Via Sugar Bowl media relations:
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 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’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.