The stage is set for the biggest game of the 2021 season thus far for Notre Dame. Saturday morning, the No. 12 Irish take on No. 18 Wisconsin in Chicago at Soldier Field as part of the Shamrock Series in a matchup that was originally scheduled for Lambeau Field in 2020.
Both ESPN’s College Gameday and FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff shows will be on site, which speaks to the magnitude of the matchup. A win for Notre Dame would make Irish head coach Brian Kelly the winningest coach in program history. Here’s how the Notre Dame players are preparing for big matchup with the Badgers.
Fifth-year linebacker Drew White knows it will be a battle on Saturday.
“It’s going to be a physical game, I think that’s what it’s going to come down to, and then discipline," explained White. "Being in your gap, being assignment sound. Wisconsin does a great job of really just opening up creases and the running back is really good at finding those creases so anybody that’s out of position, they’ll make you pay for it.”
White isn’t wrong. Wisconsin’s offense has averaged 266 rushing yards through the first two weeks including a 180-yard performance against Penn State in the season opener.
Though there’s no doubt it will be an incredible atmosphere at Soldier Field come Saturday morning, White isn’t interested in anything that’s happening outside of the white lines.
"It’s going to be an electric atmosphere, and I don’t want to come off bad when I say this but that’s really for the fans, that’s for the media, that is for everyone else: to have a good time,” Whit remarked. “When I’m done playing football, I’ll be excited for that too, but we have a job to do and the job doesn’t change. We’re playing an opponent that is going to try and run the ball down our throat and we’re going to have to stop them. I think just the focus and the attention to that aspect and kind of limiting the outside noise is going to be really important.”
Likewise, fifth-year right tackle Josh Lugg believes every week’s preparation should be the same regardless of the opponent.
“I think every week we need to expect a physical game and we need to be more physical in our preparation so that when Saturday comes we’re executing with high intensity,” Lugg said. “We treat our opponents as a faceless opponent, I’m not sure how they look at us, but we always look at our defensive lines that we go against as a faceless opponent and if we execute our fundamentals and go back to the basics at a high level then we’re going to be good when it comes to Saturday.”
Lugg is well aware of he and the offensive line’s responsibility.
“If we want our team to be successful it has to start with us up front, and doing our job consistently, not just one play here and one play there but all five of us being able to execute at a high level,” Lugg said.
The Irish offensive line took a step in the right direction against Purdue, but it will be tested all game long against a physical Wisconsin defensive front.
This game will be especially memorable for senior safety Houston Griffith, a Chicago native who last played at Soldier Field when he was making his first varsity start as a freshman in high school. Griffith also has a familiarity with Wisconsin, since his father Howard Griffith, a two-time Super Bowl Champion with the Denver Broncos, is a college football analyst for the Big Ten Network. So, Griffith is also expecting to be tested on his home turf.
“[They’ve] been a program that I respect a lot, they are a team that knows how to really run the football, how to control the possession of the game," Griffith explained. "They’re big, they’re smart and they play aggressive, and it speaks to their success they’ve had in the past.
“It should be a good game, it’s going to be a game that’s physical and we’re just going to have to hunt," Griffith continued. "At the end of the day we’re going to have to hunt. We took a big step last weekend so we’re just trying to continue to work on that and take another step this week.”
It’s clear the Irish are aware of what it’s going to take to be successful and focused on making it happen.
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