Mattison Sees Stiff Challenge in K-State

Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison reacts to his team's selection for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. The veteran assistant discusses Kansas State's offense, Jake Ryan's late season rise, the overall development of his defense, and much much more.


Teleconference transcript courtesy of the ASAP Sports

Greg Mattison opening statement: I'd like to just say the University of Michigan and our football program is very excited and honored to represent the Big Ten and represent our university at the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. We know we're playing a great opponent. Any team that's coached by Bill Snyder, what he's done over his career, what he does with his football teams, we know we have a definite challenge. But it's exciting for our team to have the opportunity to finish with one more game. It's been a disappointing season in some ways because we've lost a number of games by very close scores. But playing in this game, playing one last game, gives us an opportunity to do what we have to do.

Question: You mentioned some games that got away from you defensively. Early in the year you made some stops in those situations. What are the things that you were able to do in the comebacks that you weren't able to do with the consistency you wanted?

Greg Mattison: Don't get me wrong when I say this, but it's just finishing. Whenever you're in a lot of very, very close games, you're either going to be successful or not successful. It comes down to one play usually. The Nebraska game, it was a fourth-and-two. The Iowa game, it was a stop, one last stop. Penn State, we thought we won it, but we missed the field goal. All of those situations, when you want to be a great defense, you try to live up to the reputation that Michigan defense has built over the years, you have to make those stops. That's what we have to do.

Question: Question about Jake Ryan and the lift the defense has got from him. A lot of people thought he was done for the year, but getting him back, talk about that.

Greg Mattison: Jake is an outstanding football player as well as an outstanding person. If the people could see the amount of hard work and dedication that he puts forth through our trainers, through our doctors, to come back as early as he did, it was amazing. If you had to be around Jake, had to know Jake, you would know he would do that. I mean, I don't know what the timetable was, but we as coaches all believed he would be back a lot sooner than anybody ever said. I think now he's 100%. I mean, he's totally back to where he was. We're really excited about him having this last game and having next year. He's a big part of our defense.

Question: What kind of challenges does Kansas State's offense present? They have the two quarterbacks that can do different things.

Greg Mattison: Yeah, I've had a chance to watch them tonight. Again, I mentioned earlier, and I mean this sincerely, Coach Snyder is a tremendous football coach. They will always be very, very well-coached. To win five of the last six games, averaging 35 points a game, you know their offense has the ability to score on anybody. The runningback, Hubert, is an excellent runningback. You don't gain a thousand yards on the people they play if you're not a great runningback, which also means their offensive line is very good. Lockett, just the film that I watched tonight, I mean, every time you look, he's behind somebody catching a long pass. The quarterback, some people would say they want him to throw. Well, he throws well enough. 15 is an excellent quarterback. You can see him getting better and better all the time. When you bring in No.4, he can hurt you so much with his feet, his ability to run. So the dual threat gives them a very potent attack.

Question: Coach has talked about putting the season into separate seasons. How do you wipe the slate clean preparing for a one-game season here in the bowl?

Greg Mattison: I don't know if you ever wipe the season clean. I think what you do is you emphasize why you didn't win the games that you felt you should have won and you make sure during these extra bowl practices that you emphasize that, that you don't allow that to happen again. The great thing about bowl games is you get a chance to get so many more practices. In our case, we're a very young football team. It gets our young guys another 15 or 12 practices to get better and to improve on the mistakes that they've made. I think that's a real plus of this bowl game.

Question: Coach, as I've observed your defenses over the years, Michigan, Florida, I know pass-rush is a big part of what you want to do. Frank Clark is your best. Is the pass-rush where you want it and what can you say about Frank?

Greg Mattison: No, the pass-rush is definitely not where we want it. You're right, a pass-rush is a huge part of any successful defense. I think a couple things happened. One, when you're real young, you're trying to do the right things in stopping the run, being lined up right. Every team you go against, the guy is probably stronger and bigger, probably has a lot more experience than you do. Turning it from the run defense to a pass-rush is what the great ones do. We haven't done that totally yet. I think that's one of the biggest things. Another thing that's happened is the type of quarterbacks that we've seen, it almost scares young guys into taking chances. To be a great pass-rusher, you have to have a hidden conscience where you're going to turn it loose and make a play. Right now we're not doing that. Frank Clark is one guy that has showed us some ability to rush the passer. He's gotten better and better every year and every game. He's a young man that came to us out of Cleveland that was 217 pounds when he got him. Now he's 275 pounds. He's just now becoming one of those defensive rushers. He hasn't gotten it all the way yet, and that's the next step.

Question: Considering the youth you've had, the struggles you had late in the season, how important is playing in a bowl and getting these 15 practices to kind of grow and establish yourselves moving forward?

Greg Mattison: It's huge. I mean, we're very, very excited about our football team. We feel very strongly that the young men we recruited in the two or three years that we've been here now are the right young men. Now it's getting that experience. Even though throughout a whole season you should have that experience, you can't put a price tag on these 15 more practices where you can gain on an individual drill, you can become a smarter football player. A lot of these guys have earned the right to play and it didn't start out the first week, it's been throughout the season. Every chance they get to play another game, have this practice time, is tremendous for us.

Question: How important is Blake Countess to you?

Greg Mattison: Blake has had a great year for us. Blake is another young man that just kind of came into his own midway through this season because he sat out all of last year with the knee. When you've had a major knee operation like Jake and Blake both had, once the doctor clears you, it's just the beginning. You have to get back to playing speed, to feeling really good about everything that's going on out there. The last few ballgames, the last four or five games, Blake has come on to his own. The good news is that Blake will be here for a few more years. He has a lot more football in him at Michigan.