Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has seen plenty of improvement from Purdue in just one year. Now he'll get a chance to see how much better his defense has gotten through four games when the Wolverines face the Boilermakers Saturday.
Purdue's up-tempo offense will pose a challenge, he said.
"They throw a lot of screens, a lot of bubble screens, a lot of X screens," Mattison said. "That's their way of getting the ball outside. What they're going to do is show you a running play where they can either hand it off or, if they don't feel like you're cover down well enough, they're going to throw it out there. They've been very successful on it.
"They're probably executing much, much better this year. The quarterback [Caleb TerBush] is making good throws, and they just look like a much better football team. You always look at who they played. Well, they played Notre Dame pretty darn well. I've been watching a lot of them last year, too. They beat Ohio. They've shown they can go."
Mattison was encouraged by his defense's performance, however, in a 13-6 loss at Notre Dame.
"It reemphasized if we play extremely hard, run to the football - that was the thing in that game that stood out to me, we really had a lot of helmets to the football," he said. "That's the only way we can play here. It was nothing about scheme. I think we played with better technique at times, but the biggest thing is we really, really played with high effort.
"I told the players this before the game; I felt they were going to play well because they really prepared. They really worked at understanding the game and what they had to do. The walkthroughs were very crisp on Thursday and Friday, even right before the ball game. Communication was better.
"That showed that's the only way we can play right now. That's our only chance. Until these young guys get old, these inexperienced guys get experienced, we have to play hard every day. Up to this point in the off weekend, they've shown that."
Sophomore cornerback Raymon Taylor took a pass interference penalty in a loss at Notre Dame, but he's gotten more physical and is feeling more comfortable, Mattison said.
"A lot of it is confidence; I can do this," he said. "Every day in practice you see him feeling a lot more comfortable. At the same time, we set the bar higher every day for him in practice. If he's a starter art the University of Michigan, you must play up to that level. We can't tolerate any of the so-called freshman or redshirt type of mistakes and efforts. That has been stressed with him, also."
The interference came due to poor technique.
"That was not a guy not playing hard," Mattison said. "You see it on Sundays every day. He had to get out of his backpedal a little faster, look back for the football and get it out. That comes from experience. He learned from that."
Junior nickel back Courtney Avery's tackling could be key in Saturday's game at Purdue.
"That's going to be huge," Mattison said. "Unlike the Notre Dame game when we were in our 'Wolverine' package with big people the whole time, now against a Purdue, Illinois, some of these teams where everything is spread, your nickel becomes a real big factor. That's going to be really key.
"The other thing is now it goes into your depth one more man. You've got to have another secondary guy ready in case something happens to anybody - and we can expect tempo, them coming out and trying to wear us down with fast tempo. That means you'd better have another guy waiting at every position so he can go in and there will be no drop off. That's the way it is."
The bye week enabled the coaches to put in the game plan early.
"These are young guy," he said. "In a short week on Tuesday, it's hard to get that done. We got a lot of film looked at so we could put things in earlier with them."
Mattison still has plenty in his arsenal he has yet to disclose.
"We just don't ever want to call something that puts our defense at a disadvantage or a chance of it," he said. "That's not fair to the defense. I would rather not call something if I feel there might be a lot of adjustments to it or a chance lack of communication, somebody not executing it. That's my job to make sure what we call we can play and execute. They know that. They have worked very hard in the walkthroughs to make sure they can execute it.
"That's where I'm proud of this group. They have gotten much better. Anything we put in, our coaches do a great job of teaching it. We do walkthroughs more than probably anybody else because we can't tolerate missed assignments as far as getting lined up and executing - I don't ever want to put kids at a disadvantage or say, 'I wish I didn't call that.'"
The lack of turnovers in the early going was probably the result of not running to the ball well, Mattison said.
"The two turnovers in the last game, they ran to the football," he said. "They weren't fumbles, but maybe because they ran to ball they were in position for interceptions. If we keep going hard to the ball, which we will, good things will happen."
The absence of sacks is also worrisome. The Wolverines are on pace for 10.
"The good news is we've got eight games yet," Mattison said. "I'd gladly give up all those first four games and start getting them now. We have to get sacks, have to get pressure on on the quarterback. We have, but some is the ball is getting out quick. I don't look at stats, but that one is something that will play hand in hand with how you are doing."