For Michigan, chatter matters on the field

Wolverines defensive coordinator says communication fell short at Nebraska

10/31/2012
BY RACHEL LENZI
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez fumbles the ball for a turnover after being tackled by Michigan's Desmond Morgan (48).
Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez fumbles the ball for a turnover after being tackled by Michigan's Desmond Morgan (48).

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: rlenzi@the­blade.com, 419-724-6510 or on Twit­ter @RLen­ziBlade.