Commentary

Mattison dials up the defense

To stop Virginia Tech, Wolverines must get off field on third down, limit big plays

Updated: December 19, 2011, 12:44 PM ET
By Chantel Jennings | WolverineNation

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- There are eight or nine statistical goals the Michigan defense has every time it takes the field. Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison stressed these principles to his defense and said he has seen progress in each facet throughout the season.

"I don't think we ever hit every one of them," Mattison said. "But more and more, the ones that decide winning or losing, we're getting a lot closer. There's a day I think every coach looks for, but there's a day I'm going to say every one of these goals were met. That's what you look for."

While the Michigan coaches have defined themselves as a staff that doesn't put much credence into any statistic other than winning, these are a few that the defense has focused on over the season and where Michigan's defense and Virginia Tech's offense stand.

[+] EnlargeMichigan's Greg Mattison
LON HORWEDEL/Icon SMIGreg Mattison knows only one stat really matters, but he still measures his defense's progress with some specific numbers.
Points per game: 17 or less.
Where Michigan's defense stands: Michigan has almost hit the mark here. The Wolverines have given up 17.2 points per game. Four times this season they've allowed opponents to score more than 20 points, and only twice they've allowed teams to score more than 30 points (though they won both of those games).
Big Ten rank: 3
National rank: 7
Where Virginia Tech's offense stands: The Hokies averaged 29 points per game throughout the regular season (28 in conference play). Their high this season came against Appalachian State, when they scored 66.
ACC rank: 4
National rank: 55

Scores in the fourth quarter: None.
Where Michigan's defense stands: The Wolverines have been scored on in the fourth quarter by six teams, including five Big Ten teams. However, they have given up only a single score in each of those games.
Where Virginia Tech's offense stands: The Hokies have scored 10 touchdowns and two field goals in the fourth quarter, which accounts for just more than 25 percent of their season scoring. The Hokies have scored during the fourth quarter in eight of 13 games.

Third-down conversions: 33 percent or less success rate for opposing offense.
Where Michigan's defense stands: The Wolverines come close here. Opponents have been able to convert on only 36 percent of their third-down opportunities. Fifth-year senior defensive end Ryan Van Bergen said this statistic has been emphasized to the D-line as a way to measure how well it's putting pressure on the quarterback and getting after guys at the line of scrimmage.
Big Ten rank: 3
National rank: 29
Where Virginia Tech's offense stands: The Hokies are successful 46 percent of the time on third downs, good enough for second in the ACC.
ACC rank: 2
National rank: 23

Red zone defense: 50 percent or less success rate for offense.
Where Michigan's defense stands: Michigan finished at the top of the Big Ten in red zone defense this season with 69 percent. Opponents scored on 48 of 70 red zone opportunities, 40 of which were touchdowns.
Big Ten rank: 1
National rank: T-4
Where Virginia Tech's offense stands: The Hokies have converted 75 percent of their red zone opportunities but scored touchdowns on only 34 of 64 red zone chances.
ACC rank: 9
National rank: 101

Long runs and long passes: Two or less.
Where Michigan's defense stands: With redshirt junior Jordan Kovacs leading the Michigan secondary, the mantra "inside and in front" has held up pretty well. The Wolverines have given up only a handful of big plays this season. Teams have not been able consistently to exploit the younger players Mattison uses in the secondary.
Where Virginia Tech's offense stands: The Hokies have the ability to make homerun plays. In eight games, redshirt sophomore quarterback Logan Thomas has thrown at least one pass of 40 yards or more. Redshirt freshman backup quarterback Mark Leal has a season-long pass of 63 yards. And in nine games, running backs have busted out at least one run of 30 yards or more.

Yards per rush: 2.5 yards per carry or less.
Where Michigan's defense stands: Michigan has not hit the mark here. Only once this season did the defense hold a team to 2.5 yards per rush or less (Illinois, 1.1 yards). They have held teams to 4.1 yards per rush so far this season.
Big Ten rank: T-7
National rank: 57
Where Virginia Tech's offense stands: The Hokies are averaging 4.5 yards per rush this season with their top back, junior David Wilson, averaging 6 yards per carry. In six games this season Virginia Tech has averaged at least 5 yards per carry. Their least impressive performance came in the ACC Championship game against Clemson, when the Tigers held the Hokies to 2 yards per rushing attempt.
ACC rank: 3
National rank: T-39

Chantel Jennings covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. She can be reached at jenningsespn@gmail.com or on Twitter at @chanteljennings.