- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Greg Mattison stood underneath the stands at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill., a season ago and started to well up as he spoke. He couldn’t control his emotions any longer, not after what he saw on the field.
Since his arrival at Michigan, he preached about what a “Michigan defense” was and how it needed to perform. On that day he saw and was overcome.
A season later, he has not expressed the same emotion about this year’s defense, but he also showed those who remained what his expectation would be, how his defense would be built to perform every week -- including Saturday against Ohio State.
“He just sets the bar so high,” Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs said. “He expects more and more out of you, and the defense responds. He’s done a great job with the guys up front, the front seven stopping the run, and our pass defense is doing well, too.”
Mattison has the Michigan defense among the leaders in the country for the second consecutive season -- 12th in total defense (303.45 yards per game), 17th in scoring (18.09 points) and first against the pass.
When Mattison arrived at Michigan, he changed the Wolverines defensive philosophy from a 3-3-5 defense under Greg Robinson to a pressure-oriented, 4-3 multiple scheme, where he has thrown exotic blitzes and varying coverage looks into each week’s game plan.
That combined with his increased expectations have turned Michigan’s around defense. His players believe in him because of what they see every day, not necessarily what happens during game days.
“The passion that he brings to every meeting and every practice,” senior defensive tackle Will Campbell said. “He comes into practice and it’s sort of like when you have a father figure, when he says he’s not mad at you, he’s disappointed.
“When he says he’s disappointed, it hurts more than when he is mad.”
Trying to keep Mattison from being disappointed helps push his defensive players. They want to play well for him as much as themselves.
“My philosophy has always been to do what’s best for the players,” Mattison said. “Give the players the best opportunities to win. If you do that and you teach it and you demand that they do it that way. Then, you have a chance.
“That’s what we’ve tried to do here.”
So far it has been successful. But with everything at Michigan, much of what happens is focused on Ohio State, where the Wolverines will have to perform their best to have a chance to beat the Buckeyes.