The talking is over (for the most part) and the two winningest programs in college football history are closer to actually kicking off Saturday night when Notre Dame visits Michigan. Unless you have been under a rock this week, you know the last time the Irish went to Ann Arbor Michigan prevailed 35-31 thanks to a ferocious fourth quarter comeback.
"That's probably the worst loss that we've had as a team," Jones said of the 2011 meltdown that saw the Irish fall 35-31. "Going into the fourth quarter with that kind of lead and letting it slip away, both offensively and defensively, it kind of shows that the game's never over until that last second."
That game marked the 15th time in Notre Dame history that a game had the winning points scored with three seconds or less remaining in the contest (the winning TD came with two seconds to play). The Irish have a 5-8 record in those games. That game is history though as Brian Kelly, Tommy Rees and Co. will look to exercise their demons from that game this Saturday night.
"You've got a mature guy," Kelly said this Thursday of Rees' development since that game two years ago. "I think you'll see that on Saturday."
"He's the leader out there," Kelly said of Rees. "There's no debate who's calling the shots out there. You can just watch him operate."
Kelly isn't the only one who sees a starkly different Rees now compared to the one who took the field in Ann Arbor in 2011. Left guard Chris Watt sees it too.
"(He is) more confident," Watt said. "You can say that. He's always been a very confident individual to start out with, but I think it's more confidence in what we're doing - our offensive line and receivers and just everyone on our offense."
Rees' collegiate debut actually came against Michigan at Notre Dame Stadium in 2010. His career got off to an inauspicious start when it threw an interception against the Wolverines in his first career pass attempt.
"It was a flea-flicker," Rees recalled this week. "I threw it a little behind Theo (Riddick) and it got intercepted. (My) first collegiate pass (was) not a great way to start your career, but it was a learning experience and it was a long time ago."
Rees has grown from the quarterback Kelly says was working primarily "on instinct" in the early stages of his career to one who is, arguably, one of the best on-field tacticians in the game. The demeanor he displays now on game day is due to the work he puts in during the week.
"I relax myself throughout the week," Rees said. "My preparation throughout the week is what gets me feeling confident and feeling relaxed before games. I pay attention to detail and watch plenty of film and know what to expect going into the game and be relaxed and just focus on what you need to do."
Rees actually discussed things other than Michigan this week as well. For instance, former Irish center Braxton Cave making the New England Patriots' roster.
"I'm extremely happy for Braxton and all the guys that have made NFL rosters," Rees said this week. "I talked to Brax on Saturday and he hadn't found out yet that he made the Patriots, but he was excited about the opportunities that were presented to him. I wish him all the best."
Two surefire future NFL players who will butt heads Saturday night are Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt and Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan. Tuitt had praise for the Michigan All-American in the days leading up to the game this week.
"Taylor Lewan is a great player," Tuitt said. "Of course he's one of the best tackles in the country. Last year we played within the defense and I lined up against him. I know he's going to bring his A-game and I definitely have to bring mine when I go against him."
Jarrett Grace will get his first true taste of the Michigan rivalry on Saturday. The inside linebacker played sparingly in Notre Dame's 13-6 home win over the Wolverines last year and he didn't make the trip to Michigan as a true freshman two years ago. The Cincinnati native grew up with distaste for both the Wolverines and his home state Buckeyes.
"I didn't like Michigan and I didn't really care for Ohio State," said Grace of the Big Ten rivals. "It wasn't anything too special. I would say more than anything just having some friends up there from the area - I guess that gets it going a little bit more for me."
Notre Dame spent a great deal of time this week practicing with music blaring in the LaBar Practice Complex. The idea was to simulate the raucous crowd noise the Irish will hear when they are on offense Saturday night and to possibly practice using a silent snap count.
"I'm unaware of that," Niklas said slyly this week when asked if a silent count will be in order this week.
"We used it a little bit last year," Niklas continued. "I'm used to it. We're probably not going to be able to hear anything in the stadium (but) I really don't think it will be a problem."
Turnovers have played a huge role in the last three meetings between the old rivals. The Irish committed three turnovers in their 2010 home loss to Michigan and five in the loss at Michigan two years ago, while the Wolverines coughed the ball up six times in Notre Dame's 2012 victory. Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner was a receiver in last year's game and watched then QB Denard Robinson throw four first half interceptions.
“I need to make sure I protect the ball and we’ll win the game - for sure," Gardner told ESPN this week. "Coach (Brady) Hoke has expressed that to me this week and even before this week. If I protect the football, the defense is going to stop them, we’re going to score and we’re going to win.”
Last week's win over Temple moved the Irish to 11-0 when going an entire game without committing a turnover. This game could be one of the most physical that Notre Dame and Michigan has ever played. At least that's what Watt and the rest of the Irish offensive line are expecting.
"The biggest thing we've been saying all week is they have Brady Hoke," said Watt. "Coach Hoke is a d-line guy, their d-coordinator (Greg Mattison) is a d-line guy and then they have a d-line coach, so they have three guys who are working primarily with d-line. We know they're going to be getting on them to make sure they're getting off the ball hard and getting on us quickly, because just from seeing the film they're a lot better than they were last year at getting off the ball."
Eighteen of the last 28 meetings between Notre Dame and Michigan have been decided by a touchdown or less. A game decided by a field goal this weekend could swing in Michigan's favor. Wolverine kicker Brandon Gibbons has tied the Michigan record by connecting on 14 consecutive field goals going back to Oct. 6, 2012. Meanwhile, Irish kickers Nick Tausch and Kyle Brindza both missed makeable kicks last week against Temple.
Michigan and Notre Dame are No. 1 and No. 2 in all-time winning percentage among BCS college football programs, but what their percentages actually are varies depending on which school is doing the math. Notre Dame lists Michigan's winning percentage at .73408 and ND's at .73388, while Michigan's media relations department shows Michigan at .735 and Notre Dame's as .734.