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Watson focused and ready to play Saturday

Matt Lozar | Wednesday, September 10, 2003

For the second straight year, linebacker Courtney Watson missed the beginning of the Notre Dame season. Watson missed the first two games in 2002 due to an illness. This season, Watson was forced to watch the opener from the sidelines after a circumstance outside of his control resulted in a one-game suspension.

The mystery surrounding the cause of his suspension brings about a lot of attention-which Watson is trying to ignore.

“I’m trying to do the best I can to put it behind me. A lot of people want to ask questions about it and bring it up,” Watson said. “I can’t focus on it. I can’t worry about that. I have a big enough task at hand Saturday to be worried about stuff like that.”

The return of Watson for Saturday’s game against Michigan is extremely important since his performance is key to stopping the running game. Michigan’s team running attack leads Division I with 367.0 yards a game. Chris Perry is first in the country averaging 208.0 yards per game.

Renewing bitter ties

In case you didn’t know, it’s Notre Dame-Michigan week. Which means the players and coaches are attempting to not over hype this game.

“You still have 11 guys on offense, 11 guys on defense. You still have to lineup and execute your technique and the play calls,” cornerback Vontez Duff said. “It’s one of those games where there are more fans. We have to have the mindset and attitude to go in there and execute our technique and get things done.”

Even Duff admits it’s hard not to think about how big this game actually is.

“It’s a battle man. It’s going to be a way. It’s going to be down to the last second on the clock just like last year,” Duff said. “I feel as though if we go in and execute, it’s going to be a great game.”

The significance of this rivalry goes back to Nov. 23, 1887 when the Irish played their first game against the Wolverines. Michigan won 8-0.

Besides the length of this rivalry, the success of these two programs adds that much more meaning to every game.

“From my perspective, I think you would say really one word probably captures it more than anything else -winning,” Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham said. “By that I think you have the No. 1 program in the country in terms of winning percentage involved in this contest. On the other hand, I think you have the No. 1 program in terms of games won in this contest.

“It’s a natural that this becomes a game that gathers the interest of a lot of people, not only in this region, but around the country.”

Notre Dame has a winning percentage of .750 compared to Michigan’s .746. The Irish have won 791 games in 114 years while the Wolverines have won 823 games in 123 years.

Telltale sign?

After surviving a major scare from Washington State Saturday, the Irish know this game will be very important to determining their course for the rest of the season.

A loss drops their record to even, but a win could propel the Irish into the top 10 and give the Irish attention around the country.

“I think this is a game, this year, that means a lot to us as a team,” Watson said. “It’s a pretty big game to show how we can play away, at Michigan. I think it’s a real big deal for our team this year and how the season will play out.”

Last year, the Irish were 2-0 going into the game with Michigan. In the season’s third game, the offense finally found the end zone and former Irish cornerback Shane Walton sealed the 25-23 victory by breaking up a fourth quarter two-point conversion and an interception on Michigan’s final drive late interception.

Injury update

Cornerback Jason Beck-strom participated in team drills in the beginning of camp when the media was allowed to watch practice. He was in full pads. Cornerback Dwight Ellick had his left leg in an immobilizer Tuesday and did not participate in practice.

Linebacker Mike Goolsby worked out in the team drills in a helmet and shoulder pads, but was not in full-body pads.

Willingham said the status of the injured players will become known throughout the week and no one has been ruled out of Saturday’s game.