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Hold the history, Quinn anticipates progress

Bob Griffin | Friday, September 15, 2006

Notre Dame and Michigan will renew their annual rivalry Saturday – and Irish quarterback Brady Quinn couldn’t care less.

That’s not to say Quinn isn’t focused on beating the Wolverines. He’s just focused on winning – regardless of the opponent.

“Every game right now is just the same to us,” Quinn said. “We look at this game like we did all the others.”

Notre Dame and Michigan share one of the biggest non-conference rivalries in the country. The two schools are top-two in overall winning percentage, and this year they have the best combined ranking – No. 2 and No. 11, respectively – in Quinn’s four years.

But as far as hype is concerned, Quinn is looking elsewhere. While he’s prepared for important games against Michigan in the past – a four-year starter, the senior quarterback has three starts against the Wolverines and saw time during his freshman year – Saturday is just another game on the schedule.

And another chance for the Irish to improve upon mistakes made earlier this year.

“Right now our biggest focus is just individually trying to make ourselves better,” Quinn said during his press conference Wednesday. “Sticking with working on your fundamentals and techniques but also just really focusing on how to get better as a unit, whether offensively, defensively, or special teams, as well.

That’s tough to imagine given what’s at stake. With a win, Notre Dame would be 3-0 and have two victories over ranked Division I opponents. A loss, and the Irish are, at best, in the one-loss club heading into December.

And in order to avoid this reality, and concentrate on execution Saturday, Quinn is looking at how much the Irish have grown offensively heading into this season – and what they are capable of once they find their groove.

“I think we’ve improved a lot,” Quinn said. “We’ve got a different group of players this year, so I think we’re still trying to figure out what type of offense we have, and I think the team faces that every year obviously with different personnel changes, people graduating.”

Part of Quinn’s preparation this week has been watching film to anticipate how the Notre Dame offense will attack Michigan’s new defensive scheme of first-year coordinator Ron English. The quarterback is not so caught up in what the Wolverines might do, but rather, how the Irish will handle the pressure.

“Obviously it’s going to be tough, but at [some] point in time we’re not focusing on [what Michigan will do],” he said.

Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis agreed that the Irish have not played their best game. He said it usually takes a few games for an offense to find its rhythm – something Notre Dame did against Purdue last season.

“You might have spurts where everything seems to go well, but … tying all that stuff together with cohesion takes a little time,” Weis said Wednesday during his press conference. “The learning curve has been greatly pushed along, so it shouldn’t take as long to get into that groove [as it did last year].

“I wouldn’t say we’re there yet, but it shouldn’t take as long.”

Part of finding a rhythm will be the continued effort for Quinn and senior wide receiver Rhema McKnight to find a cohesive connection. McKnight leads the Irish in catches (13) and receiving yards (167) this season – but Quinn is still working on being on the same page more consistently.

“Rhema is one of those guys that sometimes he’s shifty and hard to read, and it’s really tough to just grasp that consistently,” Quinn said. “Again, that’s another thing that obviously week in and week out we’re putting in different schemes, different types of things we’re trying to do.”