Starting right tackle Dan Stevenson was very excited about the opportunity to play this game. "The Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry is obviously one of the best in college football," Stevenson said. "I remember my junior year I took an unofficial visit to Michigan and the cab driver told me ‘I don't care where you go, just don't go to Notre Dame.' I've seen this rivalry from a young age and it's an honor to be able to play in one of the greatest rivalries in all of college football."
At the end of the second half of the Washington State game, the Irish offensive line started playing like a top 20 team. Stevenson says that will help them a lot in this game. "I think it's going to make a big difference. Obviously it gives us momentum going into this game. We got those first-game jitters out of the way. Now we can focus on playing to the level we can play at."
Center Bob Morton saw his first game action last week and Morton says it was a thrill to be playing in Notre Dame stadium. "It was nice to be playing ball again," said Morton. "They said at the time and you never really believe it but the most intimidating thing was walking out the tunnel on your first game day when know you're going to play."
Morton has been an Irish fan for a long time and he says he knows what this game means. "Just because you are new to the team doesn't mean you are new to this rivalry. I've been a Notre Dame fan for a long time and you know the Michigan game is a big game every year. Going into this year a lot of people have said they (Michigan) can do a lot of things and so far they've proven they can do a lot of things. Offensively they are very talented and our defense really has a challenge in front of them and defensively, their front four are some of the best we'll face this year. We really have to play a good game as an offensive line."
Washington State threw everything they had at Morton who makes the line calls as the starting center. Morton says he expects the same thing in this game. "I think anytime a defense has success doing a variety of things, teams afterwards are going to try the same strategy and see how it works. They're going to make sure we've made the adjustments and try to capitalize if we haven't. We're going to have to prove we've fixed our problems up front before we can really key into what we expect from them."
Center Zach Giles is also excited about this game. Giles will likely see playing time when they move Morton to guard to give Sean Milligan a breather. "You have number one and number two in winning percentage in the country," Giles said of the rivalry. "You can say without a doubt that these are the two best programs in the country over history. All the top players in the country get recruited by Notre Dame and Michigan. Both are undefeated so far and both have something to prove. There's a lot at stake."
Giles says there won't be any extra motivation to win this game. "Us, Coach Willingham and the staff, we go after everyone the same. We go at Michigan the same as we go at Navy or Rutgers. We go about them the same way and we have the same intensity at practice. If we play our game, it doesn't matter who we play."
We believe this game in particular will be won in the trenches. The offensive and defensive line will have to win this game for the Irish. Giles says that is the case in every game. "I don't think there's ever been a football game that the linemen didn't win. You look at last week; we did an excellent job in the second half opening up holes for Ryan (Grant) and Julius (Jones). That's where we won the game. If we stick to our assignments and make the plays, we should be fine. Anytime you have two powerhouse lines like both teams, it's definitely going to be a big storyline in the game."
Coach Tyrone Willingham says this type of game is why his players are here. "This is what you come to Notre Dame for— these kinds of opportunities," said Willingham. "You play big games at Notre Dame. Our guys are excited to go in and have this opportunity."
Nose guard Cedric Hilliard says he will be available for the game. Hilliard has been nursing an ankle sprain but he says but says he'll be ready and is excited about the challenge. "Come game time, I'll be ready. I'll have that adrenalin pumping and I'll be ready to go. The ankle felt great and I had no setbacks during practice."
Hilliard says he's excited to play at Michigan. He made the trip is freshman year but didn't play in the game. "This is my last time to get to play the Michigan-Notre Dame game. All across the country everyone's waiting for this game and it's a big deal. I was fortunate enough to make the trip my freshman year so I know what it's like. Unfortunately we lost that year but it was still an exciting moment. I'm really looking forward to it."
Michigan enters the game as the top-ranked rushing team in the country. Hilliard is excited to match up against their rushing attack. "These are the situations you live for. They're rushing for 367 a game now so this is the kind of competition you want. We love to go out there in big games and do what we do."
The Michigan rushing attack will be running into the heart of the defense with Hilliard, Darrell Campbell and Courtney Watson. All three have played a lot of football for the Irish and Hilliard says that will help against the run. "I think it's a big key that all three of us are 5th-year seniors and we all know how each other works. We're friends so it's exciting to play together and we feel comfortable with all of us in the game together."
Hilliard says they know what they need to do to win this game. "Just play Notre Dame football. Protecting the ball, creating turnovers, just being dominant—we've got to stop the run and to be able to run the football. If we do that, we have a chance."
If the Irish win this game, you can bet these four players will play a large part in the win. The Irish must top the run and be able to run—just as Hilliard said.