Few faulted the defense after a 23-9 loss at Nebraska in which senior quarterback Denard Robinson left late in the second quarter with an arm injury, but defensive coordinator Greg Mattison was one. Mattison said he and his defense were disappointed they didn't show the same progress in Saturday's loss that they'd shown in previous weeks.
They didn't take a step backward, he said, but they certainly didn't move forward.
"We've got some things we've got to get corrected and still work towards becoming a really good defense," Mattison said. "There were times in that game we did play. As a whole, we needed to play better to win that football game."
Lack of communication hurt for the first time all year, he added.
"It wasn't because of the noise or it being loud, anything like that," Mattison continued. "In a game when you're playing against a high tempo team, you have to make sure everybody gets set. That's everybody's job out there. When you go a fast tempo, that's one thing they try to get done. If you're not a tremendous defense, you all have to be exactly on the same page all the time, every player. If one guy isn't or two guys aren't and they're not hearing it or completely set on the check, then you're going to find little cracks, and those cracks become big. That's what disappointed me.
"It happened throughout the game. I can't pinpoint did it happen here, happen there. We've gone a period of four weeks with not very many missed assignments. When it's not a missed assignment, it's not just that guy - somebody's making sure he doesn't miss an assignment. Everybody's job is to communicate, to take care of him. If I'm a defensive lineman, I'm going to take care of the defensive lineman next to me. We didn't do that. That disappointed me."
The mistakes are easily corrected and were addressed right away, Mattison said. When the kids saw it on film, the felt the same way.
"Here's a good example … if you're out there and golfing with a buddy, a really good golfer, you might say, 'that's going to break that way,' and you're going to save him. If you think he's a really good golfer and you don't say anything to him, he makes a mistake. It's our job to be ahead of the game. Everybody assumed you didn't hear it, that you're not sure what to do.
"I've said this forever - great defenses sound like a board room of a great company out there. 'Check right, watch out for this, make sure you're wide enough' … that's when you really feel a great defense. At walkthrough on Saturday, we were that way, and up to this point we've been that way almost every time we've done things. For some reason it didn't happen, and we've got to get that back.
"On the sidelines you can't hear that, but you can kind of see it. When you watch the film and a guy that has never made a missed assignment has one, that's something that somebody's not talking to him, trying to help him so that doesn't happen. There are a whole bunch of little things we consider missed assignments when you do it. There has to be a real urgency."
Young defensive linemen impressing
Two of Michigan's young defensive linemen, Mario Ojemudia and Ondre Pipkins, have already seen the field, but the rest of the true freshman crop is just as impressive.
"I won't name names, but that's a very talented group of freshmen," Mattison said. "Very talented. There's a lot of them that could play right now. It's a fine line, and that's a head coaching deal - you say, 'he may be ready or may not, or he might be physically,' but if we can play good football with these [veterans], we're, going to have them longer and they're going to be more mature."
They've been practicing well against the veterans, Mattison said. Defensive end Chris Wormley is another who would have played had he not blown out a knee.
"He's very talented, very strong and conscientious," Mattison said. "They're all that way. I'm not saying that to slight it; that whole group of guys kind of put a smile on your face when you think okay, they're going to get stronger, more experienced, be older. There's some kids that have a pretty good thing going for them.
"Those guys are going against our best players and expecting to go at the same level as our defensive linemen or linebackers. It isn't, 'that's a young kid.' That's not acceptable. If he doesn't' do it right, he's coached on it."
The Nebraska offense's up-tempo offense wasn't a problem, Mattison said.
"You can prepare for it; you just have to make it a priority in your prep for a team that has pressure," he said. "That was the first tempo we've had in quite a while. It may be a real strong message has come out, so let's make sure it doesn't happen again …where you don't allow something somebody's doing from letting you do your best.
Mattison and Hoke continue to set the bar higher each week, with solid results. Quinton Washington is one who has benefited.
"I've seen a change. Think it's the fact our program instills that and with Brady, the way we run things, what's acceptable and not," he said. "If you're going to be a defensive lineman at Michigan, this is the bar, what's supposed to be done. He's bought into that, working every day to get better at it.
It wasn't coachspeak when Hoke said the Michigan defense didn't play well enough at Nebraska to win, Mattison said.
"That's not a cliché," he said. "That's not being a defensive coach. I truly believe that. I believe that defense, that Michigan defense, could have - if they played to their ability - kept them from scoring.
"There's some guys you know go in there this is going to be a tough team from scoring. I'm not taking anything away from Nebraska because they did a very, very good job, were really well prepared and it's a good football team. But I believe and when you watched the tape, if we played at higher standard, Michigan level, who knows what would have happened? I think we could have measured up to that. That was disappointing."
Mattison is impressed with Minnesota's improvement and sees a team coming together in head coach Jerry Kill's second year. Freshman quarterback Philip Nelson has given the offense a shot in the arm.
"He's a very talented football player," Mattison said. "They had MarQueis Gray who is still there, he's a big athletic guy that runs the football, can throw it. You think when this guy comes in he's just a thrower. He's not. He'll take off and run as much as anybody.
"I think they really like him and I can see why. He's a real spark to their offense, looks to me like he's a tough kid and a good football player."
The Michigan linebackers continue to improve. The top three tacklers on the team are the guys in the middle.
"The only thing is, I don't always look at tackles - I look at where they happen," he said. "Sometimes if guy is supposed to make a tackle for one yard or loss and then it's nine yards down field, he still got a tackle.
"We expect them to lead in tackling. They've improved, worked very hard. All of our defense has a long way to go and a short time to do it, at every position. We've got a lot of work to do."