Carr Looks to Break Streak

Lloyd Carr does not like the first time away from home. Michigan has lost six straight road openers. Not a great way to start a season. Three of those have come against Saturday's opponent, No. 2 Notre Dame. The contest is set for 3:30 p.m. in South Bend.

The Irish will be looking for a three-game winning streak in the series, the longest since 1987-90. Carr, who has never won at Notre Dame Stadium, will try to get his team into the right mindset.

"It comes back to the poise and the discipline that you want to have as a team," Carr said about going on the road. "And that's really up to the young guys to pay attention as they go in there and know before they get there that it's not the same and listen to the older guys, the guys that have been there. They're all going to tell them, hey, you're going to be nervous. If you're not nervous going into this game, then you don't have any blood in your body. But that's all part of it, and once the ball is kicked off, then that field is the same size as it is at home, you just have a little bit of noise that you have to deal with."

"We do not talk about that at all," running back Michael Hart said about the current road opener streak. "Our last six road-openers have been hard games in hard environments. Like I said, that is why it is so big to go in there and take over the crowd. Last year we went to Wisconsin and that is one of the hardest places to play. The year before that it was Notre Dame. Those are hard environments to play in, so the biggest thing we can do is go in there and control the crowd."

Last season's contest was a turning point for both squads. Notre Dame and head coach Charlie Weis came into the game as an underdog but left with the upper hand, a hard fought 17-10 victory over Michigan. It propelled Notre Dame to a 9-3 record, including a trip to the Fiesta Bowl. Michigan went in the opposite direction, finishing the year 7-5 and a loss in the Alamo Bowl to Nebraska.

One season later, the roles are reversed. The Irish are the favorites playing at home with the higher ranking while No. 11 Michigan comes into Notre Dame Stadium with a 2-0 record. The Wolverines have beat up on some inferior competition, beating both Vanderbilt and Central Michigan by 20 or more points. On Saturday, they'll face an Irish team coming off a pasting of then No. 19 Penn State and hungry to continue their hopes of a national championship. This will be the 34th meeting between two of the nation's most historic programs and the Michigan players can feel the excitement of the rivalry.

"It's a rivalry game so we are naturally going to go out there and be a little more intense in the weight room and practice field," junior defensive tackle Alan Branch said. "We are going to be really focused this week and I expect a whole different team practicing this week."

"You definitely circle that game on the schedule, especially being a defender and knowing that they have such a great offense," senior cornerback Leon Hall said. "They have got two of the top receivers in the nation and a Heisman frontrunner at quarterback. They also have a really good running game. You have to circle that game and get ready for it, and it is finally here."

A center piece of the Wolverine offense is their running game. Michigan has racked up an average of 249 yards per game on the ground through two contests. The Wolverines have great depth at the running back position. Hart will try to bounce back from an injury-plagued sophomore year and find the groove he was in his freshman season when he ran for over 1,400 yards. Sophomore Kevin Grady was highly recruited by Michigan and gained 483 yards with five touchdowns in 2005. Freshman Brandon Minor also will be in the mix to give Michigan three quality backs aiming for the heart of the Notre Dame defense. The battle between the Michigan offensive line, which averages 306 pounds, and the Irish defensive front, which goes 277 pounds per lineman, will be key to who wins this matchup.

"I think the teams that we've played are good teams," Carr said. "There are a lot of good teams out there. But I think you can stop the running game. There are fronts that you can get into that force teams to throw the football, and if that happens, then certainly we have to be able to throw it. We're confident that we can run the football. Now, whether we're going to run it that effectively, probably not. 250 yards a game is not something that is easy to do against any competition, and we certainly will have to be more balanced."

"Of course you want to be the back that does it for Michigan," Hart said. "The last two years I have been unfortunate against them. Darius (Walker) has been fortunate against us. I am just going in there with the mindset to win. I do not care if we have two running backs rushing. If we win the game, that is all I care about. Grady can go in there and have 300 yards rushing and I can have two yards and if we win the game then that is fine with me."

On defense for Michigan, it all starts up front. The Wolverines have surrendered a paltry 29 yards per game on the ground, good for fourth in the nation. Two Michigan players, LaMarr Woodley and Rondell Biggs, both have registered five tackles for loss and a combined seven sacks. Getting pressure on Irish quarterback Brady Quinn is a priority for teams trying to get the Notre Dame offense off-balance. Saturday's game will be against tougher competition than Vanderbilt and Central Michigan. The Irish have Quinn, running back Darius Walker, wide receivers Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight and tight end John Carlson to handle. With Weis calling the plays, it's almost pick your poison.

"It's kind of hard to prepare for it, because you never know what he is going to come out in," Woodley said about preparing for Weis's schemes. "Saturday he might be in one offense and then the Saturday coming up, when we play him, he might be in a totally different offense. You look forward to seeing something new."

"They have a good offense, a great coach and a quarterback that gets the offense going," senior linebacker Shawn Crable said. "They run a lot of plays and some of the plays they just block differently. It will be a good challenge for our linebackers to be able to read plays and be able to adjust to people coming up on you.

"They have plays that they love to run and they have plays that they throw in just for the team they are playing and our weaknesses, but mostly they play well. Whatever they have to do, they do it well."


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