ANN ARBOR—Not his first rodeo as a coach at Michigan heading into Happy Valley with a match-up at Penn State, Greg Mattison reflects fondly on his last experience inside Beaver Stadium against the Nittany Lions.
“Last time I was there we stopped them on a goal line stand,” Mattison said Tuesday. “Buster Stanley and Jarrett Irons on a goal line oranges call and I’ll never forget it.
“It’s a great place to play and a great place to be able to find out where this defense is.”
Michigan’s first road test in 2013 proved challenging enough, erasing a two touchdown deficit to come back to win at Connecticut. But playing in front of 40,000 fans -- most of whom wore Maize & Blue -- is far different than the 107,000 fans and raucous atmosphere the Wolverines will be walking into Saturday evening.
As senior left tackle Taylor Lewan noted Monday, everyone must be on the same page in their communication, and Mattison agrees.
“Huge challenge,” Mattison said. “That’s a huge deal because one, they go at a faster tempo. Second, you have to get the signal from me and everyone out there has to be on the same page and if you don’t and one guy doesn’t, there’s the big play.”
Limiting big plays will be key against Penn State, lead by true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg who comes into Saturday’s game completing nearly 60-percent of his passes for 1,367-yards including eight touchdowns and four interceptions in five starts.
Mattison, a former defensive coordinator in the NFL, is familiar with what Coach Bill O’Brien, also a former NFL coordinator, wants to accomplish offensively.
“Having played against him before, he’s a really good football coach and he understands offense,” Mattison said. “He does a great with his guys.
“He’s going to spread you out, he’s going to try to take shots, and if you let him run the football he’ll run the football on you. He’s from that mold where they’re going to see if they can get mismatches and somehow get a free one.”
Penn State’s leading receiver and true deep threat is 6-foot-3, 210-pound, and Michigan native, Allen Robinson. Robinson already has 38-catches on the year for 621-yards and five touchdowns including a long of 51-yards.
Jake Ryan’s Possible Return
Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he’ll have final say when it comes to whether or not junior captain and linebacker Jake Ryan makes his return this Saturday night at Penn State.
On Tuesday, Mattison said the same.
“Who knows,” he said when asked if he’ll have Ryan against PSU. “That’s Brady’s call. I don’t know.
“Obviously he’s been working hard.”
If Ryan does see the field Mattison didn’t divulge too much as far as how it might effect junior Brennen Beyer, having a big year through five games in Ryan’s absence.
“We have a group of guys and we rotate so much that if another guy is in the mix, another guy rotates,” Mattison said.
More Pass Rush Against PSU?
Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner presented a different challenge than the Wolverines will see in Hackenberg Saturday.
Only able to come up with one sack of Leidner in the win over the Gophers, Mattison said numbers can be deceiving based on the skill set of the quarterback.
“If you looked at the game, that wasn’t a drop back guy,” Mattison said. “The quarterback in that game, he was running right away. There were so much quarterback runs on third down.
“The only thing you look at is when he dropped back, did we pressure him? And I think there were a lot of times that we did.”
A true passing quarterback, Hackenberg should spend more time in the pocket, potentially opening up opportunities for Michigan’s pass rush to get pressure.
But, as Mattison warned Tuesday, Penn State will do what they can to give the freshman as much time as possible, similar to the sets Notre Dame employs to protect senior quarterback Tommy Rees.
“The thing that you’re going to see is they do a lot of max protecting,” Mattison said. “They do a lot of keeping the tight end in, keeping the back in and then another time they’ll send everybody out.
“When we do have four on five, five blockers and four rushers, we got to change the math. As long as they keep working to beat a guy and when you look at the film, if we can win the one on ones and not get blocked one on one in the pass then you say ok we’re heading in the right direction.”
To watch video of Mattison from Tuesday, press play below.