Planning for success: Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Chris Watt's biggest takeaway from Notre Dame's 2011 game at Michigan is "finishing."

The Fighting Irish blew a 17-point fourth quarter lead last time they visited the Big House, only to re-take with 30 seconds left -- and then watch Denard Robinson complete two throws on the game's final drive to clinch the Wolverines' win.

Notre Dame got revenge last season en route to a perfect regular season. And it also took the first steps toward ending the series, as athletic director Jack Swarbrick exercised the contract's three-year out clause to give his program more scheduling flexibility with its ACC agreement.

The final scheduled meeting will be next season, at Notre Dame Stadium. For now, though, this week is about the rivals' last meeting at Michigan, which will host its second-ever night game Saturday.

And the Irish are looking forward to the challenge.

"It was amazing," Watt said of the NCAA-record crowd of 114,804. "You could barely hear what was going on. But it's those games that you love -- going on the road and being away from home and being with your teammates. That's like the outlook when you go on the road. So it was an unbelievable game; obviously we wish we could have had a couple plays back, but just an amazing atmosphere up there."

Michigan coach Brady Hoke cause a minor stir during a summer speaking engagement when he said that Notre Dame was "chickening" out of playing the Wolverines. Irish coach Brian Kelly followed with a jab of his own Sunday when he said that he had not seen the Michigan rivalry as "one of those traditional, historic Notre Dame rivalries." Two days later, he reversed course.

But recent history is not lost on the players' minds, not when Michigan beat them three straight times in the final minute before Notre Dame forced six turnovers in a 13-6 win last season.

"This is huge, especially for myself and the other guys in that fifth-year class," captain Zack Martin said, "because since we've been here, every game has been pretty much down to the wire and pretty crazy, so this rivalry is huge."

Martin has played in a national title game. He has played at USC twice, at Michigan State twice and at Stanford once. But Saturday might present the wildest atmosphere of his college career.

"There's no other place I've played at since I've been here that compares to two years ago when we were up there," Martin said. "Just the atmosphere, the fans and all that together really was something to see."