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Posted on Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 2:42 p.m.

Why is the Michigan football team Sugar Bowl-bound? Greg Mattison's take isn't what you would expect

By Kyle Meinke


Denard Robinson, left, and Fitzgerald Toussaint provided Michigan with its first two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season for the first time since 1975.

Melanie Maxwell |

Greg Mattison is one of the best in the country at what he does.

So is Denard Robinson.

And the Michigan football team's defensive coordinator and quarterback get to face each other every day in practice. So, naturally, a friendly rivalry has developed.

"I got on him today," Mattison said of their trash-talking after one fall camp practice. "He didn't play every play of yesterday's practice, and I yelled at him during stretch today, 'Boy, you must be as fresh as a daisy,' and he gave me something back.

"I love him."

That love hasn't changed, now that the defense has turned into one of the country's best and has received a bulk of the credit for carrying the Wolverines to a 10-2 season and Sugar Bowl bid. They'll face Virginia Tech on Jan. 3 in New Orleans (8:30 p.m., ESPN).

In fact, while the buzz around the team continues to be its remarkable resurgence on defense — it's allowing 18 fewer points per game this year and jumped 100 spots in the national rankings — Mattison is deflecting the credit onto Robinson.

"Denard is ... we probably wouldn’t be in this bowl game (without him)," Mattison said this week.

Robinson started every game this year despite incurring several injuries. He finished 133-for-237 passing for 2,056 yards, 18 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He also rushed for 1,163 yards.

He was named the team's MVP this week, in a vote by his teammates, and led the Big Ten in total offense.

Robinson's numbers are down as compared to last season, when he operated in the spread-option attack of former coach Rich Rodriguez, but the Wolverines' offense actually became more prolific as a unit. They averaged 34.2 points per game this year, up from 32.8 last year.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Robinson's diminished are not a result of decreased performance, but of diversifying the offense. For example, sophomore tailback Fitz Toussaint was able to get more touches, and turned in a breakout year.

He finished with 1,011 yards, giving Michigan two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season for the first time since 1975.

"Denard is, Denard is ... I don’t know what the word would be. He’s unbelievable," Mattison said. "He’s done such a fabulous job this year of just being a winner. It’s almost like everybody here is spoiled because if Denard doesn’t break a 70-yarder, then Denard’s not doing well.

"But, just add it up afterward. There’s a reason why the running backs are gaining so many yards. Obviously, everybody is focused on Denard.

"The things that I said about him the first day I got here after spring practice, they’re even better. This guy is something special.”

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



Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 4:32 p.m.

Hawaiian Neal, You got my vote.

Hawaiian Neal

Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 7:13 a.m.

I just wish Hoke would quit knuckling under to Brandon playing dress-up with his men and grow a pair. This is the antithesis of what Bo was about. "Team, Team, Team" includes respect for the uniform.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 4:10 p.m.

Practicing against Denard every day should make the defense better. That also means next year's defense should be even more prepared against mobile QBs next year. That task at hand next year will be to face Martinez of NE and Braxton Miller of ohio, both on the road. Meanwhile, let's hope for a stout defense against the Hokies on Jan 3rd. GO BLUE!!!


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 12:30 p.m.

yeah for the Back Into the Bowl Team.hope Tech Smokes You BItBT.


Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 6:16 a.m.

Just more of little bro crying because he didnt get his way. Sparty wont need to worry about thee things in the next few years, because they will fall back to being a mediocre team nowhere near the BCS. You had your time to shine when UM was down, but blew it. Enjoy your 1/3 of a B1G title. PS, Doesnt suck to end every season disappointed one way or another?


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 4:21 p.m.

It seems Sparty fans have a difficult time understanding that the loser of the B1G Champsionship game would be ineligible for a BCS bid. That meant if WI lost, they would have been relagated to the same bowl MSU did. Why? Because of three losses. Michigan was the among the lowest ranked 2 loss teams while MSU ranked highest amongst the three loss teams. Better luck next year-MSU fans.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 4:09 p.m.

I just posted this to you a little further up this thread, but want to repeat it directly to you....... The only team guaranteed a bowl game was the winner of the B1G championship. That happened to be UW. Every other team in the conference got in to a bowl by invitation only. UM got invited to a BCS bowl because America wants to watch the Wolverines play and Wolverine fans pay to watch their team play. Sparty needs to step up or shut up. Your fans need to start spending money to go see your team play and start being a consistent winner. Then maybe the big boys will invite you to their bowl. In the interim, you're going to have to earn the right to be in the Rose Bowl or be humble in accepting your consolation prize.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 10:27 a.m.

Sorry, guys. Go ahead and fool yourselves if you want, but it's $Money$, and that's all it is.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 4:14 p.m.

Actually, you are correct about the final selection process but the gist of the article is about Denard's impact on the improving defense. it boils down the body of work of the Michigan defense. Let's not forget, Mattison made some great adjustments during each game this year and that goes beyond Denard's impact during practice. You got to love the team spirit, Go Blue!


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 5:02 a.m.

Denard has been most effective as a pass first run second qb. In the last two games he had his best passing % of the season. This in my opinion was because of not forcing the ball into coverage but turning throwing lanes into running lanes if no one was open. It's the Mike Vick replica. Good enough to throw it but can kill you by running on DESIGNED PASS plays. This to me hurts a defense much more than continuous designed qb runs where the opposition can load the box and stop you. This is what happened against sparty when Denard was less accurate early on. Now that he has found some accuracy, defenses cant cheat the safeties into the box every play. And they have to run deep with receivers to maintain coverage. When this happens, all Denard has to do in most cases is beat 1 linebacker who is spying. If we see more of the Denard that we saw in the last 2 games, the sky is the limit for this team.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 5:16 p.m.

It must be tough tough to sleep at night with so much bitterness running through you. Everyone understands that $ is the key factor of BCS at large bids. But whether you would like to admit it or not, this team, and Denard, improved every week. They are much better now than they were in Oct.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 12:31 p.m.

Number of fans u can draw is the limit NOT the Sky.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 4:18 a.m.

In a nut shell: -This years Offense is WAAAYYYYY better than last years -This years Defense is doubly WAAAYYYYY better than last years (literally, we gave up half as many pts) -This years Special Teams is Triply WAAAYYYYY better than last years -Oh, and don't forget, this years COACHING is quadruply WAAAYYYYY better than last years Okay, I think that pretty much covers it.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 2:20 a.m.

Here's to hoping Hoke and Borges recruit QB's like Denard in the future (run first QB's). Why move away from this offensive style? Seriously, have we seen this much success on offense in the modern era?


Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 11:51 p.m.

I really hope that Greg Mattison can convince Al Borges & Brady Hoke to recruit dual-threat quarterbacks -- he knows what is toughest to stop.


Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 6:05 a.m.

Your both right to a point... Dual threat QB's are great im college ball, in the NFL... they've struggled. As much as i love Tom brady, Im broncos fan, sooo go Tebow!

Larry Weisenthal

Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 1:23 a.m.

Dual threat as toughest to stop. Let's hold that thought, as we watch Brady vs Tebow this weekend.


Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 11:31 p.m.

I found it fascinating that UM's awesome DC was giving the lion's share of the credit for the team's success this year to Denard, even though his guys also had a lot to do with their 10-2 record. Clearly both the offensive and defensive units had great years, due I think to fantastic coaching and all the players buying into what they were being taught, but from a strictly PPG perspective the defense by far showed the most improvement when comparing the two. So, I was asking myself why Mattison was deflecting praise to the offensive side of the ball, other than just he's a classy guy. I think he was subtly giving a huge assist to the offense for the defense's massive gains this year due to primarily one stat: Time Of Possession. In 2011, UM's TOP averaged 31:56 per game which put them 23rd nationally, and that's of course with the last quarter of the first game not being played, so it could have been a little higher. In 2010, UM's TOP averaged 27:10 per game which put them 116th nationally. That's a nearly 5 minute per game difference! So while on the surface it appears the defense was the only unit to have significantly improved, I would respectfully disagree and say that the offense did as well. UM held onto the ball much longer in 2011, giving the defense a chance to rest and recuperate, thereby allowing it the opportunity to excel, which it did in spades! Two words: SUSTAINED DRIVES! I think Mattison obviously recognized this fact, and thanked Denard and the offense accordingly. The two units really do work in tandem. Football is truly a team sport. GO BLUE! BEAT A GREAT VA TECH TEAM!

Larry Weisenthal

Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 1:18 a.m.

>>So while on the surface it appears the defense was the only unit to have significantly improved, I would respectfully disagree and say that the offense did as well. UM held onto the ball much longer in 2011, giving the defense a chance to rest and recuperate, thereby allowing it the opportunity to excel, which it did in spades! Two words: SUSTAINED DRIVES!<< Therein is the fatal flaw behind the strategy of the WCiHMF to run a two minute drill offense for the whole game. When supporters of the WCiHMF talk about their King's offense, they only refer to "the spread." They say that the Borges offense was successful only because it prominently featured "the spread" -- as if Borges spread was just a copycat of the WCiHMF. No, it wasn't (a copycat). The Borges spread was all part of a unified ball control package, which succeeded on its own terms and, equally importantly, allowed the defense to be the best that it could be. Offense helping the defense. The team. The Team. The TEAM. That's what was restored this year. Not simply the defense. But, rather, The TEAM.


Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 11:05 p.m.

Anyone watching some well known movies (like Air Force One with Harrison Ford) knows about the "product placement" of Michigan's football team (or "brand" and Dave Brandon likes to say). In Air Force One, a drama unfolds on that plane carrying the U.S. president. The camera views change constantly from one enclosed space to another - a few of which have televisions sets running with "a football game" in progress. For some, it takes a second viewing of the movie to notice: the game is one involving the Michigan Wolverines. Oct. 2010: the movie "Stone" starring Robert De Niro came out: in the opening scene, there's a closeup of De Niro's hand: on his ring finger is a (probably fake) University of Michigan class ring. In the very popular TV series, "Lost" there's the scene where the survivors find a large yellow container in a hidden research facility on the island: the container is clearly stenciled: University of Michigan. Walking in Yosemite National Park last summer, I was startled when people coming the other way (on bicycles) called out as they passed: "Go Blue!" - it took a second to realize they'd spotted my Michigan baseball cap and were responding to that. On the stopover in Phoenix, I was waiting for my order at the airport Chili's Restaurant when a waiter came up behind me and whispered: "This restaurant is only open to Buckeyes." The waiter had also spotted my Michigan cap. This is the SHORT LIST: the Michigan Wolverines are probably the most recognized college football team: even among people who aren't fans. So, yeah, when it comes to picking a team for a bowl game where one-shot attendance is critical: Michigan is at least one of the top choices, probably in the top three. Not forgetting that: Michigan had a 34-year string of bowl appearances before the streak was broken: the longest in NCAA history.


Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 4:28 p.m.

What??? Don't forget to credit Mr. Rich Rodriguez for the broken streak. :)


Sat, Dec 17, 2011 : 4:25 p.m.

Tru2Blu76.. had a similar incident , I traveled to Australia in 2005,and visited and traveled with a Australian friend of mine, we were in North Queensland "Cairns " and were on a dive boat heading out into the Coral sea, to snorkel the Great Barrier reef,and the dive crew were college aged students,and the minute they say my M hat,and they peppered me with questions, like have you been to the Big House,do you know BO, or Tom Brady ? and they kept saying Meeeeechigan, with they're Aussy accent , so it is a world wide Brand ! mate ..


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 2:17 a.m.

We've seen Michigan T-shirts and hats many places around the U.S., and also at the Louvre in Paris, France. There is an excellent chocolate shop on the main drag in Park City, Utah, which has a U of Michigan sign at the counter. Our only rival with such brand recognition and/or popularity is probably Notre Dame.


Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 10:38 p.m.

We may be in the Sugar Bowl because of "money", and a good traveling fan base, but OSU, we are also in the Sugar Bowl because we beat ND, then we steamrolled Nebraska, then we broke the streak against your team from Ohio, en route to a 10-2 season and #13 BCS ranking. So to be fair, its not JUST the money.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 4:02 p.m.

@ 15crown The only team guaranteed a bowl game was the winner of the B1G championship. That happened to be UW. Every other team in the conference got in to a bowl by invitation only. UM got invited to a BCS bowl because America wants to watch the Wolverines play and Wolverine fans pay to watch their team play. Sparty needs to step up or shut up. Your fans need to start spending money to go see your team play and start being a consistent winner. Then maybe the big boys will invite you to their bowl. In the interim, you're going to have to earn the right to be in the Rose Bowl or be humble in accepting your consolation prize.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 2:17 p.m.

@15crown00.... You mad bro? Sparty had their chance, they didn't get the job done. That's not Michigan's fault, blame your own team. I'm sure Michigan would have rather been at the Championship game.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 12:37 p.m.

when u wish upon a star.And u got BEAT by Sparty to 28-14.Because u DIDN'T play in the Championship Game you BACKED INTO the Sugar Bowl. So there Arrogant One


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 4:07 a.m.

That's exactly right!!

David Briegel

Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 9:48 p.m.

We may never see another Denard in our lifetime! Congrats to Borgess, Mattison and Hoke for recognizing that simple fact! And Congrats to Denard!!


Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 9:31 p.m.

Kyle asks a reasonable question, "Why is Michigan Sugar Bowl-bound?" Although Mattison was asked the question directly, it is implied he would have answered, "DR." Sorry... he's wrong. Let me say first that I'm glad that Blue is in the Sugar Bowl. It reflects well on the B1G to have a second team in a BCS bowl. But to answer why Blue was selected, the answer is "money" and "alums." Blue (like tOSU) is a member of a small group of schools that truly has national appeal. Having Blue on TV markets far better than Boise State. Secondly, Blue alums travel well. If I was the Sugar Bowl selection committee, given the choice of bowl-starved Wolverines or one of the top 14 teams that was eventually overlooked, the choice is obvious. I can filled my stadium if I choose Blue. There ARE solutions to the bowl selection process that still make money for everyone and don't involve destruction of the regular season or involve a lengthy playoff. But those are issues for another day. Right now, your mission is to represent B1G well. I understand you have special uniforms for your "big event." Beware of falling victim to Billy Crystal's slogan, "Looking good is more important that [playing] well."


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 4:06 p.m.

How can any of us know unless we were at or saw practice sessons evry day? The sorry...he's wrong reply is off the mark. Thank you for the complimentary comments about Blue.


Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 9:44 p.m.

I am happy to be playing VA Tech, as they have been a consistent program through the years under Beamer and usually pretty good. Hopefully this game will lead to some regular season games (yeah, right, as soon as they join the MAC). Anyway, as far as national appeal, I'd have to believe that UM-Boise State would have much larger appeal because of the chance and reasonable likelihood to see Boise State beat us, which is still considered an upset of little guy beating big guy (even though BSU has been better than Michigan for the last 5 years). If it's true that Delany lobbied against them, shame on him.


Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 9:11 p.m.

Mattison's attitude provides insight into why U-M has done so well this year. It's a combination of talent, fundamentals, good coaching, encouragement, and a good team chemistry as exemplified by his relationship with Denard. These are all signs of a healthy team that is being handled in the right way.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 3:49 a.m.



Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 1:19 a.m.

Excellent points, excellent post.

Lorain Steelmen

Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 9:01 p.m.

My take is similar, except to say that we now know, that DRob was playing injured, or with health issues, from the Minnesota week, through Nwestern, and msu. At best, it would have slowed his learning curve down, and obviously may have impacted his abilty to take advantages of whatever options he had. Even more interesting was DRob's buy into Hoke's, no excuses, mantra, so no one knew. The kid took more than his share of 'heat', during that period. Next year will be another challenge, opening against Alabama, and playing Ala, ND, Neb, and ohio all on the road. If this offense turns in another banner year , next year, that will really be a statement. I am concerned about the line play, with Molk leaving, (and Huyge), and of course the Dline with Martin, Van Bergen and Heininger leaving.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 2:52 a.m.

I haven't read Bacon's book, but one review said that the hero ends up being Denard, the real Michigan Man in all of this. Like another poster mentioned, he's not Peyton Manning, but geez do I like the kid.


Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 8:21 p.m.

..Yes, D-Nard and Fitz ran like Madmen vs. ohio.. Go Blue! v


Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 8:17 p.m.

you can play that game with 2010 too - didn't U-M score like 67 against Illinois? 65 against BG?


Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 8:12 p.m.

Drob is a legit QB, not a runner who can throw. I love this kid. Great player, and winner. He is not Peyton Manning, but as far as college football goes, he is the most exciting and dangerous player in football. Robert Griffin showed us this year what Denard will be next year. A big Sugar bowl performance, and I believe he goes into next season as the Heisman favorite. A big game against Bama to start the year and he is off and running as the one to beat for the trophy. And yes, we have a lot to replace around him and on the defense, but he could legitimately lead us to the Rose Bowl or National title next year.


Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 9:37 p.m.

Notice the flipside here, though...According to stats on this site earlier this week, Bama is No. 1 defense (neck and neck with LSU) in the country, at least in points allowed. And we all know how you win championships.


Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 9:25 p.m.

huge statements there. knock on wood! that bama game is going to be tough. hope the o line is ready.


Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 8:02 p.m.

Though stats don't work like this, what was our average point total if you took out the Illinois game and its 67 points last year and the 58 points against Minnesota this year? Those would be interesting comps because then you remove the real outlier games to compare the offensive production.


Fri, Dec 16, 2011 : 3:46 a.m.

You guys are omitting one very important point.....The 58 scored against Minn in 2011 was all in Regulation Time, 22 of the 67 against Ill in 2010 was in OT. Not to mention a shutout compared to giving up 65, sheesh what a world of difference. The previous 3 years were an embarrassment while this year was a breath of fresh air! Go Blue!!!


Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 9:35 p.m.

Thanks for being my brains. (I think if you look at our pre-B10 stats this year, we were right around that average anyway). I hope it indicates an upswing in our offensive consistency going forward, as DR and his successors get more used to this offensive execution. And if DR had been able to hit a few of those passes earlier in the season, those numbers would be even higher.

Kyle Meinke

Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 8:53 p.m.

heartbreak and lugemachine, I love those numbers. It's an interesting way to look at the consistency of the offense ... which, obviously, was much better this year.


Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 8:17 p.m.

Comparing 2010 and 2011 Big Ten games only (didn't care to compare non-conference numbers) and eliminating Illinois from the 2010 numbers and Minnesota from the 2011 numbers is quite an eye-opener. 2010 vs. B1G (minus Illinois): 24.1 ppg. 2011 vs. B1G (minus Minn.): 32 ppg.