Air Force's 290 yards rushing Saturday might have been the low point of an afternoon in which Michigan held on for a 31-25 win. Though pleased with the victory, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison wasn't pleased with the amount of yardage given up - or the lack of option responsibility at times.
The outcome might have been disastrous had it not been for how hard they played, Mattisons said. He admitted he just didn't given them enough ammunition to counter the Falcons' ground attack.
"I'll take the blame for that as a coordinator. One thing we always talked about with our defense is we're always going to have enough bullets, always have enough in our package to be able to stop anything somebody does," he said. "For a number of reasons, we maybe didn't have enough adjustments, or I didn't adjust soon enough to take away what they were doing.
"Watching the tape, in crunch time a the end of that game, we had seven freshmen and sophomores in there at one time right during the heat of it. I don't fault our players. I know there are things they could have done better, technique wise. If anything, I point to myself as far as not having a little more expansive plan going into that game."
The concern, Mattison added, was overloading them with too much so they wouldn't remember anything. It was tough enough with only two days prep, he said. Going back to their base defense and what they had played - and Air Force's need to throw the ball - helped the Wolverines escape.
"When we started to slow their attack is when we did better with our eyes," Mattison said. "I saw a number of times a safety came down and made a hit one on one - then you have to tackle. That's why it's a good offense - plus, they are doing it every single day. You're trying to put in a defense to stop that in two days.
"I'll say it again - I could have done a better job. That's why I'm proud of the players."
Many of Michigan's players ended up on the ground at one time or another Saturday, the victim of cut blocks.
"Jake Ryan and Thomas Gordon were the exact same position in our scheme. You're focusing totally on the guy that was the slot," Mattison noted. "When he takes a certain course, you have to focus 100 percent on his movement. If you don't, he's going to cut you.
"Jake got cut one time, and so did Thomas. You only have so much time to practice that. When we came back from Dallas, you're right into it and trying to practice that. They knew right away they had to be eye disciplined in everything they did."
The absence of a pass rush didn't concern Mattison much.
"This game, every time they are in third down, you just keep seeing the films they where they ran the option where you are trying to run a fire zone blitz or something where you're going to get pressure," he said. "Everything in that game, if you noticed, we tried to line up tighter so we could squeeze the blocks. That keeps you from getting great pass rush.
"At the end of the game, when we knew they were going to throw it, you saw what we hoped is in the future is our ability to get to the quarterback. That game you really can't judge on the pressure part of it. Even when you do pressure, you hold your breath that they're not running an option. Whenever you do those pressures, you're really taking a chance on an option team."
The young defense showed plenty of character in holding Air Force to field goals and out of the end zone on key drives, Mattison said. Freshmen linebackers James Ross and Joe Bolden were among those who impressed.
"They weren't perfect, but they went in and gave you a spark, made some plays," Mattison said. "There were some things they didn't do perfectly as young guys, but they keep getting better and better. They'll definitely be in the mix.
"Another guy in there 18 plays, 19 was Mario Ojemudia. He did some things [at defensive end]. When you look at it, to look out there and seeing the front seven were sophomore eligibility or less - they were playing pretty darn hard. Jake Ryan did some really good things. Everybody out there at times did some really good things - it's just that consistency we're lacking right now. We've got to get it going pretty fast. We understand the urgency of it as coaches, and we've got to get it going."
Air Force took advantage of the U-M defense when it started squeezing in tight, Mattison noted.
"They started zoning us and got to the outside. I should have loosened up and seen if the fullback can beat us," Mattison said. "But it's great to be able to look at that and get a win."