More Important Performance: Nussmeier or Mattison?

Submitted by Wee-Bey Brice on January 9th, 2014 at 11:45 AM

While the excitement over the firing of Al Borges and subsequent hiring of Doug Nussmeier to the offensive staff has risen the spirits of the fanbase, there's only one way to maintain this level of exuberance: Winning. Often. It takes outstanding performances on both sides of the ball in order to do this, though. While Borges failed to do his part in several games, there were other games where the opposite side of the ball made his job a lot harder than it had to be. i.e.) Akron (YES! I said it! No reason we should need to score more than 17 pts to beat Akron), Penn St, Indiana, Ohio St, Kansas St. As an offensive coordinator your job is tougher when you're forced to win shootouts. The reason teams like Alabama and this year's FSU have been so dominant is because their defenses don't force their offense to have to score 40 points to win, at least not very often. Everyone knows how 'Bama's defense has performed in their recent run. This year's FSU was 3rd in Total defense, 1st in Scoring defense giving up only 12.1 ppg (MSU gave up 13.2 ppg).

Upon arriving at Michigan in 2011, Mattison started out red hot with the 8th defense in the country giving up 17.2 ppg, 317.6 yds/g. We saw decline in 2012, dropping to a still respectable 17th defense in the country giving up 18.8 ppg, 311.2 yds/g. Which leads us to 2013, Michigan finished 41st in total defense giving up 26.8 ppg (66th in the country). Ouch. After the Indiana game, I know many weren't concerned given the dynamic's of the Hoosiers' offense. By season's end we saw the UM defense get gashed time and time again. While most of the year's blame has fallen solely on the gorgeous one, Greg Mattison's defense did not hold up it's end of the bargain, either. I, for one, will be going into the 2014 season with my eyes on that side of the ball instead of just giving a free pass because of his name. We expected Borges to make in game adjustments to stop the bleeding, the same should be required of GMat. Not to take any blame away from Borges, but do you know what makes an inexperienced OL's job easier besides a new OC? A dominant defense.

With that said, which coordinator do you think will be under more pressure to perform? My answer is clear. Let's discuss and #GOBLUE



January 9th, 2014 at 11:48 AM ^

Absolutely the offense. Our defense, while still surrendering many points in some games last season, is/was still pretty good. M likely would have lost more games if the defense didn't play well (Akron and UConn come to mind).


January 9th, 2014 at 12:37 PM ^

I think that Nussmeier is an outstanding hire, but it still means installing a new offense in 2014. It means that Gardner gets his 3rd QB coach. It means the way the game plan builds on prior calls will change. The coaches here can speak to probable blocking changes, but one would think blocking will change as well. The philosophy of the program will remain the same but its implementation will be different. 

So the offense is a crap shoot in 2014, it could get much better, or stay about the same, or, if the learning curve is an issue, get worse. 

Hoke and Nussmeier will get at least through 2015 to get the new offense rolling. I'm hopeful, but at this point a wait and see approach to 2014 is prudent.

In some sense I guess that might mean that defensive improvements are more important, because Mattison's system is stable and the players have fewer adjustment to absorb to take the next step. 


January 9th, 2014 at 11:52 AM ^

The good news is that you can keep your eyes on both sides of the ball, as they are not on the field at the same time.

Joking aside, I share the sentiment that it is now time for the defense to be not only not be the reason we lose games, but instead be the reason we win games.


January 9th, 2014 at 11:52 AM ^

Uhhhh, Nussmeier. But this is a good question because I think Mattison gets a pass far too often for poor play on defense, like OSU, KSU and Iowa in the second half.

Monocle Smile

January 9th, 2014 at 11:53 AM ^

The first one is turnovers. We gave up the ball far, far too often this year and that makes life really hard on the defense. Several of those turnovers turned into points immediately. We didn't have to score more than 21 points to beat Akron; 7 of their points were from a pick-six, which everyone forgets for some stupid reason.

The second one is related...three-and-outs. When your offense can't move the ball, your defense is on the field far too often. Remember Nebraska? And yet they still held them to 17 points.

So the two sides are related and affect each other, but the offense negatively affected the defense to a much, much higher degree than the reverse this past season.


January 9th, 2014 at 12:04 PM ^

I generally agree. HOWEVA, MSU would be the counter-example. Early in the year, when their O was a bleeding canker, the D didn't just keep them in the game but won for them (ND aside).

A great D can thrive with a mediocre to bad O. I think when our D matures a bit (we're still very young), Mattison will again be a genius. Amazing how smart players can make their coaches.

Monocle Smile

January 9th, 2014 at 12:29 PM ^

With MSU, we're talking about the elite of elite defenses that SCORED at an unsustainable rate against questionable competition. I think this one actually strengthens my overall point.

"Michigan's defense isn't #1 in the country and doesn't score enough points" isn't exactly an indictment of Mattison.

Wee-Bey Brice

January 9th, 2014 at 12:08 PM ^

I agree, the offense definitely put the defense in horrible spots this year. But that was not the case in every game. At some point it seems like we have to stop making that excuse and they have to do their jobs! Even if the offense turns the ball over and the opposing team gets the ball inside the 30, that doesn't mean they deserve a touchdown, why not hold them to 3? Defenses still have a job to do.

Monocle Smile

January 9th, 2014 at 12:37 PM ^

You seem to be arguing that our defense wasn't elite in 2013. I agree. That wasn't my argument.

You'll find that our defense wasn't bad at holding the opponent to field goals in the red of the OSU game, our red zone TD efficiency was 49%, compared to OSU's 61%. OSU has much better athletes on their defense, as well.

Our defense was great in 2011, partly turnover-aided, and hovered between good and great in most categories in the past two years aside from a couple of awful games. Given our turnover rate since Hoke arrived, my complaints about Mattison are few.


January 9th, 2014 at 1:30 PM ^

I thought we were hanging around in the MSU game until, when the defense gave us the ball on the Spartan side of the field, the offense promptly lost about 20 yds and had to punt.  I thought the defense somewhat mailed it in after that.  Effort is often hindered a bit when you think you have no or very little chance of winning. 

This offense didn't do the defense a lot of favors in many games, but that does not explain the seeming poor performance in others like the Penn St. game. 


January 9th, 2014 at 11:53 AM ^

He came from the Baltimore Ravens and is going into his fourth year in the program. A coach of his caliber and resources should be able to field top ten or 15 rated D most years. the steady decline in overall defensive stats is puzzling.


January 9th, 2014 at 1:42 PM ^

Mattison, like many defensive coaches, need a solid DL to succeed.  His first DL anchored by Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen (minus one foot) was his best DL to date.  This season, for some reason, the DL didn't produce as well as hoped partially due to injury, youth, or simply being overmatched.  (They didn't earn the right to rush 4...)

It will be a better defense next year.  The DEs should generate a better rush, and the depth is getting bigger, faster, stronger, and smarter with one more year in the system.  Assuming Pipkins gets healthy (do what your physical therapists tell you, young man!), they will have at least 2 guys with 3 years in the program at each of the line spots (DT, NT, SDE, WDE... ).  

The LB corps is back and strong, IMO.  (In fact, is there a way they can get JMFR and Beyer on the field next season?  Probably yes, if they slide Frank Clark to SDE and make Beyer the WDE...That could generate quite the pass rush.)

In fact, it will be possible to fill the 2-deep entirely with players in their 3rd year (or more) in the program at every defensive spot other than SS.  This is the first time we've been able to say this since (at least) 2007.


January 9th, 2014 at 11:55 AM ^

I think Mattison earned a lot of good will with the quick turn around in 2011, but I think the shine is really started to come off after this season. I think, on the whole, the unit was pretty average (a little up and down, couldn't stand up to some tough opponents), but that they were disappointing given pre-season expectations. I don't think Mattison is on the hotseat or anything, but I think he's losing the benefit of the doubt.

That said, I actually expect the defense to turn around a bit. I think there's still a lot of young talent maturing throughout the two-deep that will help the defense improve next season.

As to which is more important to winning games? Well, I think you said it when you said you kind of need both to perform to win consistently. But if I had to choose a good D paired with bad O or vice versa, I'll always take a tough defense keeping games close over a high powered offense trying to win shoot-outs.


January 9th, 2014 at 12:01 PM ^

D line must take a step up this year. Coaches need to find someone they are confident with at Safety. Defense will be good to great when this happens. If Mattison can't put it together sometime in 2014 I think then he can be questioned.

By most accounts the Defense is excused becuse of the woeful Offense. In my opinion they became worn out.

MI Expat NY

January 9th, 2014 at 12:02 PM ^

I think I'd be more disappointed in a bad year from the defense next year than a bad year from the offense.  With the possible caveat being Pipkins not being able to come back healthy and contribute.  The back 7 is talented and experienced and the line finally should have some bodies.  I don't think we have to be MSU's death machine from this year, but we should at least strike some fear on that side of the ball.  

Offensively, there are still a lot of questions in my mind with respect to available talent.  If we don't see any improvement, I'd obviously be disappointed, but slower progression will be more forgivable.   


January 9th, 2014 at 12:03 PM ^

Offense. While I am more concerned a out the D after this year, if the offense had been even mediocrely consistent this team has wins against PSU, Neb, and Iowa. That's a 10 win season, and an entirely different lookout in the program.

Marley Nowell

January 9th, 2014 at 12:16 PM ^

Up until the bowl game the MO for the defense was to play well until the sheer ineptitude of the offense caused them to fall apart. We lose very little to graduation, JMFR returns to full strength, and progression from Clark, Countess, Ross. We are still undersized up the middle but if we can Rush 4 and get a pass rush we'll see a huge uptick in production.


January 9th, 2014 at 4:36 PM ^

It's important for Peppers and Thomas to be good immediately or someone at least to step up at Safety. Otherwise we will be stuck with the soft coverage and prevetative stuff again.

UM Fan in Nashville

January 9th, 2014 at 12:16 PM ^

The D still gets a pass from me.  The offense put them in a way too many tough situations.  Look at how many 3 and outs we had, how many turnovers, even bad punts.  The one telling stat for me is we had 70 tackles for loss while our opponents had 113.  

Another big thing for me and this defense this year is the fact we missed Pipkins and Ryan.  Those are 2 key components to a sucessful defense.  No coordinator can adjust their D with missing 2 of their biggest players.   Even though Pipkins wasn't a stud (yet), missing that big body in the middle hurt the pass rush and inside running defense.  

I guess it boils down to the D kept us in games and even won games more than the O did.  I felt like the O was the wild card every game.  

Mr. Yost

January 9th, 2014 at 12:16 PM ^

You need all 3 phases to be at their best and tops in the country if you want to win championships and be elite.

I wanted a steady, dominant offense and a physical, fast, aggressive dominant D. Plus very solid special teams.

If this is Michigan and Michigan wants to be elite again, we better have BOTH, plus special teams be some of the nations best.


January 9th, 2014 at 12:18 PM ^

For some reason I'm not worried about the defense at all. Maybe it's the success the D had the first year. Not having Ryan really hurt the whole defense this season. He was never the Ryan of old.


January 9th, 2014 at 12:25 PM ^

Mattison must show substantial improvement on defense. Nuss will not have much pressure but I think improvement over last year is virtually guaranteed.

Damn I am excited for next year but hope we upgrade at other positions too. Specifically o line and secondary. If you want to look like Michigan again we have to go aggressively for the best coaching talent out there.

One Inch Woody…

January 9th, 2014 at 12:29 PM ^

The youth (especially at 3 tech) was definitely a killer for the D last year. This year, everyone's back besides T. Gordon and Q Wash. Everyone's ready to go. It's time to be the blitzing, aggressive defense that we always wanted.


January 9th, 2014 at 12:31 PM ^

We know Mattuson gives us a solid defense every year. Last year was more of an anomaly because of injuries and the Borges offense not being on the field very long.

snarling wolverine

January 9th, 2014 at 12:47 PM ^

Upon arriving at Michigan in 2011, Mattison started out red hot with the 8th defense in the country giving up 17.2 ppg, 317.6 yds/g. We saw decline in 2012, dropping to a still respectable 17th defense in the country giving up 18.8 ppg, 311.2 yds/g.

That doesn't really sound like a decline at all - yardage improved, and ppg just dropped by a tick (which can be explained by the addition of Alabama to the schedule).  I would say we were very good in 2011 and '12 and then declined in '13.


January 9th, 2014 at 1:01 PM ^

This is coming out of pure speculation and what I remember from what I have seen, but I think the defense had more apparent issues this season due to being on the field more often. Multiple 3 & out drives lead to a tired defense.

The Claw

January 9th, 2014 at 1:03 PM ^

I think both need to take a major step forward but the defense is more important IMO. Teams can skate by by having a poor to average offense.  You can't if your defense is poor or average.  I know where the D was ranked, and it was above average, but against the good teams, they got thrashed.  Ohio with their 250 yards from their TB and QB.  Indiana. MSU. KSU.PSU to some extent. All marched up and down the field.  Time for everyone to step up.


January 9th, 2014 at 1:15 PM ^

I'd like to see Michigan have a top 20 defense every year.  If they can get there, then we will win a lot of games.

To me, it is as simple as that.

One way to think of it is: given how much people hated this year's offense, with a top 10 defense, what record might we have had this year?


January 9th, 2014 at 1:22 PM ^

The lack of a running game hurt the most.  It kept our defense on the field too long and allowed opposing defenses to key on the passing game.  Michigan's best years have come with a solid running attack.


January 9th, 2014 at 1:36 PM ^

I do think the defense will improve, given that we have so many returning players.  It will only help if the offense can run the ball competently and not turn it over so much.


January 9th, 2014 at 1:38 PM ^

how they win with such routine offense. The reason Mattison gets a pass on this year's season is because of what he's accomplished since coming back to UM and what he lost in the back end of his secondary: the guy who made his defense work so effectively for two years and allowed him to be more aggressive in his blitz calls. 

What became clear this year is that Michigan played more of a bend without breaking defense, which succeeded in many games and failed in others. Injuries, inexperience in the back end resulted in opposing offenses generating far more big plays against the Michigan defense than this regime's defense had previously allowed. Third down defensive efficiency dropped, pass rush and pressure weren't as visible. Results were poorer, especially in the bowl game. That result may have just been an emotional holdover from the Ohio game. 

In any case, the firing of a coordinator is always foundation shaking for an entire program, and reinvorgating in all offices. We shall see what this staff revitalized by this change can produce going forward. But going forward, accountability becomes a broader issue for the HC. And thus everyone's job is at stake. You can only patch so long.

Fergodsakes, this is Michigan. You gotta win --or else. 


January 9th, 2014 at 1:46 PM ^

I'm not somebody who buys into the Mattison mythology, but this year's results were dramatically impacted by the guys who weren't available.  It seems Quinton Washington was hurt all year (or, I suppose it is possible the staff is insane, which seems a bit less likely).  His backup tore his ACL fairly early in the year as well.  Our best pass rusher also missed half the year due to an ACL tear and was never at full strength when he came back. 

A team playing its 3rd choice NT and without (probably) its best player at 100% is going to have issues.  Getting run on by Hyde/Miller seemed way more about that than about Mattison just getting fooled on the regular.

Rocket Scientist

January 9th, 2014 at 5:19 PM ^

I'm willing to give both a Pass this year. HOWEVA, Mattison gets the stink-eye if we can't rush 4 this year.  Last season was just misery; hanging on to the whole bend-don't-break defense. I'm ready for a defense that puts pressure on the opponents offense.  

Is it football season yet? :P


January 9th, 2014 at 5:52 PM ^

I think unless our new OC produces a 2011-Mattison-level turnaround, we're not doing much better there.

We get +expected improvement, -Lewan, -Schofield, -new starter on OL, -new scheme (even if it's still Power O, there's new blocking, new terminology and new coaching relationships to figure out), -Gallon. That tells me that coaching and teaching have a lot of ground to make up just to get us to 8-4, much less B1G championship level.

Since I judge that as unlikely, our best hopes for a 2014 B1G championship contender lie in our defense jumping from decent/good to good/great, and that means Mattison getting next level jumps from Pipkins/Clark/Thomas etc.


January 9th, 2014 at 6:00 PM ^

Defense, for me. The lack of aggression from Mattison and development in players has been astonishing to watch. But really, the lack of aggression absolutely killed me. Plenty of multi-year starters on that D. No excuse.