December 31, 2011
An Interview With:
COACH GREG MATTISON
THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by Michigan Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison. Opening comments?
COACH MATTISON: First of all, I can tell you on behalf of the Michigan football program we’re really honored and proud to be here. This is a tremendous Bowl. And I know you couldn’t tell by looking at me but I have been in a lot of Bowl games, and the Sugar Bowl is one that I haven’t been in, and it’s really a great Bowl. The people down here have been tremendous, and I know our players would echo that. You can tell by how they’ve acted and how they responded, and they really have enjoyed themselves down here.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. Asking about the novelty of facing an ACC team. These conferences don’t tend to get together during the regular season. You guys like the fact that it is a novelty game going against the Hokies?
COACH MATTISON: I don’t know if I would look at it as the Big Ten versus the ACC. I think it’s more Michigan having the opportunity to play a team like Virginia Tech.
You know, Virginia Tech has a great tradition. They have had tremendous success. And you can see why they have been so good. And it’s going to be a definite challenge for us to play this type of a team.
Q. Can you talk about your decision to come back to college football? I know you just believe that you’re a college football coach.
COACH MATTISON: I think the people from Ann Arbor have asked this question before. First of all, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to coach at a place like Baltimore. John Harbaugh has got Michigan ties. Jim was his brother, obviously. His dad, Jack, was my head coach at Western Michigan. Coached at Michigan.
In the three years that I was at Baltimore, it was a tremendous experience. I had the opportunity to coach some of the greatest players in the game. And they were not only great players, they were great people.
But I just missed the on‑the‑field ‑‑ the chance to take some young man that maybe is not a great football player or people say he’s not a great football player or he doesn’t believe he’s a great football player and help him to get to become as good as he can.
And that’s something that I’ve always enjoyed in all my years of coaching. And I missed it. When Brady Hoke got named the head football coach, Brady and I coached together at two different places, he’s one of my closest friends, and it’s Michigan.
And I honestly would never have done this if it was any other school but Michigan. And if you aren’t from Michigan, if you’re not ‑‑ if you haven’t been around the University of Michigan, what these young men have done this year is why it’s Michigan.
And it’s why you come back. And it’s why you leave a great job in the NFL to go coach at Michigan. And I mean I think that’s the biggest reason.
Q. Greg, you talked all year about next man up. And when Will and Brent go down with injuries, how critical has that been to kind of get people in that know what they’re doing and can fill in those gaps?
COACH MATTISON: Well, you know, you won’t know that until the game’s over, you know? The one great thing is that in our practices and anybody that is in our program is expected to do it the right way, is expected to do it the way we want to do it on defense.
And so these guys have gotten reps all year. And these young men know that whoever’s in that huddle, and whoever is lined up on that defense, there’s an expectation. And you play it this way and only this way.
And I think we’ll see what happens with Will. But when Nate went down, it’s unfortunate, because he’s given so much to the program. He’s been one of those guys that has really, really improved. So the next two guys come up. The next guy has to step up and they’ve got to play the way we expect them to play.
Q. We’ve seen Will go around on crutches, how much has he been able to practice? And do you have a limit of how much time he can miss before you may rule him out?
COACH MATTISON: That’s really up to Paul. That’s up to our medical staff. Over the years in coaching I’ve had guys that have missed an entire Bowl practice and all of a sudden they were cleared. And you now have another hand, you now have another guy that can play.
You can’t worry about that as a coach. If you’re a coach and all of a sudden somebody goes down and you start worrying about that, you’re not going to do a great job. And it truly is, at our place, with Brady, and our staff, next guy. Next guy. These are our players. This is Michigan defense. This is how you play. You’re expected to know what to do.
You’re supposed to execute what we call ‑‑ and I’m very confident that they’ll do that.
Q. You talk about during the season you’re preparing one week for a Nebraska or Ohio State. How much different is it when you have several weeks to look at one opponent and get ready?
COACH MATTISON: Well, you have to be careful. And you hit it right on the head. And my biggest mistake ‑‑ and I’ve done this over the years ‑‑ is you watch so much film of a team that pretty soon you start thinking well this might be good and this might be good, and you know it will be good, but can the players execute it? And then all of a sudden you’ve got to say a little voice comes in your head or it’s Brady in your head or somebody saying: Remember how you got here. And remember. And we’re fortunate, with our defensive package, I think is we’ve grown.
So we take from this for this game and take this for this game. And after all the dust has settled you go back saying: Okay, this is our package, this is what we do, and now let’s execute it against this offense. And that’s what’s happened.
Q. Does Virginia Tech remind you of any teams that you guys have faced this year?
COACH MATTISON: Well, they’re a combination ‑‑ first of all, I really believe they’re an outstanding offense. And I think the guys that know me, I usually say it pretty honest. Their quarterback is bigger than some of our defensive linemen. This guy, he’s an athlete.
And I think the thing they show me ‑‑ they show you some of Nebraska, with some of their zone read option and their option that they like to run with the big quarterback. And then they come right back with Wilson and they run the football like some of the best players in the Big Ten run it.
So they’ve got the ability to go to a lot of different offenses out of one set of offensive players. And so we’ve had to prepare each personnel group gives you something different. And their wide receivers will be the biggest wide receivers we’ve played against all year.
The quarterback for sure is the biggest. And the thing that I notice when I was looking at their personnel, I think we’ve got four freshmen or redshirt freshmen that are starting in our defense or playing in our defense.
And I believe that Virginia Tech, I think you must have to be a junior or senior to ever get on the field there, because they’re all juniors and seniors.
So it’s going to be a very veteran team that we’ll be going against also.
Q. Speaking of your freshmen, how long did it take to build up enough trust with Blake to throw him out there against guys like Marvin McNutt?
COACH MATTISON: About one play. You can tell ‑‑ you can tell if a guy kind of has it. And one thing about corners that have a chance to be really good, they have a very, very short memory. Their conscience isn’t very good, because just about the time in practice where you’re yelling at a young man for not doing what he’s supposed to be doing, he’s already forgot what you just said and he’s ready to play the next play.
And that’s what allows corners to be successful. And Blake is going to ‑‑ the thing our defense is going to have, and Blake’s one of them, you’re going to be tested in this game.
That’s the great thing about playing a Bowl game and then playing a BCS Bowl game and then playing a team like Virginia Tech. Anything that’s good that you’ve done this year, you’re throwing it back out on the line and now you’re saying, okay, I’ve got to back that up.
And that’s what these guys are going to have to do. They have to see and show that where they’re headed on defense is there and they’ll be tested on that.
Q. Just curious, coaching staff, do you guys log as many hours at a Bowl site as you would if you were back at Ann Arbor, is it the early mornings and long nights?
COACH MATTISON: Yeah, my wife’s having a heck of a time. No, it’s exactly the same. You have to prepare. You can’t go to a Bowl site and practice and not evaluate the film. You have to evaluate it as a staff before you can go over it with your players. You have to go through the game plan. You’ve got to ‑‑ all of those things that you do that you spend time in doing, you have to do it the same way.
And Bowls are for, in my opinion, they’re for the families. They’re for the young men that are playing and the coaches, it’s your job to get your team ready to go.
Q. What was your initial impression of Jordan Kovacs? I guess in spring training is the first time you’ve seen him, and how has he progressed through the season?
COACH MATTISON: I can’t remember what my first impression was of Jordan. I know one thing, he caught my eye a number of times in practice as we got going, because he continued to do what we asked him to do. Even if it wasn’t right, he was the ‑‑ he’s one of those ‑‑ and I don’t like to use the word Michigan guys, but over the years Michigan has had some players that you can count on, and you just say this guy’s going to make the play. And Jordan has showed that all year, that somebody’s going to make a big play, if somebody’s going to blitz, if somebody’s going to be there ‑‑ and he’s not perfect. But he is going to go out every single play and go as hard as he can go. And that’s a Michigan football player, a Michigan defensive player.
He’s been a huge, huge part of our defense. And I mean another part of him is a lot of guys might have missed three or four games. I think he only missed two when he got hurt. He’s fighting back.
When he got hurt he looked at us and said, coach, I’ll be back right away. A lot of guys wouldn’t have done that. But he’s a special young man.
Q. After everything this unit have been through the past couple of years, was there ever a time when you had to infuse confidence in them? Were they an unconfident group when you first got to Michigan last spring? And how ‑‑ seems like they’ve got a swagger now after the season. How have you seen that develop, sort of just their mentality after going through the past couple of years?
COACH MATTISON: Well, the way you get confidence is, first of all, you put the work in to become a good football player. The second thing that happens is then under the lights, and there aren’t any bigger lights than at Michigan, under the lights you play Michigan defense. And there’s 115,000 that are going to let you know if you played Michigan defense or not.
And then the third thing is you know and believe that if you execute the plan, then you’re going to be successful. And all those things have happened throughout this year where the guys said, okay, now I understand what I’m supposed to do and I understand that’s not good enough; this is. And as it got to the “this is” then you take the next step, now you gotta do it on the road, now you gotta do it in a big game. Then they started believing the package and the defense and what we’re doing, if I execute it, then we’re going to be good. So that’s what this last game is all about, you’re rolling it out one more time and you’re saying: Okay, let’s find out, do you measure up? Are you a Michigan defense?
Q. Craig talked about how Will Campbell has basically his own personal coaching staff. How has he responded to that kind of attention in practice and the position he might be thrust into next week?
COACH MATTISON: Will has responded well all year. There aren’t just three starting defensive linemen. You can’t make it doing it that way. You’ve got to always look at it as if there’s five or six starting linemen.
And you’re going to be playing ‑‑ whenever you put a defensive linemen in a game in a crucial part of a game he’s a starter. The times are passed when one defensive lineman plays the whole game if you get ahead you mop up you put a guy in. Doesn’t happen that way. And especially the way we do it, because we’ve rotated, we’ve tried from day one, even when guys weren’t ready, we rotated guys in in crucial times.
So when all of a sudden it’s time for you to say: Okay, instead of you coming in the second quarter, you’re going to start the first quarter, that’s about where it’s at with Will. And I have utmost confidence. And I’m happy for him.
I’m excited for him, because he has an opportunity now to show what he can do, and that’s what this game is going to give him.
Q. You’ve talked about being a Michigan defense. Again, a couple of guys said the Illinois game is when they felt they were getting there. I was curious if that was a turning point for your crew, or if you saw those elements of being a Michigan defense in that game, particularly?
COACH MATTISON: I really did. That game was a special game, because that was a very good offense at that time. I think they had won six straight games earlier in the year, and we knew they had ‑‑ they were a type of team that could hurt you on defense. And that was the first time, I think, that they, for most of that game handled all phases of defense. Stopping the run, pressuring the pass, defending the pass, and they looked like I envisioned a Michigan defense.
And that’s a swarming, hitting, aggressive defense. And so that was the first time I think we all kind of said that, okay, you finally got here, now let’s see if you stay there. And that was where we were at.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
Michigan Defensive Selected Players Quotes
Michigan DE Ryan Van Bergen
(On what is it like to be at the Sugar Bowl) “It is awesome, especially for the seniors. This is our last time to spend quality time with these guys, because – most likely – next time we get together we’ll be watching their game from the sidelines. It is the last time to really bond as a team because we are not only teammates but great friends.”
(On thinking about last year’s staff) “I think we have a blueprint on what not to do and we have done things wrong in the past and we hope to change things for this coming year. This means with everything – preparation, with our attitude, with our effort, with our enthusiasm, and where our focus is during a bowl week, especially in a place like new Orleans where focus can easily go out the window.”
(On how Will Campbell has handled the coaching) “I think he had a bit of an ego coming in as a freshmen with the 5-star rating and that happens with all the high school hype that media creates. He has actually really humbled himself out and takes coaching just as well as anybody else on team, and he probably is criticized more than anyone else on the team.”
(On moving inside if needed) “Yes, I know every position on the defensive line. That is one of the things I have placed on myself, so I can help out as much on the field and direct. I played the 3- technique for the first couple of games, but right now our least amount of depth is at the end, so I need to really focus on that and buckle down.”
(On what the seniors have talked to the team about) “We really haven’t had a need for a meeting. Everyone has been really focused in practice. We are hitting each other every single practice, which I don’t know how many other bowl teams do that. We are going full-go against our scout team. It’s a very physical, aggressive mentality that we have had all season, so there is no need to have a meeting.”
(On the difference from last year’s bowl week) “Attitude, enthusiasm and effort are the three things we lacked in practice, and that is from a player’s perspective and has nothing to do with coaching. That was the attitude of the team and that is something we have changed in regards to practice this week.”
Michigan S Jordan Kovacs
(On Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas) “He’s a very good quarterback, big guy. I think he’s about 6-6, 250 pounds, so he’s going to be tough to bring down. He’s a [Pittsburgh Steeler’s Ben] Roethlisberger-type quarterback. He’s not exactly always looking to run, but he’s definitely a threat to run the ball. He’s a very athletic guy, big guy, and he’s tough to bring down and he’s got a cannon – so, we’ve got our hands full with him and with the offense in general. So we’re looking forward to the challenge.
(On Virginia Tech’s big receivers) “They have very good receivers; big guys. At all of their skill positions, they have some true athletes. I think their average receiver is probably about 215 pounds and about 6-4, so they’re a little bigger than me. We’ve been working on jump balls and that kind of stuff, because we know that it could be that kind of game. But, at the same time, if we do what we’ve done all year and we can keep the ball in front of us and communicate then I think we’ll be alright.”
(On the team’s success this season after the previous) “Our struggles the previous three seasons have really made this season all the more sweet. I think those have helped us this season because it’s made us even hungrier than ever before. A lot of our success this season can be attributed to those past struggles. I think those three seasons helped us grow and turned us into a stronger team. We’ve come closer than ever before. We’ve got a great senior class that stepped up and led this team.”
(On having a better season this year) “I think I’ve got great teammates that put me in position to make plays. Defensively, we have a great scheme that’s really helped us out. Coach [Greg] Mattison has coached this scheme for several years now and he’s done a heck of a job with us. We’ve got great coaches and great players, and they just put me in position to make plays.”
(On advice from his dad, who was a former player) “He doesn’t say too much, but he encourages me to stay focused. That’s the trick with these bowl games. You’ve got so much stuff going on. You’ve got all of these different events like, last night, we went bowling and we did this and that. You’ve got to keep the main thing, the main thing, and that’s to win the game, because you can spoil your whole trip.”
Michigan Linebacker Kenny Demens
(On Virginia Tech’s quarterback Logan Thomas) “Yeah, he is a nice size guy. He is tough. He runs downhill when he wants to. It’s a great challenge for us and we are looking forward to it.”
(On facing big running quarterbacks in the past) “I would say he is similar to the quarterback we faced in last year’s bowl game. This guy is much taller. He has a long stride. We are looking forward to playing such a great quarterback.”
(On Thomas as a passer) “One thing that he does, that I noticed on film, is that he wants to throw the ball. He is a pass-first quarterback. That is going to take him a long way.”
(On the importance of stopping the run in this game) “That’s what Coach [Greg] Mattison and Coach [Brady] Hoke want. They want us to be run stoppers first. Stop the run and then the pass. If you stop the run, you are more prone to win that game. Just playing great defense all around, that is our goal for this game.”
(On David Wilson) “He is a great tailback. He has a great burst. He has great running back vision. Our goal for this game is to swarm to the ball. Nice, good pursuit angles and wrap up. He can break tackles easily. He is a great running back.”
(On having a month of rest) “Coach Hoke ensures that we don’t lose one step. We are in pads every day. We won’t lose that.”
(On the stage) “It’s awesome down here. This is my first BCS Bowl game. They take real good care of us. New Orleans is a beautiful city. The people down here are really nice and welcoming. We are loving it.”
(On the program’s progress this year) “We came so far. That credit goes out to our coaches. A large part goes to the seniors. They do a great job of making this team their team and keeping everybody on board including the freshman guys and making sure they are confident when they step up and play.”
(On the importance of winning this game) “It’s really important. We want to win this game so we can start off next year the right way. It’s going to be huge for us to go into the off-season with that confidence and that swagger that the team has had overall. I really look forward to that. A win would do us justice.”
(On being down in New Orleans) “It’s wonderful. This is my first BCS Bowl game, second Bowl game. New Orleans is a beautiful city. The people who are running the Sugar Bowl have been nothing but nice and welcoming to us.”
(On winning for the seniors) “They have done a great job. Next to the coaches, they have made sure that everybody is on board. They bring the young guys on board to ensure they have the confidence to play. This is the senior’s team.”
Michigan DT Mike Martin
(On striking balance between having fun and getting serious for the game) “The first night here everyone did their thing and checked out the city. But each day as the game gets closer we’ve been reeling it in a bit and getting more focused. We’ve had a good balance between having fun and knowing what we’re here for. It’s a business trip.”
(On Virginia Tech) “They’re dangerous. They got the quarterback and a 1600-yard rusher. We’re going to have to shut those guys down. The coaches have put some things in on the defense and we have to execute. If we’re not assignment-sound, it won’t work just like any other game. They’re a very good team, very dangerous, so we have to make sure we’re assignment-sound.”
(On Virginia Tech Quarterback Logan Thomas) “He’s the biggest quarterback we’ve faced. He’s going to be tough to bring down. We have to get bodies on him. He’s going to have to pay taxes if he wants to run the ball. They like to do a lot of inside runs with the quarterback and we’re going to have to put bodies on him. By the third and fourth quarter we don’t want him wanting to run as much. We want his body hurting a little bit, so that’s what we’re going to have to do.
“He’s got a really good arm. If you give him time in the pocket, he’s as good as anybody back there. We need to get pressure on him. In the run game, they like to do some inside runs with him. He’s not as quick as Denard [Robinson], with the look we get from him, but when he gets going he’s fast and hard to bring down. When it’s third and four or third and three, he’s the type of guy who can fall over to get the first down. We just need to get bodies on him. That’s the biggest thing.”
(On his final game playing for Michigan) “I’ve come to peace with it. The fun thing is seeing these younger guys and realizing that it’s their time to step up now. I think these younger guys, Will Campbell and Quinton Washington, are starting to realize that it’s their time to step up and lead. They’re doing a great job with that.”
(On the end of season) “This is a great place to be. I’m glad we’re here, but this team is not complacent. We’ve been very hungry throughout this whole week. We haven’t faced an opponent in almost a month so we’re excited to play a football game, a big football game. This is huge for us.”
Michigan DE Craig Roh
(On Will Campbell’s opportunity to play Tuesday night) “Will’s been improving a lot. The coaches have been on him a lot as well. He has a great opportunity to show what he has improved on.”
(On how Campbell is handling the individual attention from practice) “He’s been absorbing as much as he can. He basically has Brady Hoke as his personal coach as he coaches the defensive tackles. He’s improving a lot and responding by improving.”
(On how close he feels they are to being a “Michigan” defense again) “I really felt like the Illinois game, we became a good defense. We know what we are capable of and we know we are a good defense.”
(On how bowl prep has been so far as they prepare for another explosive offense) “Our bowl prep has been intense. Coach [Greg] Mattison is making sure we do not miss any details whatsoever. We are going to know Virginia Tech inside and out.”
(On what stands out on Virginia Tech’s offense) “Their offense is very fundamentally sound. They’ve got guys that make plays, a great quarterback and running back. It’s a good offense.”