With defensive end Craig Roh, left, Michigan linebacker Kenny Demens celebrates sacking Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa on Saturday.
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ANN ARBOR -- No teacher would be an effective communicator if the classroom were filled with the tension of a college football stadium on game day.
That's why Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison waits until halftime before making any significant adjustments. On Saturday, for instance, Mattison recognized that Northwestern's veer option and bubble screens were afflicting his team but waited until the Wolverines were free from the frenetic atmosphere at Ryan Field before doing something about it.
Northwestern, which scored three touchdowns and a field goal in the first half, never scored another point in Michigan's 42-24 win. At halftime Mattison decided to go with a bigger defense, replacing the nickelback -- a position manned by various players -- with 230-pound freshman outside linebacker Jake Ryan.
"The first play Jake came in and stoned the guy and made a great play," Mattison said last night.
A trend is beginning to take form, that Michigan is managing to handcuff offenses in the second half. Entering Saturday's showdown at No. 23 Michigan State, the 11th-ranked Wolverines (6-0, 2-0) have allowed just 21 second-half points -- two touchdowns to Notre Dame, and a score to San Diego State that came after Michigan's offense turned the ball over in its own territory.
After piling up 297 yards and 24 points in the first half, Northwestern's offensive possessions went like this the rest of the way: punt, interception, fumble, turnover on downs, end of the game.
"You guys saw what happened after that," Michigan defensive end Craig Roh said. "We played really good defense."
Mattison longs for the day "there aren't adjustments that have to be made at halftime." Realistically, he will find something he dislikes Saturday against a Michigan State offense that has multiple ways of attacking opponents. Kirk Cousins "is a really good quarterback," partially, Mattison said, because Cousins has good receivers to throw the ball to and a three-pronged running attack behind him.
B.J. Cunningham has 38 catches for 582 yards in the Spartans' five games, making nine or more receptions three times. He scored MSU's only touchdown in its last game, a 10-7 win at Ohio State, two weeks ago.
Running backs Edwin Baker (62 carries, 252 yards), Le'Veon Bell (52, 267), and Larry Caper (25, 100) all had a touchdown run in MSU's 34-17 win at Michigan last year.
Baker (61 yards) and Bell (41) caught the Wolverines napping on misdirection runs and the Spartans rolled up 249 yards on the ground. Mattison's unit has been better at stopping the run, although he'd probably like to see his defenders shrink the 4.4 yards opponents are averaging per carry.
"They're going to come out and they're going to be tough and they're going to run power football," Roh said of Michigan State's plan. "This year we've got guys who are better at their technique and improving."
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @RyanAutullo.
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