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Posted on Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Michigan football team looking for a more 'reckless' Thomas Gordon, less big plays against secondary

By Nick Baumgardner

Thomas Gordon was perhaps the most opportunistic member of the Michigan football team's defense last season.

But this time around, as a seasoned junior, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison wants Gordon to add an adjective to his repertoire.

"I love Thomas Gordon," Mattison said. "But he must play faster. He must play more reckless."

If the Wolverines needed a turnover last season, odds are, Gordon was either forcing or recovering it.


Michigan safety Thomas Gordon intercepts a pass intended for Eastern Michigan's Javonti Greene last season. Gordon also recovered a fumble in that game.

Associated Press

The 5-foot-11, 208-pound Detroit Cass Tech product made a living of hanging around the football a year ago, recovering a team-best four fumbles and also creating two more. Gordon also added an interception to his total, and finished third on the team in tackles.

Toward the end of the season, he found himself splitting time with senior Troy Woolfolk at free safety, even if some wondered whether he was the unquestioned best man for the job.

Woolfolk's gone and the spot is Gordon's to lose. Mattison wants more out of the athletic playmaker, and he wants it in a hurry.

He wants Gordon to take more chances quickly while playing downhill on run support and in pass defense, a strategy that could result in even more turnovers.

"I'm looking for him to play a lot faster, and I've told him that straight out," Mattison said. "Sometimes guys worry about 'am I fast enough, can I do this?' Well, yeah, you're out there, you've got to be able to do it.

"I think maybe he's understanding that a little bit. Give yourself a little credit, you can run pretty well, and don't think that everybody's going to out-run you, that's knowing yourself and knowing the scheme and knowing you can play faster."

Gordon is expected to be part of a secondary that returns all four starters from a year ago. Jordan Kovacs should anchor the group at strong safety while sophomore Blake Countess and junior J.T. Floyd both return after starting at corner last season.

The defensive backfield was productive, at times, last season. But toward the end of the year, things started to slip.

One of the key components of Mattison's defensive turnaround last season was the team's ability to limit big plays.

But during the final two games of the season (vs. Ohio State and vs. Virginia Tech), Michigan allowed 449 yards through the air and saw several near-misses against Buckeye quarterback Braxton Miller and Hokie signal caller Logan Thomas.

"You can't have that, you know my feeling on big plays," Mattison said. "One of them wants to make you get sick to your stomach. We had too many of them at the end of the year, which means we've got to go back and see why and get that corrected.

"I think it's technique, being better at your technique and being focused. A lot of times big plays come from busted assignments, and we have to make sure to get that corrected."

Part of that correction process, per Mattison, should come naturally this season, as his entire defensive staff remains in tact.


Thomas Gordon recovers a fumble against Illinois.

Melanie Maxwell |

Players are more familiar with coaches, and vice versa. There aren't any language barriers any longer, and the ability to smooth out kinks should happen a lot faster.

"(A lot of improvement) happens in a second year," Mattison said. "Where we're all on the same page, the guy out there playing, the coach and myself.

"And that's my job."

With more cohesion and clarity in the secondary this season, Mattison's looking for more controlled recklessness, more turnovers and more swagger this season.

And he wants it quickly.

"This is their defense now," he said. "This is the Michigan defense, and it's everybody's defense now.

"And we've got to improve."

Nick Baumgardner covers Michigan sports for He can be reached at 734-623-2514, by email at and followed on Twitter @nickbaumgardner.



Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 2:37 p.m.

Great coaching matters in college football. Much more so than the pros. Michigan has a great coach in Mattison, and despite loses on the line, I expect to see a solid defense emerge next season. past next season, our depth issues appear to be a thing of the past.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 1:29 p.m.

I think Mattison got exposed a bit toward the end of the season. His age caught up to him. By tyhe end of the season Mattison got out coached by both OSU and VT. When you are 64 the demands of being the DC are pretty tough in college football. He is an excellent defensive mind, but his time is soon coming to an end. 2012 will probably be his last.


Thu, Mar 22, 2012 : 4:25 a.m.

Mattison came into this game trying to deny the run due to OSU's complete lack of a passing game prior to that week. This left opportunities for OSU to go over the top successfully a few times. Miller played the by far the best game of his career, but in the end, his inaccurate deep balls missed their target, and Miller and the rest of the bucknuts left Ann Arbor as losers. I'd say Mattison did wonders for UM last year, and its only wishful thinking on your part to say otherwise.


Thu, Mar 22, 2012 : 3:12 a.m.

Steve, I understand your anger, it's tough getting old. Scott sometimes I just shake my head at your comments. Junior high is going to be a big step for you. Maybe Steve can give you some advise. If he can still remeber. Hahaha .....Just kidding guys........good luck to you.


Thu, Mar 22, 2012 : 1:19 a.m.

Why? Oh thats feels like normal. Michigan is back to being Michigan and Ohio is.....well Ohio is a team that will never measure up to Michigan.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 11:06 p.m.

Mattison "got worn down". How do you get worn down when your not playing? His mind stopped functioning and he forgot everything he knew? He kept falling asleep during the games? He said "I'm too old guys- play slower"?

Steve McQueen

Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 9:31 p.m.

lol... hurts pretty bad to be so scared, doesnt it "wrong mind"... there there, you still have 3 or 4 seasons to get caught up, once Meyer gets his program going after the bowl ban and sanctions...of course, Meyer may not be there by then...but keep up the hope little child.

Blue Marker

Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 3:08 p.m.

rightmind, Not sure where you're picking up the anger. I find it amusing more than anything (as I do most of your posts). It's my belief the Michigan coaches did what they set out to do. I don't think they (or anyone else in the free world, including OSU fans) thought Miller would have the game he did. He was simply amazing that day. And had he hit a few of those open receivers Michigan would have lost the game. But my point (not excuse) is that mission #1 was to stop Dan Herron and they did. As for stats...I always find the final score is the best stat to post. Let's just be happy Michigan has improved enough to make The Game competitive again.


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 2:45 p.m.

Blue, Pretty funny excuse. Miller threw for 250 and ran for 100. If he was selling out to stop the run, looks like he failed. I stated a simple fact. He got outcoached. Miller's best game prior to UM was 80 yards passing. VT had a freshman QB also. The fact is the season wore him down. The results were on the field. Why so angry?


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 2:19 p.m.

the only thing that got exposed here is how much you wish he was not MICHIGAN'S DC! he has really got you worried because he is doing such a fantastic job. ohio and vt both had good game plan's but MATTISON was not out coached! i am sure he is keeping you up nights, i hope!! GO BLUE!!!!!!

Blue Marker

Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 1:45 p.m.

Where do you come up with this stuff? 64 is the new 55. Besides, he won both examples you brought up. Furthermore, he didn't get "out coached" by OSU. He made a decision to stop the run at the cost of leaving guys on an island in the passing game and it worked. Miller couldn't hit the broad side of a barn and Boom didn't do squat. Mission accomplished. You keep hoping though. Is the game in C'bus going to be epic this year or what?


Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 12:24 p.m.

One big thing that Mattison brings to the table seems to be his passion and high level of demand. It is one of his best attributes, IMO, and will raise the level from the start.