Greg Mattison: Linebackers make greatest strides on improving Michigan defense
Michigan's defense has been lauded for holding Notre Dame to 13 points, despite the offense committing six turnovers.
While the defensive line has received much of the praise, coordinator Greg Mattison says it's the linebackers who made the greatest strides.
Michigan returned each of its starting linebackers this year in Desmond Morgan, Kenny Demens and Jake Ryan. Demens is in his third year as a starter, and is the team's reigning leading tackler.
This was expected to be a source of strength.
It hasn't quite worked out that way.
Demens got off to a slow start, and has been fending off true freshman Joe Bolden for the spot in the middle. Morgan didn't appear to have made many improvements from last season, and is now battling true freshman James Ross on the weak side.
Ryan has been strong, but Demens and Morgan appeared to be taking a lot of false steps. Against Notre Dame, though, both made significant strides in what was the linebackers' best game.
"I thought the linebacking corps had (the) most improvement and that's something we've really really harped on," Mattison said during the Inside Michigan Football radio show this week. "A lot of it is footwork, and if you watch a linebacker, you'll see if he's not shuffling in the direction of that back, he's a step slow every time.
"So, you saw in this game where the guys were really using better footwork. They were seeing where the ball was going. They weren't just plugging in there when the ball was starting."
Morgan was particularly improved against Notre Dame. The sophomore flowed quickly to the ball, maintained assignments and finished with a team-high seven tackles.
Mattison said he was most impressed by Morgan's discipline, specifically citing one counter draw play on which the sophomore could have pursued the ball, but elected to stay home as he was taught.
The play came back to him, and he made the tackle.
"We gave him that play probably four times in practice, and every time we gave it to him, we said, 'Desmond, you've got to stay home. You can't help on that sprint anyhow,'" Mattison said. "Well that same thing has happened before and he would go running and try to make the play because he's a young guy eager to make plays.
"All of the sudden, in this game, he became more of a veteran."