ANN ARBOR—Despite giving up 24-points and 314 pass yards to Notre Dame and senior quarterback Tommy Rees Saturday night, Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison remains pleased with the performance from his defense.
“I was very proud of how hard our kids played and they were resilient,” Mattison said. “And the biggest thing, we talked about it all since we’ve been here is, red zone defense is critical and if you can keep teams from scoring seven down there, you’re going to win.
“There were so many opportunities down there, which is not always a great thing, but that happens when you play a good football team and I was really proud of our kids, the way they played down there.”
After forcing three and outs on the first two Notre Dame possessions, Rees and the Irish moved the ball up and down the field for most of the game, methodically taking what the defense gave them in the passing game.
Key word -- gave.
“Our game plan was not to sell the farm a lot and not to, our thing was we didn’t want to put our secondary in a position where a big play could get us,” Mattison said Tuesday. “That secondary, I thought, did exactly what we hoped they would do as far as the game plan of keeping the ball inside and in front.”
Getting positive production out of corners Raymon Taylor who made a key third down stop on a hitch route late in the second half and Blake Countess who recorded two interceptions including the game clincher in the Wolverines end zone, Mattison’s confidence in both, as well as junior Delonte Hollowell who came on as the third corner, continues to rise, showing enough trust in their cover ability to bring both safeties down into the box in critical situations.
“I thought our secondary, as a whole, kind of came together,” Mattison said.
“My confidence level is very, very high with them. But anywhere, in the NFL or great college program, you take a wide receiver against a corner in the open field, one on one, and they could win as many as they lose or win more.
“My confidence level, they’ve got to improve every week, they understand that we’re not anywhere near where we have to be or where we’re going to be, but it was great to see us do some of the things we did in that game and this week will be key to see if we correct the things we didn’t do well.”
Already with four sacks through two games out of the SAM linebacker position lead by senior Cam Gordon and junior Brennen Beyer, Mattison isn’t surprised with the early results, knowing the favorable match-ups both are seeing game in and game out.
“That’s a position where you cannot be doubled,” Mattison said. “That’s where Jake (Ryan) was. That guy who plays to the open side is almost always one on one blocked where if you’re to the tight end side.
“But that position, that’s what it’s set for because teams really don’t turn that way, they always have to turn the other way.”
Asked about Jake Ryan and his recovery, Mattison couldn’t help but have a little bit of fun.
“Jake Ryan is beautiful,” Mattison said smiling. “Every time I see Jake Ryan, I smile and I think he’s going to start this week, I think he’s going to practice -- I’m kidding. I wake up every night thinking come on Jake, come on Jake. No, Jake’s doing great. We won’t play him early, we won’t do that with him but he’s working extremely hard.
“When the doctors say he’s ready he’ll be ready.”
Registering just one sack against Notre Dame, Mattison, not someone that looks too closely at a stat sheet, credited the Irish offensive line and the various protections designed to cater to Rees’ ability as a quarterback.
“They’re very good,” Mattison said of the Notre Dame offensive line. “They’re strong, they’re big, they’re experienced.
“One thing people don’t realize is they kept their tight end in a lot. They threw the ball very quickly a number of times. I mean, you’re in the gun and you get the snap and it’s one thousand one and it’s off or one thousand two it’s off, it’s pretty hard to get a lot of pressure on him in that situation.”
Still not completely allowing his defensive line and front seven off the hook for the lack of pressure on Rees, Mattison says the pass rush will continue to be a work in progress, especially as the Wolverines prepare for a spread passing attack from Akron.
“Some of it was technique,” Mattison said. “When you get in the game sometimes you just try to get after the quarterback and you don’t use the technique that you’re supposed to, it’s not just effort.
“You’re not all of the sudden going to be become a good pass rush team.”
Sophomore linebacker James Ross recorded six total tackles Saturday night, nearly hanging onto what would’ve been a difficult interception in the second half. Either way, Mattison expects more and believes Ross feels the same way.
“I think if you asked him he would say he’s played better than he did in that game,” Mattison said. “Not effort, effort he played as hard as he could and things like that, but just being where he was supposed to at times in the run and the pass and a lot of it was being over anxious.
“A lot of it was, ‘I really want to make this play or I really want to do what I have to do,’ instead of just being patient and (knowing) it’s going to come to me.”
To watch video of Mattison from Tuesday, press play below.