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September 3, 2013

News & Views: Mattison looking for more from pass rush

Michigan defensive coordinator sat down with the media Tuesday afternoon for his weekly press conference. Here are the highlights:

News: Michigan tied last year's single-game high, posting four sacks against the Chippewas. But for Mattison, that's still not good enough.

Mattison: "There were some good things form the pass rush, but I also think there were some sacks and quarterback hits left on the field. We have to constantly improve on that. In a passing situation, you cannot be blocked one-on-one. The hardest thing in football is to pass protection. If you're going to be a great defensive lineman, when it is pass, you have to beat that guy one-on-one. We didn't do that all the time. That's something we need to continue to improve on.

Views: Both Mattison and Hoke said the pass rush wasn't where it needed to be. I think neither coach will be happy until the Wolverines sack the opposing quarterback on every single play of a game.

The pass rush was undeniably better than it was a year ago. Junior Frank Clark, while he still needs to work on his discipline in the run game, was constantly around the quarterback, and sophomore Mario Ojemudia, junior Brennen Beyer and senior Jibreel Black all supplied more pressure on a consistent basis than they did at any time last season.

And fifth-year senior outside linebacker Cam Gordon was perhaps the defensive player of the game, with two sacks and a tipped pass which he very nearly caught in the end zone for a touchdown.

The Wolverines also had 9.0 tackles for loss, which also matched last season's single-game high (vs. Illinois).

The pressure is going to be a huge improvement from a year ago - and it's only going to get better from here.

News: Without redshirt junior outside linebacker Jake Ryan, who's nursing an ACL injury, in the mix, the Wolverines looked to Gordon and Beyer to fill the hole. Mattison was pleased with what he saw from the two Saturday."

Mattison: The SAMs played well. Both Gordon and Beyer showed, just as the have in the spring and summer camp, that they bring it every day. For the most part, they played very, very well."

Views: I touched on this a little bit above, but Gordon and Beyer played a terrific game - and there was a lot of pressure on them to live up to the high standard Ryan has set for the SAM position.

If the Wolverines can get that kind of production out of their two SAM linebackers, it is going to help immensely. But what will happen once Ryan is back in the fold? Gordon played like a madman Saturday - the coaches will have to find a role for him on the defense.

If he keep playing like he did Saturday, they simply can't keep him off the field.

News: Sophomore free safety Jarrod Wilson was the presumed starter going into camp, before the coaches moved senior Courtney Avery to the position to compete with him. After Avery's late-camp injury, Wilson made his first career start - and looked good, making four tackles (including one tackle for loss), blowing up a screen pass, nearly picking off his first career pass and tallying one pass breakup.

Mattison: Jarrod made some very good hits. He did a good job of tackling. Again, there are mental things. There are things that a young guy has got to get corrected. All the young guys in that secondary were kind of the same way. They did some good things in the secondary, but back there, one mental mistake is a bad deal."

Views: Depth at safety was a bit of a concern before the season, but this game helped alleviate some of those worries. The Wolverines were without two safeties, both of whom were presumed starters: Thomas Gordon (suspension) and Courtney Avery (injury).

But Wilson (at free safety) and redshirt junior strong safety Josh Furman both played very well in their absences.

News: Since spring practice ended, it was presumed that freshman safety Dymonte Thomas would be the Wolverines' nickelback in packages that called for one. Saturday, redshirt sophomore starting cornerback Blake Countess slid over to nickel and freshman Channing Stribling filled in at cornerback.

Mattison: One reason is Blake is a very heady football player. He's a tough football player, and he gives us an advantage a lot of times, covering that slot receiver. … Channing made some plays. He has the athleticism to be able to make plays. Sometimes, you have corners or defensive backs who do all the right things, but they can't make a play. You saw him make plays. He's a young freshman. There were a couple things where you say, 'Boy, I hope he doesn't do that next game.'

Views: I was pretty surprised when I first learned Countess had been practicing at nickel, but he enjoys playing there, and the coaches are very pleased with what he has done at the spot when they're in the nickel package.

But Michigan knows what it has in Countess. This package wouldn't be possible without the solid play of Stribling, who stormed into camp and demanded playing time with such a solid performance.

Saturday, he tallied five tackles and a forced fumble and showcased impressive coverage skills.

News: Fifth-year senior strong safety Thomas Gordon was suspended for the season opener, due to an unspecified "violation of team rules." Gordon will be back on the field Saturday for the Wolverines' primetime showdown with Notre Dame.

Mattison: "Thomas Gordon has been a great young man here. He has been a leader. He's been in there since I have been here. When you look back there and you see Thomas Gordon, you say, 'This guy knows the defense like you're supposed to know it, and he plays extremely hard.' Obviously, we're very excited to have a senior back in the mix."

Views: Gordon is a big part of the defensive - as a leader, as a communicator, as a playmaker, etc.

It's disappointing that he put himself in a position to miss a game, but it's nice to get him back.

News: Mattison was not happy that the Wolverines surrendered first downs on a handful of third-and-long situations against the Chippewas.

Mattison: "That was very disappointing. To me, the biggest disappointment in that whole game was the two third-and-longs. You can't do that. That's a huge momentum breaker. That was something our guys saw very clearly. You can't make those mistakes. If you're going to decide not to pressure and get there with a four-man run, you better also play coverage. Those two plays, it was like they gave up 60 points. Those are the kinds of things you just can't let happen."

Views: Central Michigan finished the game with 210 total yards of offense, which constitutes an impressive effort by the Michigan defense.

However, 80 of those total yards (38.1 percent), were earned on three plays, all of which occurred on third down: CMU quarterback Alex Niznak rushed for 14 yards on a third and 10; Niznak completed a 23-yard pass on a third and 20; and late in the game, Niznak connected on a 43-yard pass on a third and 17.

All told, the Chippewas converted on just 4-of-14 third downs, but the fact that three of those conversions came on plays with 10 or more yards to go is concerning. But it goes back to the youth in the secondary: Gordon will be back, and his presence will help eliminate some of those big-play opportunities.

Was it disappointing to see the Wolverines give up those plays? Certainly.

Was it indicative of a problem Michigan will struggle with all season? Almost certainly not.

Under Mattison, the Wolverines have been one of the best teams in the country at eliminating big plays. They ranked first nationally in plays given up over 20 yards (35 all season).

Mattison and Co. will get that cleaned up.



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