Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez fumbles the ball for a turnover after being tackled by Michigan's Desmond Morgan (48).
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ANN ARBOR — Greg Mattison believes there’s a certain standard that’s set for Michigan’s defense.
In Saturday’s 23-9 loss at Nebraska, Michigan’s defensive coordinator said his team failed to live up to that standard, despite the fact that Nebraska didn’t put up gaudy offensive numbers.
Instead, Nebraska picked off quarterback Russell Bellomy three times, including P.J. Smith’s third-quarter interception that helped set up the first of Brett Maher’s three field goals, and Daimion Stafford’s interception that set up Ameer Abdullah’s fourth-quarter touchdown.
Mattison pointed to the the root of the breakdown as Michigan’s defensive communication — or the lack thereof.
“I’ve said this forever,” Mattison said. “Great defenses, they sound like a boardroom of a great company when you’re out there. Check right, watch out for this, make sure you’re wide enough … great defenses, that’s when you really feel it.”
Mattison didn’t feel it in the loss to Nebraska. Now that area quickly needs to be rectified for this weekend’s Legends Division game at Minnesota, a team that earned its first Big Ten win last Saturday at home against Purdue as freshman quarterback Philip Nelson threw for 246 yards and three touchdowns.
The lack of chatter in the loss to Nebraska wasn’t a by-product of the volume level at Lincoln’s Memorial Stadium. Michigan’s players said it was an effect of Nebraska’s high-tempo offense.
“That’s our main goal for this week, to keep working on communication and get the calls to everyone,” cornerback Raymon Taylor said. “When (Nebraska) was in hurry-up, we didn’t get the calls to each and every one. Basically, we were out there, just lost.”
Even though Mattison has seen cohesiveness among his defense throughout the season, even in the hours leading up to what was considered a pivotal game last Saturday for the Wolverines, senior safety Jordan Kovacs summed up the ramifications of that lack of communication for the Wolverines (5-3, 3-1 Big Ten Conference).
“If we don’t communicate, we don’t get lined up, and you’re not ready to play,” Kovacs said. “And that’s what happened to us.”
While Michigan is tied for first in the nation with Alabama on pass defense, Michigan coach Brady Hoke pointed out another deficiency — the rush defense.
“I think people are running it a little more, to be honest with you,” said Hoke, whose team has allowed an average of 145.13 rushing yards, tied for 46th nationally with Boise State. “We don’t really like that, either. We’re not a great pressure team, we’re not a great man team. We’ve probably been fortunate a few different times through the year.”
Kovacs pointed to another factor in play for the success of the pass defense — Michigan’s opponents.
“Air Force didn’t throw the ball a lot, and Alabama didn’t have to,” the Clay graduate said. “There were some open receivers the last game that [Nebraska quarterback Taylor] Martinez didn’t see and there were a couple blitzes that we ran, and we had a guy run down the middle of the field wide open, and we can’t let that happen. We’ve been fortunate that they haven’t hit them yet, but we’ve got to get those corrections made or else we won’t be as successful.”
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.
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