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Posted on Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Greg Mattison thought there was 'no way' Michigan's defense would have this kind of success

By Kyle Meinke


Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said a 31-14 win at Illinois -- when the Illini didn’t pick up a first down until late in the second quarter and didn’t reach Michigan territory until the final minutes of the third quarter -- was a defining moment for the Wolverines' defense.

Melanie Maxwell |

Greg Mattison is like a lot of people.

He can't believe how far the Michigan football team's defense has come under his watch.

"I felt there’s no way we’re going to be that (good)," he said. "There’s no way. I don’t mean that in a negative (way) toward what happened before. I just know when you measure the way we measure things, you have to make sure that doesn’t happen.

"We’ll find out after this ball game if we’re back."

Now, to be clear, Mattison remains uncomfortable with the notion the defense has risen from No. 107 to No. 7 in scoring defense just because of him. He also knows there is work yet to be done against No. 11 Virginia Tech (11-2) in next month's Sugar Bowl (8:30 p.m. Jan. 3, ESPN).

He wants to hold off on any big-picture evaluations until after that game.


Greg Mattison

In the interim, Mattison has become comfortable saying the defense has met most of the benchmarks he set for it. He isn't a numbers guy, but there are eight or nine categories he gauges on a weekly basis.

Mattison said those quotas include allowing zero fourth-quarter points, limiting third-down conversion rates to 33 percent, getting stops 50 percent of the time in the red zone and holding offenses to two or fewer long runs and long passes per game.

Above all, though, Mattison insists his defense yields 17 or fewer points each game.

That's an ambitious goal, but one the Wolverines met seven times -- and, impressively, they allowed only 17.2 points per game, tied for seventh in the country with, of all teams, Virginia Tech.

Just how far have the Wolverines come? Their worst game this season was their finale against Ohio State, when they allowed 34 points -- fewer than they allowed per game last year (35.2).


When Michigan and Virginia Tech meet in the Sugar Bowl, it will be a matchup of two of the top 10 scoring defenses in the nation:

1. Alabama (8.8)
2. LSU (10.5)
3. Temple (13.8)
4. Florida State (15.2)
5. Penn State (15.7)
6. Wisconsin (17.0)
7. Michigan (17.2)
8. Virginia Tech (17.2)
9. Michigan State (17.5)
10. Boise State (18.3)
Mattison is in his 34th year as a college assistant and spent three years in the NFL. He has coached All-Americans and Pro Bowl players, and he's won a national championship.

Michigan will achieve none of those heights this year. But, considering where these players came from, to where they are now, and all the suffering in between, Mattison says he is "maybe as proud as I’ve ever been" of his coaching job this year.

"I keep going back to the first day out there on the indoor field and hearing (strength) coach (Aaron) Wellman say, ‘Do it again, do it again, do it again,’ and then in spring ball, ‘That’s not good enough, you have to do it again," Mattison continued.

"There’s a lot of guys that probably would have tapped out. Mike Martin and Ryan (Van Bergen) and Will Heininger and these guys, they just said, ‘Next day, OK, let’s do it again. Let’s go.’ That makes you proud, I guess is the word, to see them, to look in their eye and (see) how they feel about their defense."

It was an arduous process for Michigan's defense to get to this point, but they hit their groove midway through the season, and Mattison said he thought the unit turned a corner in its bludgeoning of Illinois.

After that game, the typically stoic Mattison became emotional. He met with the media, the only time he's done that this year, and proclaimed his Michigan defense a "Michigan defense" -- the highest honor he awards a unit.

He became increasingly sentimental as the season wore on and the unit rounded into dominant form.

“I probably have had more (emotional moments) this year than ever because you get caught up with them," Mattison said. "They’re just real guys. These players are just real, real people that want to be considered a Michigan defense. And that’s it in a nutshell.

"It makes you, as a coach, feel really proud for them when you see it in them."

Then, with a smile, Mattison added: "Makes you pretty mad, too, when you see the ball over their head in the Ohio State game."

Nothing will ever be good enough for Mattison, who demands perfection.

But Michigan climbed closer to that standard than anyone could have predicted. Even Mattison.

Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.



Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 11:51 p.m.

Greg Mattison deserves much credit for the turnaround in this year's defense. However, a neglected factor is this year's offense which was able to play some ball control when needed to give the defense some needed rest. The huge difference in time of possession this year is not only due to all those three-and-out defensive stands but also to the offense having sustained drives. Doesn't anyone remember those games where our defense was struggling but our bone-head play calling put the defense quickly back on the field – whether we scored or not! RR was guilty of the worst game management I have witnessed in decades of watching football games. Pity Arizona!


Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 12:32 p.m.

Good points BW13. With our D getting more rest in each game because the O held the ball longer, plus with the excellent way Coach Mattison would play and rotate more players, the results were great. Poor game management was a big problem the last 3 years, as was the lack of good adjustments during halftime ... we were worse in the 2nd half of most games.


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 10:04 p.m.

aawolve " Lloyd Carr destroyed M's culture of defense through his coaching cronyism, policy of appeasement toward players, and a lackluster recruiting effort over his final years. RR failed to right the ship. See 2007 season for reference" Where are your facts son ? Show us the stats to back up your comment. I'm sure you must have some. Here are the facts: National rank of UM Defense (LC): 2005 - #22 (19.3 PPG) 2006 - # 8 (14.6 PPG) 2007 - #23 (20.3 PPG) National rank of UM Defense (RR): 2008 - #81 (28.9 PPG) 2009 - #80 (27.5 PPG) 2010 - #110 (35.2 PPG) WHO destroyed UM's culture of defense ? As for recruiting, as someone else (who bases his comments on the facts) recently pointed out in another article, LC's last 5 recruiting classes, according to Rivals: 2004 -- #5 2005 -- #6 2006 -- #13 2007 -- #12 2008 -- #10 (majority of this class was recruited by LC) So who is right, you or Rivals ?


Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 2:31 a.m.

Nice work! Please pass this info on to Lorraine as well.

Larry Weisenthal

Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 11:14 p.m.

This is the single most useful post that I've ever read, concerning the Rodriguez record and legacy. Forget all those arguments about how RR's gaudy offensive stats were mainly run up against inferior competition and how his spread stalled out against upper echelon defenses -- let's just give RR his due and say that he knew how to put points on the board. But, at what cost? RR not only ran a spread, he ran a frenetic, no huddle, up tempo spread. This may have been a plus for the offense, but it was a minus for the defense, which had to spend more time on the field, in a game where defenses always run out of gas before offenses, because defense is more physically draining. So not only did the staff of RR do a poor job of coaching defense, but RR's offense was the equivalent of lead weight on the defense. The numbers shown couldn't be more clear. Lloyd Carr produced good, if not super elite, defenses, while making Michigan a destination for NFL quality quarterbacks. He was a solid recruiter, and he left RR with 9 returning defensive starters, a future NFL quarterback <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> , and an All Big 10 guard, albeit future Buckeye, on offense -- among others. There's no way that the 2008 team should have ended up 81st in the nation on defense and that Michigan should have ended up 3 and 9 on the year. I don't know how anyone can conclude that Hoke's predecessor was not, in fact, the WCiMFH.


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 10:40 p.m.

MB you are absolutely correct. The uneducated flock of the WCiMFH keep bringing up ideas that are not based on the facts of Lloyds time spent as Michigans head coach. If RR was half the coach that Loyd was he would still be the coach. GO BLUE!


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 6:32 p.m.

It is really hard to judge whether from year to year a defense (with no change in coaches) will get better, worse or the same. I could argue this defense can get a lot better or be a lot worse.. If we stick to the traditions of what a &quot;MICHIGAN DEFENSE&quot; really is, all of them should be great. What is a Michigan Defense? A defense that has depth at player positions, plays fundamentals, players replace other players seamlessly (season to season, and within a season), freshman can come in and contribute, there's strong senior leadership, continuous improvement, and some standout individual play during big moments in big games. To me, its much more than just replacing seniors.


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 8:10 p.m.

blue.. I agree with what you say. Historically, every year Michigan has great players graduate and underclassman always rise up and become standouts on the team. We got away from that a little in the prior 3 years, but look at what good coaching has done for this team. At Michigan..great players graduate and great players replace them.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 7:28 p.m. they also use sleds in their practices? lol


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 6:13 p.m.

Interesting defensive stats. Temple is third in the country? Didn't know that. LSu and Bama both being that high in the high-falutin SEC is impressive. 4 B10 teams in the top 10 is also impressive (though it's hard to know what that means--do we have offensive stats so we can see scoring offenses in the B10 to know if those are high also?). What is most eye opening about Michigan (other than the Ohio game) is that they seemed to be in position to make plays for the second half of the season, unlike last few years. That to me is partly player maturity and mostly coaching. Gotta love Mattison.


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 5:05 p.m.

Is it possible to trade the U-M Alumni Association-organized prize package valued at approximately $4,200 which includes Luggage handling and porterage at the airport and the hotelOptional tours, outings and excursions, Luggage tags, document wallet and engraved Sugar Bowl name badge for a trip to the Heisman ceremony?? I will be there to represent all of us when D.Rob accepts the award!!!

Theo's Brother

Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 4:18 p.m.

Our King: fired Hoke: phenomenal Merry Christmas everyone! Mattison's defense had some fun, The King is dead He's put to bed, And a bowl of Sugar is to be won. Michigan defense is back! GO BLUE! P.S. Theo, pick up a case of bottled water on your way home. Yes the 24-pack.

Nels Eriksson

Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 2:45 p.m.

Kevin Spacey


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 2:44 p.m.

Kyle, Go back and replay your tape recorder. Greg Mattison was trying to politely say that, under his watch, there was no way the Michigan defense was going to be as BAD as they were last year. You misinterpreted his comments.


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 2:11 p.m.

Third best in the Big 10, and a close third at that. One reason is there was more experience, another is the quality of the coaching. The players really bought into the new system. The number of stops at 3rd and short was awesome. They did it all season long. Only the ND and ohio game is where the defense didn't look their best and was suspect too the pass. Those games saw 30 or more points given up. We got there sooner on defense this year and we also got to 10 regular season wins; both ahead of shedule. Thank you Hoke, Mattison and Borges. GO BLUE!!!


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 2:02 p.m.

Hailmary, In truth, none of us Michigan fans that have routinely posted here over the last couple of years, have claimed the Spartans are dirty, until this season. Though I believe that Gholston played very dirty against us, he hasn't had a game like that before us and after us. As emotional as I was during the game and a few weeks after, I came to the realization that if the players and coaches of our great team can say that there was no dirty play, then I'm willing to follow suit. Secondly, after many of (obnoxious) Spartan posts, I reviewed their claims and found that we played just as dirty! You have to be honest and without blinders that Gholston was held to the ground by his facemask by Taylor Lewan, prior to punching him. (which was unacceptable.) There's also a photo of Craig Roh twisting Edwin Baker's helmet backwards after he was tackled, so I'm willing to say touche'because it was a hard fought game and we battled for a win. Next year, this game is ours! Dantonio may have the reputation for letting criminals play, but none of us can honestly make the claim that he's dirty. Besides, we have had some questionable plays made by our players this season and prior, but that's because of the emotion of the game. Down with OSU, MSU is next! (formerly Sean T.)

Jim Knight

Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 7:34 p.m.

Billy Bob: Under Meyer, Florida had 25 players arrested in his six years at Florida. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Billy Bob Schwartz

Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 7:24 p.m.

I believe it was UMeyer who had 60 men arrested in about six years of his tenure at Florida. Maybe you have them confused. Meyer is the guy who likes to let criminals play.


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 1:58 p.m.

Greg Robinson: pretty smelly The King: phenomenal Imagine this team with Mattison's defense and a good offense. The holiday season. Yes, it's here. Stand up, Blue, and give a cheer! On Crystal Paths, let us be led. To Crystal Town, on Streets of Spread. We want not Rose, We want the ring. We want Our Coach, We want The King! Go Blue! With backwards offense: Mich 10 VT 28 With good offense: Mich 46 VT 28

Nic schweigert

Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 1:51 a.m.

Hey Theo you forgot your queen forced his 3-3-5 on every dc he hired. They couldn't run it and he obviously couldn't himself being too enamered with his gimmicky offense. Neglect one area and itll show just as it did with the worst seasons in Michigan history. Maybe less Josh groban and more coaching on fundamentals and techniques.


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 8:01 p.m.

Why Theo...I was always under the impression that you subscribed to the belief that RR's teams should have zero men on defense and 22 men on offense.


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 5:45 p.m.

Yeah ... uh ... okay.

Theo's Brother

Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 4:39 p.m.

This is my brother you're talking about! He was just enamored by RR's offense 'tis all. He's true blue like everyone else! :-)


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 4:26 p.m.

bornina2- You sound mad, are you mad?


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 4:19 p.m.

Do you mean a &quot;good offense&quot; like last year when we put up a whopping 21 points in our last two games because our star quarterback was playing injured because the WCiMFH tried to save his own arse at the expense of Robinson's health? Yeah, I remember that. I'll take 10-2 with a healthy QB over 7-6. I'm sure Arizona has a fan board. You really should go enlighten them about how the next three years is going to be for them.


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 12:57 p.m.

The D will take a small step backward next year, as no one on the roster will be able to fill the shoes of Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. Other positions will be improved, but I don't think it will be enough to quite make up for it. Going forward though, the future is bright, and I hope Coach Mattison sticks around for a long time.


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 6:02 p.m.

@ donaz- Lloyd Carr destroyed M's culture of defense through his coaching cronyism, policy of appeasement toward players, and a lackluster recruiting effort over his final years. RR failed to right the ship. See 2007 season for reference, it wasn't that long ago.


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 5:49 p.m.

He'll stick around at least through 2013 season. Maybe longer, but I'd be willing to bet he has that kind of time horizon in mind. There are plenty of good, aggressive DCs out there ... Michigan won't need to regress post-Mattison. RR and GERG destroyed Michigan's *culture* of defensive football. Mattison is restoring it. Then some young stud DC can come in and take it from there.


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 5:30 p.m.

@rightmind- Agreed, I'm more hopeful than expectant.


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 5:25 p.m.

Dudes 62, I don't know how much longer he is going to want to put in 80 hour weeks. He looks like the years have been hard on him.


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 12:40 p.m.

Well yes, in my opinion what Greg says is true and he should be proud of this years defense certainly compared to last years defense. I like that Virginia Tech's team specifically their defense compares favorably to Mich. I think that Sugar bowl game sets the tone for next years schedule which will certainly gauge Mich.'s progress in terms of tough competition. I think that one game, Alabama played at a neutral site, win or lose will set the tone for the rest of the 2012 season. If we lose that game it's a loss but that loss depending on how tough and smart we play them can define whether or not this Mich. team is back under these coaches and this system of play. Well, let me not get to far ahead of myself, first comes Virginia Tech and I think that is a pretty decent team. I can't help but laugh when I look at Mich. States situation only because they play dirty ball under Dantonio. When all is said and done it's amazing how things can come back and bite you in the butt when your not doing things the right way which in Michigan states case is, they have players that are tolerated to use dirty technique in their playmaking.


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 12:21 p.m.

Next years defense will be even better, they have to be because the schedule is much harder DE- Craig Roh and Frank Clark DT- Will Campbell and Richard Ash DT- Quinton Washington and Ondre Pipkins DE- Nathan Brink and Jibreel Black LB- Jake Ryan MLB- Kenny Demons LB- Desmond Morgan CB- J. T. Floyd CB- Blake Countess SS- Jordan Kovacs FS- Thomas Gordon Defensive line is a concern but should be OK, Frank Clark will be a star someday as a speed rusher , the linebackers and defensive backs should improve significantly, Ryan, Morgan and Countess will be excellent,overall a better defense. Jake Ryan a possible ALL-American next year