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September 6, 2013

Early exam at the Big House

Zack Martin will take some vivid memories beyond Notre Dame after the season. One of those will no doubt be twice playing rival Michigan on the road at night. Martin did so for the first time two seasons ago, a game the Irish led 24-7 late in the third quarter only to surrender a touchdown with two seconds left in what turned into a 35-31 loss.

The details Martin might remember about that experience in Ann Arbor were washed away by the final Wolverines’ scoring drive.

“Big picture, it came down to the wire,” Martin said. “We didn’t come up with the win.”

However things turn out Saturday, the environments should be comparable.

Kickoff is slated for just after 8 p.m. on national television. Both teams won their first game of the season. Both are ranked in the top 20. The only difference is Notre Dame and Michigan aren’t slated to meet in Ann Arbor on any upcoming schedules, perhaps cranking up the decibel level a bit more.

All that means it could be a very difficult night of communication for the Irish offensive line. Two players - center Nick Martin and right tackle Ronnie Stanley - will make their first road starts.

“It’s gonna be a like an end-of-the-semester exam in the second game,” said left guard Chris Watt. “But we’ll be fine. We’ve been practicing all week with loud music. Zack and I have a lot of pride in our offensive line and communicating. That’s one thing that (offensive line) coach (Harry) Hiestand kind of harps on all the time. That’s what we’re gonna continue to do going into this game.”

Preparation for this stage started last summer.

Martin and Watt coordinated an effort to bring the offensive line together, from freshmen to fifth-year guys, more so than in past years. Often the upperclassmen would wait around well over an hour for the freshmen to join them for inclusive workouts.

Offseason conditioning and fall camp helped iron out communication and continuity. Putting all that together for 60 minutes in front of over 100,000 opposing fans will be the true test of its effectiveness.

“It’s gonna help tremendously just being out there with the guys that you go to battle with every day in practice,” Watt said. “The stuff that we did all summer together, this is what it’s all for. Primetime television, Game Day. It’s all about showcasing our offensive line out there on Saturday night.”

All parties involved expect something the likes of which underclassmen have never seen.

According to Martin and Watt, nothing last season - not Oklahoma under the lights or USC at the Coliseum - stood up to the Big House two seasons ago. It’s likely no stadium moving forward will, either.

“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 of that together was something to see.”







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