Michigan's defense pitched a shutout in the opening half against Appalachian State before letting up a bit in a 52-14 win, and the challenge gets much bigger this week. The defense will have to be near its best to emerge with a win over a Notre Dame offense that appears confident and dangerous with quarterback Everett Golson at the helm.
"We're obviously very excited about the next challenge," defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "I know we have a lot of things we can get better at, and our guys will work very, very hard to do that. We're also very excited about some of the things we saw Saturday out on that field. Now we've got to move on to the next one."
One area of concern: interior run defense. Head coach Brady Hoke said some of it was on linemen not getting off blocks, another part on linebackers not fitting gaps properly.
On Monday, Mattison put part of the blame on himself.
"Some of those runs were on me," he said. "There was a situation that was happening where we were walked out and the linebacker was coming back inside and we had an adjustment, and the adjustment I should have made with them would have been a little different. We did it later. That changed it.
"I'm not going to put that on our players. That's something I should have seen a little quicker, and then that wouldn't have been a problem at all. There were a lot of good things from that, though. We have to get off blocks, but we also have to communicate what's happening. I try to tell the guys, not that I haven't before, that I really trust these guys that when they're out there, they are doing everything they should be doing. If something isn't happening perfectly, communicate and we'll get it switched - when maybe I'm thinking this is happening, but it wasn't that. But we got it squared away."
Mattison touched on a number of topics Monday:
News: Mattison was pleased with the way guys tackled and flew to the ball in the opener. It was a defense that seemed surer of itself.
Mattison: "This is why I'm so excited - these are young babies we had here playing two years ago. Nobody cared who was out there when you're playing a redshirt freshman who is 215 or 275 pounds, now two years later 235 or 300. They are men now. They play faster when you have experience.
"When you've been out there under the bullets, everything that goes on … when a young man is playing at the Univeristy of Michigan in front of 110,000 or 115,000 people and the whole world, you'd better be a man. When you do that at a young age, you won't always do the exact right thing - but every year you play, you buy in to what Coach Hoke and this program is all about, you'll get better. That's why they played faster, stronger."
Views: It's only the beginning, Mattison said, but it showed the makings of a solid defense. Some of the problems (151 yards rushing, a couple of blown assignments on passing plays) are easy fixes, but the effort areas need little adjustment.
"I was really pleased how we were getting guys to the football," he said. "We talked about it - this defense should not have loafs. There should never be a person that has a loaf in this defense if he really believes in what we all say we do. I was really pleased with the effort, the swarming, the celebrating together, those types of things."
The linebacker corps could have and should have been better, but Mattison believes that's an easy fix, too.
"Both [Jake Ryan and Joe Bolden] would have said they could have played better," Mattison continued. "Both came up afterward and said [that]. Well yeah, that's right. Without a doubt, when the bar is as high as it is because of your ability - not because of Greg Mattison putting it there - then you've got to play up to that ability on every play.
"There were some things I really believe they tried too hard. I believe there were some things they bought into so much to what we talked about with tendiencies - 'if you see this, this is what's going to happen' - a couple times Joe Bolden was pointing over here, the ball was running there because that's something we said might happen. He wanted to play so well.
"I'm not concerned at all about that. In fact, I'm glad. When you have 'backers who want to be the field general, take charge out there, sometimes you have to be careful you don't do too much for everybody else and not enough for yourself. That's got to be a lesson they learn from that. Play your position first now, and then take care of the rest of your defense."
News: Michigan's cornerback play was one of the highlights of the defensive effort Saturday. Both Hoke and Mattison were pleased with the way they challenged and didn't give receivers room to move.
Mattison: "That's part of our aggressive attitude we talked about. We took a real long hard look at the secondary a year ago - there were a lot of reasons for it, but we felt we played a little too far off, needed to challenge more. The thing we need to remember, with that it's a little tougher out there, harder, challenging against a real skilled receiver. Things can happen possibly with that, but I believe that's the way we want to do it, and we did play more aggressive."
Views: The test will be much bigger Saturday, but Michigan won't change its approach. Nor should it, especially against a team like Notre Dame that wants to play up-tempo and get as many plays as possible.
"You've got to say that's what you're going to do if that's what it is," Mattison said. "You can't say you're playing this guy, who is really fast, so we're not going to do that today. You've just got to decide when you're going to do it in a game. It's like a pitcher in baseball - if he throws it fast every time, eventually it will get knocked out.
"But the techniques our guys had, we were very proud of that. That's what we want. You've just got to know when to do it. The good thing is we have a lot of veterans. They've played a lot of football now back there, so they'll know when to do it, I think."
It will help, too, if the defensive line plays to its ability and is able to rush with the front four, as hoped. This will be a big test in that area, too.
News: Freshman nickelback Jabrill Peppers looked good in the few series in which he played before getting hurt (ankle). He'll be fine for Saturday, Hoke said.
Mattison: "It wasn't too big for him. I was very impressed with that part of it. I watched him early pregame, how he acts, and it was just how I thought he would be.
"The plays he made, a couple tackles, that's what I thought I would see. They guy plays very, very explosive. He's going to bring it. That was good."
Views: They'll turn him loose if he's healthy Saturday, as he's expected to be. Peppers is the rare freshman who can be a difference maker, and Saturday night will be his first time in the national spotlight. It will be fun to see how he responds.
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