Greg Mattison

Mattison has seen both sides of the UM-ND rivalry

9 Comments

Saturday isn’t just another game for Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.

“I know it’s a huge rivalry for everybody involved in it,” Mattison said. “It’s Michigan. It’s Notre Dame.”

He knows because he’s spent eight years on the opposite sideline, coordinating the Irish defense under Bob Davie and then staying on staff under Tyrone Willingham to coach the defensive line.

“I had a great 8 years there,” Mattison recalled. “I got to see my family through school and my daughter in college, so that made it a really good deal.”

Mattison left Notre Dame when the Willingham era ended, landing with Urban Meyer in Gainesville, part of a coaching staff filled with Davie lieutenants. From there, he became a perennial thorn in Irish fan’s side, winning several one-on-one battles for high-profile recruits, and drawing the ire of Irish fans by allegedly using some negative tactics about all things under the Golden Dome to win.

Mattison’s three year run at Florida was a successful one, but he jumped to the NFL to join John Harbaugh, a friend and coach he’d worked with early in his career under Harbaugh’s father Jack. Mattison ascended to defensive coordinator after Rex Ryan was hired as head coach of the New York Jets.

While Mattison was coordinating one of the NFL’s best defenses, ESPN.com’s Michael Rothstein of Wolverine Nation nicely chronicles Mattison’s unlikely return to the college game, a move he made only because of the man asking.

The NFL taught Mattison more about disguising blitzes and coverages and about how best to pressure the quarterback with schematics. It forced him to become more varied in his playcalling. For the first time, he didn’t have to teach as much as he had to call the right scheme.

“He was a very good coach here,” said safety Tom Zbikowski, who played for Mattison at Notre Dame and with the Ravens. “But with his personality and just him as a human being I think he works very, very well with young men. I think he can relate to them well and be a figure that somebody needs at that time of their life.”

Mattison learned a lot. But his best friend called. He had just been hired as Michigan’s head coach. Did Mattison want to come?

Back to college, back to Michigan, back to Brady Hoke he would go.

Hoke tasked Mattison with fixing a Wolverine defense that had falling apart under Rich Rodriguez. He’s already gotten off to a quick start in his other forte, recruiting, with 15 of the 23 recruits already committed to Michigan set to play defense. Now he’s got to get his defense ready to take on one of their biggest rivals, after it took a few lumps in its debut against Western Michigan.

When Mattison sat down with the media earlier this week, he discussed some of the difficulties his defense had against a Western Michigan unit that played an up-tempo, hurry-up scheme.

“The thing that happen is the kind of thing you worry about happening,” Mattison said about his unit’s opening drive. “When you had so many guys that hadn’t played a lot football you probably had the toughest scenario you could get because it was a very fast pace. They were switching personnel groups in and out without us really being able to decide and see what they were.”

No disrespect to Bill Cubit‘s Broncos, but when Tommy Rees took the helm of the Irish offense after halftime last Saturday, the Irish moved at a tempo that made Western Michigan look like it was running out the clock.

Mattison countered WMU’s early success by bringing pressure, forcing turnovers from the Broncos after it was clear that Michigan couldn’t get to the passer in its base defense.

“We won’t sit back and play zone coverage until we have the ability to get a rush with a four-man front,” Mattison said. “It’s not fair to that secondary or that underneath coverage. If we get in a situation like that we’ll always try to do what’s best for the defense. I’m not going to say I’m a guy that’s going to say he’s going to go out and blitz every down, but when it dictates it, then I think you have to.”

If there’s a situation that dictates it, Saturday evening is it. With Rees moving the offense up and down the field in the second half, Mattison knows he’ll need to protect a secondary that’s still lacking in depth.

If there’s a counter-punch to be had by Brian Kelly and the Irish coaching staff, it’s a running game that can be the biggest offensive asset Notre Dame possesses. Lost in last Saturday’s defeat was Cierre Wood‘s performance, a dynamic effort as a runner, who also made big plays in the passing game as well.

Mattison understands that while Rees, Michael Floyd, and the Irish’s other aerial weapons can hurt Michigan, they’ll need to make sure Wood doesn’t take over the football game.

“We have to be able to stop the run,” Mattison said. “Any time a team runs the football on your defense, you can’t have a great day.”

Brian Kelly made the change to Tommy Rees in large part because he knows Rees is undefeated when he has both a run game and passing attack at his disposal. If the Irish are going to get their season back on track in front of 110,000 fans in Michigan Stadium, they’ll need to have both.

Report: Tarean Folston won’t return for fifth year

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
5 Comments

Tarean Folston will declare for the NFL Draft. The senior running back, who has a fifth-year of eligibility available after a medical redshirt in 2014, will instead turn his focus to preparing for the professional ranks. Irish Sports Daily’s Matt Freeman broke the news, confirming the decision with Folston.

The departure wasn’t totally unexpected, though Folston was also a candidate for a graduate transfer. But after running for 1,712 yards over four years, the 214-pound back will hope an NFL team takes a shot on him, likely looking at tape of Folston the underclassmen to make their evaluation.

The Cocoa, Florida native burst onto the scene as a freshman against Navy when he ran for 140 yards on 18 carries in the Irish’s 38-34 win. He was Notre Dame’s leading rusher in 2014, running for 889 yards and 5.1 yards per carry  and six scores in 2014.

Expected to do big things in 2015, Folston’s season lasted just three carries, a torn ACL suffered against Texas in the season opener. After Josh Adams emerged that season, Folston fell behind him in the depth chart, getting just 77 carries in 2016.

The move clarifies a depth chart that looked to be unchanged heading into next season. But with Folston’s exit, rising sophomore Tony Jones will join Adams and Dexter Williams in the rotation. Fellow sophomore Deon Macintosh and incoming freshman C.J. Holmes will also compete for playing time.

Quenton Nelson will return for his senior season

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Getty
13 Comments

Brian Kelly’s talked about the rare 6-star recruit: Harrison Smith, Manti Te’o, Michael Floyd, Zack Martin. Well, add Quenton Nelson to the list. Notre Dame’s starting left guard has made it official that he’ll return for his senior season.

The New Jersey native adds another key building block to the Irish offensive line, returning with Mike McGlinchey to anchor Harry Hiestand’s unit. Like McGlinchey, Nelson had an option to be selected high in next year’s NFL Draft, staying in school even after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL’s Advisory Board, per Irish Illustrated.

Nelson took to social media to make the news public, with the NFL’s declaration deadline set for January 16.

“Excited for this team to grow every day this offseason by putting in nothing but hard work and grinding together. When we reach our full potential, look out. I’m right behind you Coach.”

Nelson was named a team captain for 2017 at the year-end Echoes Awards Show. He earned second-team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated and was rated by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the No. 1 offensive guard in the 2017 draft class, a grade he’ll likely carry into next season.

Clark Lea formally named Linebackers Coach

clark-lea
UND.com
17 Comments

Notre Dame formally introduced new linebackers coach Clark Lea on Thursday. The press release for the 35-year-old  included the following quote from the new assistant who has worked at Bowling Green, UCLA and Wake Forest, and rejoins Mike Elko in South Bend.

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said in a statement. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”

That work has already begun, with Lea on the prowl as the recruiting dead period ended and the rebuilt Irish staff hit the road. Yesterday, Lea was with defensive coordinator Mike Elko visiting commit David Adams, a key piece of the Irish puzzle on the defensive side of the ball. That starts a mad rush that’ll keep Lea’s belongs in boxes until after the first Wednesday in February, as Elko and his reshuffled defensive staff open their recruiting board, finding replacements for a handful of de-commitments and pieces that’ll fit Elko’s scheme.

If there’s any reason for optimism after a tough few weeks in recruiting, it’s the young staff that Kelly has assembled. The youth movement includes not just Lea, but the 39-year-old Elko. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is just 33, moving to Notre Dame after one season at Memphis. Running backs coach Autry Denson just turned 40 while special teams coordinator Brian Polian is practically long in the tooth at 42. (All that comes before the expected announcement of 25-year-old Tommy Rees.)

Lea’s pedigree is rock solid, earning kudos in 2012 for his work as Linebackers coach at Bowling Green, Football Scoop’s Linebackers Coach of the Year.

“Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” Kelly said in the release. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system — having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”

 

 

 

Reports: Lea, Alexander added to Irish coaching staff

delvaughn
ASU Sports Information
22 Comments

Brian Kelly is adding to his rebuilt coaching staff, reportedly finalizing deals with Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea and Arizona State assistant DelVaughn Alexander. Lea will reunite with Mike Elko and coach linebackers and Alexander will coach wide receivers. While both hires are still going through formal university vetting, the Lea hire has long been rumored before being reported by SI’s Pete Thamel. FootballScoop.com broke the news on Alexander, before multiple outlets confirmed the report.

In Lea, Elko brings a piece of his coaching staff with him to South Bend. The 35-year-old spent last season working in Winston-Salem and spent three seasons at Syracuse before that. He worked with Elko and Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson at Bowling Green and has spent time as an assistant at UCLA as well. He earned three letters at Vanderbilt, a 2004 graduate.

Alexander is a veteran presence to help replace Mike Denbrock and fill his void coaching receivers. He’s also a coach with first-hand knowledge of new coordinator Chip Long, having worked alongside him in Tempe under Mike Norvell. The move also comes in time for the reopen of the recruiting season’s home stretch, bringing a capable West Coast recruiter to the staff at a time when Notre Dame’s 2017 class is leaking a bit of oil.

Alexander played wide receiver at USC, playing for Larry Smith and John Robinson, before breaking into the coaching ranks there as a graduate assistant. He’s also had stops at UNLV, coached for Jim Harbaugh at San Diego, and spent significant time at Wisconsin and Arizona State where he coached multiple positions, taking over tight ends after Long left for Memphis.