Notebook: What stat matters most to Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison? Wins
Statistically, the Michigan football team's defense isn't overwhelmingly head-turning.
Through four games, the Wolverines are in the bottom half of the Big Ten in sacks, rushing defense, total defense, third down defense and pass defense efficiency.
But Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison's not a stat guy. Not entirely, anyway.
"The bottom line is win," Mattison says. "That's all that really matters."
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
He also knows that the team's front four, while improved, is nowhere near good enough. Michigan has just four sacks on the season, and two of them belong to strong safety Jordan Kovacs.
Teams have moved the ball up and down the field against the Wolverines in every game this season. Western Michigan had success throwing the ball at times. Notre Dame piled up 513 total yards. Eastern Michigan rushed for 207. San Diego State had a near 400-yard day.
Concerning numbers? Sure.
But overly important?
"The third down defense, the rushing defense, the sacks, all those things we've got to get better at," Mattison said. "But keeping them out of the end zone is your No. 1 goal.
"You use other statistics always to see what you have to do to improve. Points allowed will grow if you don't take care of those other statistics. But if we can continue to be real, really stingy about letting them into the end zone, we're going to give our offense a chance."
Michigan has allowed opponents inside its 20-yard-line 13 times so far this season, tied for third-most in the conference. But, the Wolverines have yielded scores in just seven of those drives, giving Michigan the top red zone defense in the Big Ten.
The Wolverines have been stiff near the goal line, have created more turnovers than anyone else in the league (13) and have kept big plays to a minimum. They've been a true bend-but-don't-break group. And, so far, they seem OK with that.
"As long as they're not putting points on the board, it really doesn't matter," Michigan sophomore safety Thomas Gordon said. "Everybody is out there loose, but we're still playing hard."
Mattison won't yet call his group a true "Michigan defense." In fact, he says it's not even close to being one. But the Wolverines are 4-0. And, for now, that's good enough.
"We have so far to go, so far, and they know that," Mattison said. "But there was some fire there (Saturday against SDSU).
"Our guys kind of stepped up. But we have to be better. They know that, and we're going to work to do that."
Borges mum on New Mexico rumor
Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges was mentioned via Twitter on Tuesday as a possible candidate for the vacant New Mexico head coaching position by Yahoo! Sports national college football writer Tom Dienhart.
Asked later in the day if he was aware of the rumor, Borges said he wasn't, and indicated that he really didn't want to know, either.
"I haven't heard anything about that, and I can't think of anything further from my mind," Borges said.
Borges' answer to the question of whether or not he wants to be a head coach some day: "No comment."
Borges: "I can live with" two tailbacks
Borges has been clear all season that he would prefer one of Michigan's running backs to take the job and become the team's unquestioned No. 1 tailback. However, if the numbers come from a combination of players, that might be just fine by him.
"As long as there's productivity at the position. We're getting a little of that now, and I'm not going to complain about it. (But having two tailbacks) is just not my preference."
Sophomore Fitz Toussaint earned the start against San Diego State last week, just hours after Michigan coach Brady Hoke said that junior Vincent Smith would be the team's No. 1 back. Smith and Toussaint shared the load behind quarterback Denard Robinson, combining for 114 yards on 22 carries.
"Both of those kids have done a pretty good job," Borges said. "The last couple weeks, our tailback play has been pretty decent. But because Denard's such a featured runner in our offense, I don't know if the tailbacks are ever going to get huge numbers. Until we just jump in the I-formation and start doing that every play.
"Which, we're not doing, as long as Denard's the quarterback. Not every play, anyway."
Stage not overwhelming for Countess
Mattison said Tuesday that he was impressed by the play of freshman cornerback Blake Countess played in the win over San Diego State.
With senior corner Troy Woolfolk on the sideline with an ankle injury flare up, Countess was pressed into full-time duty. He responded, tying for the team lead in tackles with seven.
"Blake's a kid that has a lot of grit," Mattison said. "It wasn't too big for him out there. He came out and made some plays, and we're looking for him to get better and better each week."
Odds and ends
Mattison said Tuesday that he's unaware of when senior linebacker Marrell Evans will be able to play this season. Earlier in the year, Hoke said that Evans (who has not played this season) was not suspended, but was not eligible to play in a game. Asked what the nature of the ineligibility was, Hoke declined to comment further. After struggling early this season, Michigan junior defensive end Craig Roh has responded with sacks in back-to-back weeks. On Tuesday, Mattison — who had been critical of Roh — praised him for his improvement. "Craig Roh is making a concerted effort to get better every time he goes out on the field," Mattison said. "And Craig, you can see it by his production that he's starting to do that."