ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Throughout his career as a defensive coordinator, Greg Mattison’s defenses have always been attacking, predicated on pressure forcing mistakes, on turnovers creating chaos.
And on being able to do all of this because of soundness of form. Not everyone doing everything the same, but rather all of his players doing everything they are taught the correct way.
How far Michigan has come from two seasons ago, when then-new Michigan head coach Brady Hoke convinced Mattison to leave his job coaching the Baltimore Ravens defense to head back to college and join him in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines were a mess of a defense then, having run an ill-fitting scheme with a coordinator, Greg Robinson, who had never really coached it in his life.
Since that point, everything about the Michigan defense has changed. What could have been a difficult transition became easier, last season because of an experienced defensive line and now this season by a group of linebackers coming into its own.
“It’s our preparation and the smaller things,” senior linebacker Kenny Demens said. “We do things like pursuit drills in practice and once you get 11 guys to the football, great things happen.”
Those “great” things have started to flow more. Michigan has intercepted five passes in the past three games after having none in the first three. Their pressure has led to five sacks in two games after recording three during the entire nonconference season.
And when Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson went down in the first quarter with an undisclosed injury and his return initially questionable, Hoke still had little concern about whether his team would win.
Mostly because of his defense.
Last season against Illinois, Mattison became emotional in a rare postgame press conference with the media for a coordinator at Michigan. He wanted to talk then because of how proud he was of the Wolverines defense.
This season’s team is approaching that level now -- a month before that team’s defense did.
“Communication is the key to this defense. Without that, it’s nothing,” redshirt sophomore linebacker Jake Ryan said. “We’ve got to communicate and play our technique as well as we can.”
That’s the message Mattison has been sending all along -- and one his team is starting to understand for the second consecutive season.