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Notre Dame Football

Physicality Priority No.1 for Notre Dame's Defense

September 22, 2021

Notre Dame's defense turned a corner against Purdue over the weekend. The Irish limited the Boilermakers to under 350 total yards and allowed just 2.3 yards per rush. 

Learning a new defense, getting comfortable with a new defense and dealing with key injuries hasn't been easy, but captain Drew White never doubted Marcus Freeman's plan despite some ups and downs the first two weeks. 

"We're down some players and it's next guy in," White stated on Tuesday. "I've experienced with that in my younger years here. It's a great thing and we have a lot of depth and a lot of playmakers at the linebacker position. We've seen that with JD Bertrand stepping up and different guys filling in their roles. It's been really cool to see. That was a big knee knocker to start the season, but I'm so proud of these guys that have stepped up.

"In terms of schematics, a lot of blitzes, but other than that, it's still football. You have to be assignment sound and get to the ball - effort and attitude. Different coordinators, but the same thing." 

The Florida native is in his third season as the starting Mike and feels the defense scratching the surface of its potential. 

"We have the ability to be the best defense and the best linebacking corps in the country," explained White. "We're not there. We saw it in our first two games. The mistakes and the details - we're getting those ironed out. I think we saw a step forward in the right direction versus Purdue. I think it's going to continue to excel as we go through the season and I'm excited for what we're going to showcase."

The level of competition will be raised this weekend as the Irish will head to Soldier Field to take on No. 18 Wisconsin. 

Notre Dame safety Houston Griffith knows the Badgers aren't going to hide what they want to do and the most physical team will win on Saturday. 

"Wisconsin is a program I'm very familiar with being a Big 10 family and my dad working for the Big 10 Network," said Griffith. "It's a program I respect a lot. It's a team that really knows how to run the football and control the game. 

"They're big, smart and they play aggressive. It should be a good game and a game that's physical. We're just going to have to hunt. We took a big step last week and we're going to continue to work on that and take another step this week." 

White echoed Griffith's assessment of Wisconsin as physicality will be critical for both teams. 

"Physical at the point of attack," White said of the Badgers. "It's going to be a physical game and that's what it's going to come down to and discipline—being in your gap and being assignment sound. Wisconsin does a great job of opening creases and the running back is really good at finding those creases. If anyone is out of position, they'll make you pay for it. That's the point of emphasis this week." 

Griffith grew up in Chicago and having the chance to play at Soldier Field will mean much more than playing in another NFL stadium. 

"It means a lot to me. It'll be my first time playing at home since I was 15 years old. I had my first high school varsity start at Soldier Field. To have it all come full circle my senior year against a big opponent like Wisconsin at Soldier Field, it means a lot to me and my family as well. 

"This is probably the most people that are going to come to my game since I've been at Notre Dame. It will be fun to play in front of family and friends." 

The Chicago native also expects Notre Dame fans to come out in full force. 

"I know it's going to be a sold out stadium," stated Griffith. "I know how Chicago gets when Notre Dame comes to town. 

"I tweeted out that Notre Dame is Chicago's college football team and I firmly believe that. I know we're going to travel well in terms of our fanbase. I'm looking forward to it and I can't wait to get out there with the boys." 

Fox's Big Noon kickoff and College Game Day will be in Chicago, so there won't be a lack of pregame excitement, but White isn't concerned about the festivities. 

"It's going to be an electric atmosphere," said White. "I don't want to come off bad when I say this, but that's for the fans and media. That's for everyone else to have a good time and when I'm done playing football, I'll be excited for that too. 

"We have a job to do. The job doesn't change. We're playing an opponent that's going to try to run the ball down our throat and we're going to have to stop them. The focus and attention to that aspect and eliminating the outside noise is going to be important." 

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