returning to the role as starting quarterback for the Irish due to the suspension of Everett Golson for the 2013 fall semester at Notre Dame, played very well against Temple Saturday in the season opener. Rees was 16-of-23 for a career high 346 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

"His strengths continue to be his strengths," Kelly said of Rees. "He got us in the right plays except for one. He threw with great efficiency. He's gotta be that efficient because he's not going to be doing some of the other things. He's gotta make some of the easier throws that are out there--and I think he will."

"Last year, we had too many throwaway downs and didn't get in the right down and had no chance for success. We only had one on Saturday. Now, we have to turn those into points."

All signs point to Rees having DaVaris Daniels ready to go for Saturday. Daniels caught the game's first two touchdowns vs Temple in the first five minutes before leaving in the 2nd quarter with a slight groin injury. Kelly said Daniels will practice Tuesday and will be ready to go for Saturday.

It's unclear whether Irish freshman quarterback Malik Zaire will be available come Saturday as he continues to battle mono. Kelly says Zaire is not yet cleared for competition. Andrew Hendrix is the team's backup QB with Luke Massa serving as the 3rd string QB until Zaire is ready to go.

As for Michigan's quarterback, Devin Gardner is the now the full-time starter with Denard Robinson graduated.

"From running stand point, I can't remember a guy like Robinson that was that electric and dynamic," Kelly said when asked to compare Robinson to Gardner. "But Gardner throws the ball with a lot more accuracy. Scrambles very well. Another dual threat quarterback that will be very difficult to defend."

"Devin Gardner reminds me of Randall Cunningham back there," Kelly said, referring to former Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback.

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