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Mattison holds keys to Wolverine defense

Sep 4, 2013, 12:48 PM EDT

Brady Hoke, Greg Mattison

If there’s a benefit of Notre Dame and Michigan taking a break after next season, it’s that Greg Mattison doesn’t have to answer the same questions year after year. The Michigan defensive coordinator, who held the same position at Notre Dame for a portion of his eight-year run in South Bend, clearly understands what this rivalry is all about.

“I probably know this game better than most people, having been on both sides of it. This is a rivalry game. This is a big game. We’re looking forward to it,” Mattison said in his opening comments during his weekly press conference.

“There are some big games, and Michigan-Notre Dame in my eyes has always been a big rivalry game.”

Mattison’s comments aside, the defensive coordinator has his hands full on Saturday night, getting a young front seven up to speed to play against the Irish’s veteran front. Last year, Mattison called an excellent game, holding the Irish to just 13 points and a paltry 239 yards, clearly confusing young quarterback Everett Golson, who was pulled early after throwing two bad interceptions.

(How bad was Golson? Consider that his QB Rating (1.6) ¬†was almost 30 points lower than Denard Robinson’s, who went 13 of 24 with four interceptions.)

With Golson out, Tommy Rees safely piloted the Irish to the victory, scoring a late touchdown on a two yard run while completing an efficient 8 of 11 passes for 115 yards, including a game-clinching connection with Tyler Eifert on third down to ice the game.

While many Michigan fans feel more confident heading into Saturday with Golson exiled for academic reasons, Mattison has a healthy respect for Rees.

“Tommy Rees, we respect him. He’s a very very good quarterback, as you know what you did last year to us at the end of the game,” Mattison said.

That respect for Rees is likely a product of the two games he’s played against the Wolverines. While most only remember the last second touchdown heave by Denard Robinson to Roy Roundtree, it was Rees that marched the Irish down the field to what could have been a game winning touchdown drive with thirty seconds left. It’s lost in the shuffle now, but Rees’ sophomore stat line was an impressive 27 of 39 for 315 yards, with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Nobody is forgetting about the redzone fumble and the turnovers that helped Michigan get back into the football game, but the narrative that Mattison has Notre Dame’s number as a coordinator hasn’t been necessarily true when Rees was behind center.

The Wolverines held Central Michigan to just 210 yards last weekend, feasting on the Chippewas after starting quarterback Cody Kater and starting running back Zurlon Tipton both were injured in the first half. But Mattison knows he’s in for a tougher opponent Saturday night.

“Notre Dame has a lot of talent. They’re a very good football team. Now it’s the next step,” Mattison said. “In the second game, did you correct the mistakes? Do you play harder or do you improve? Every time you’re a young team, you must improve every game. If you don’t, then you’re taking a step back. We’re looking forward to improving.”

  1. dickasman - Sep 4, 2013 at 1:03 PM

    If Rees plays like he did against Temple and no turnovers, we should only lose because we miss couple field goals. Juuuuuust kidding!

    I love how BK came out and deny deny deny just like last year with punt returns like he’s got Reggie Ho with whiteman makeup on in his back pocket…kicking problems? what kicking problems? Nahhhh, these guys are just new. You have to ADMIT problems before you can FIX the problems. I think BK needs couple of AA or NA meetings.

    Okkkkkk coach. If you say so. I will give you the benefit of the doubt and hope you get this cleaned up now. Thank you.

    • mcirish27 - Sep 5, 2013 at 12:27 AM

      Trust me when i say how much i regret to admit this, but Dick, you’re absolutely right. It makes me nervous that Kelly has been playing this card all week.

      Tausch couldn’t kick the last 4 years he was here, he’s not the answer in his 5th year. The punting last week was embarrassing – put the pressure on the guys to be better – and be upfront about it. Michigan IS a rivalry. If they’re not a rival, then they’re the enemy – and because they’re the enemy and your fanbase demands that you beat them, show them the outward respect as an opponent you gave Bama, Oklahoma, etc. As an aside, I always felt that Lou’s “Rice keeps me up at night because they’re our next opponent” approach was predictable, but at least he had the right mindset to rub off on the team.

      Hopefully Kelly’s talking a different game in the locker room, but he’s playing it a little too cool in my book.

  2. yaketyyacc - Sep 4, 2013 at 1:24 PM

    Michigan’s faults are many, but Notre Dame has only two: Tausch and Brindza.

    • bernhtp - Sep 4, 2013 at 2:47 PM

      Brindza has ice water flowing and will come through when needed on field goals. His pooch punting is suspect and may need the WF transfer, but Brindza’s long punting looked good.

  3. oldestguard - Sep 4, 2013 at 1:26 PM

    Run early, run often till they over-commit, then a few surgical strikes.

    Keep Gardner in a state of confusion and a world of pain.

    There’s gonna be a lot of cry-bables in that Big House when this one is over..

    • dickasman - Sep 4, 2013 at 1:35 PM

      Michigan always has very solid o line though and our d line didn’t look that good. Hope they play better. 10 years of cocaine ecstasy abuse didnt kill me but that bend n break d will put me in the grave.

      • oldestguard - Sep 4, 2013 at 2:00 PM

        They’re gonna have to double on Nix and probably Tuit at times. Prince and company are going to have some fun with that. We’ll see who’s bending and breaking after that.

        Where do you go to watch the games, Dick ? I got you pegged as a Near North Chicago guy, or maybe Wicker Park.

        Whats your typical game watch locale ?

      • ibleedirish - Sep 4, 2013 at 2:36 PM

        Why do you say Prince and Co. should have fun with the double teams? They didn’t against Temple, why would they against UM? One sack against Temple is pathetic.

      • andy44teg - Sep 4, 2013 at 2:53 PM

        I literally laughed out loud at that one, dickie. keep it up!

  4. ndunbound - Sep 4, 2013 at 1:44 PM

    Does anyone know if full-game replays are available on NBC’s Notre Dame Central website this year? They have been the past few years, but I can’t find the ND-Temple game anywhere on that site or at I’ll be seriously disappointed if they’ve done away with them. Thanks.

    • italianirish - Sep 4, 2013 at 2:51 PM

      I think they’re showing all the games there and you can get the replays too. Haven’t checked it out myself yet.

  5. runners00 - Sep 4, 2013 at 2:41 PM

    The whole key will be whether we can run the football. If we can, it will signify that our big guys are wreaking havoc for their defensive front four (most of whom are new to the starting role). I think we’ll be able to run the ball and, assuming that we can hold onto it, I think we’ve got a great shot to take a victory away from the big house.

  6. fnc111 - Sep 4, 2013 at 3:19 PM

    Please let Brindza handle the kicking duties. It will spare some people in here a heart attack. I had a great angle at the game of the Tausch shank job. It was uglier in person. He can’t be allowed to play in this game.

    • ibleedirish - Sep 4, 2013 at 3:26 PM

      Wow, that was coherent, and not completely negative. Keep up the good work.

  7. jerseyshorendfan1 - Sep 4, 2013 at 11:45 PM

    Coaches say that teams have their most improvement between weeks one and two of the season. Sounds like Mattison is looking to get some improvement out of his D and the game is shaping up to be a toss up in my opinion. I love the confidence of some of the posters on this board but Gardner worries me. He will keep UM in the ball game. I also worry that a close game almost always comes down to a FG and if that happens, I’ll have to breathe into a paper bag or something. ND goes 2-0 with a 20-17 victory I’m praying.

    • irish4006 - Sep 5, 2013 at 12:42 AM

      The QB is good, we just don’t know how good. That’s the problem with cupcake games…

      Cupcake or no cupcake, Rees actually looked pretty good to me. He had a couple of bad throws, sure, but his good throws were really good; better than anything I have ever seen from him. Defense looked rusty, I can only hope that it was just that; the rust from a long off season that will go away as the season progresses.

      This will be a good game and we will get a good understanding of where the season is headed.

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