SOUTH BEND — When the Notre Dame Fighting Irish travel the hour-and-a-half trek down to Soldier Field in Chicago on Saturday, it’ll be an extra special day for one of Notre Dame’s starting defenders.
Graduate senior safety Houston Griffith grew up just 10 minutes from the home of the Chicago Bears and has had a few opportunities to be present at the stadium as both a fan and a player.
This will be the first time Griffith has played at Soldier Field since his first varsity high school start for Mount Carmel when his team played against Marist High School in the Chicago Kickoff Classic back in 2015.
“This is going to mean a lot to me and my family,” Griffith said. “For it to come full circle my senior year here, against an opponent like Wisconsin, it means a lot to me. … I remember when I played there, in the Chicago Kickoff Classic, the whole bottom bowl was filled. We played Marist High School out of Chicago. I just remember how big of a game that was. I know this one’s going to mean a lot, because I tweeted a couple days ago that (Notre Dame) is Chicago’s college football team. I really mean that. I know we’re going to travel well as a fan base.”
As of now, Griffith has 11 tickets secured for friends and family to watch him play on Saturday. With the help of his teammates, he’s hoping that number will rise to around 25 before the weekend. His father, Howard, who works for the Big Ten Network, will get the rare opportunity to see his son play in person as well.
“My dad’s going to be there with the Big Ten Network, and it’s going to be one of those games he’s going to be covering,” Griffith said. “And me being his son out there, it’s something that my family and I are really going to cherish. … He only gets to see me play in person every now and then. It’s hard since he does work for the Big Ten Network, but it’s always been that way growing up. He’ll have my mom tape the games or he’ll watch the games at the office with the rest of the crew. This week he’ll actually be at the game, so it’s pretty cool.”
This will be the ninth Shamrock Series game for the Irish since it began in 2009. It’ll also be the first game of the series since 2018 when Notre Dame beat Syracuse at Yankee Stadium in New York City. Overall, the Irish will be looking to go 9-0 in Shamrock Series games against the Badgers on Saturday.
Picking up a victory over a high quality Big Ten opponent won’t be easy, especially with how physical Wisconsin likes to play in the trenches. The Badgers have a high-powered run game with Clemson transfer Chez Mellusi. The junior ran for 121 yards and a touchdown against Penn State in week one, then followed that performance with 144 yards and a touchdown against Eastern Michigan two weeks ago.
“We just have to make sure we stay in our gaps and play to what coach (Marcus) Freeman has been preaching all week,” Griffith said. “We have to make sure we’re running to the football and bringing contact to the running backs. They have good running backs and a good offensive line. We just have to continue to take the steps that we did last week (against Purdue) and keep moving forward.”
Griffith and the defense made huge strides toward being the type of group they want to be against Purdue. After multiple blown coverages during the first two games that yielded 67 points, the Irish held a talented Purdue offense to just 13 last Saturday. With the defense still getting acclimated to a new system under Freeman, the performance against the Boilermakers was a step in the right direction.
“People tried to write off coach Freeman’s defense early,” Griffith said. “But I think it just comes to down to getting more comfortable. We’re just trying to take steps each week and develop as a unit. … We just have to be able to communicate and do our job as a whole. Running to the football and putting pressure on the quarterback. We got a lot of sacks last week, and our defensive line has done a phenomenal job so far. I feel like if we continue to do those things, we’re going to make a lot of progress this year.”
Additionally, Griffith and the rest of the defense have had the chance to talk with former Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan in preparation for his former team this week. That added knowledge could go a long way toward helping Notre Dame’s defense build on its best overall performance this season.
“Jack actually sits across from me in the locker room, so I always talk to him,” Griffith said. “And now that this week’s starting, I’ve kind of picked his brain a little bit. … Wisconsin’s just a team that controls the game. They’ve had a lot of good success in the past. We just have to continue watching film, keep working on the small details and play assignment-sound football.”