Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is haunted at night by visions of purple. He surely loses some sleep at night trying to scheme a way to stop Dan Persa and his frightening efficiency or find a way to get past an experienced offensive line. But mostly, Mattison is likely dreading a return to the old Dyche Stadium and relive the nightmares that almost drove him out of coaching.
Mattison was Northwestern’s defensive line coach from 1978-80. Seeing as those years were before 1995 (or 17 B.G.B. — before Gary Barnett), it was not quite a good time to be coaching the Wildcats. In fact, Mattison recalls that his record was 1-31-1 during his three-year tenure assisting Rick Venturi. This was the beginning of the Dark Ages, as we have come to know them.
Obviously that much futility shook everyone’s confidence. Venturi went from Northwestern to the CFL and never returned to college football or received anything more than an interim head coaching job.
Mattison? He told the Michigan media that it nearly drove him out of coaching. The losses were so numerous that he left coaching and actually went to work in a sporting goods store. The losses were too many to remember while the win (singular) and tie stood out — the win was against Wyoming to open the
1978 1979 season and the tie was to Illinois in a 0-0 tie in 1979 1978.
It was not comfortable going on recruiting trips as he relates:
All I remember is going out recruiting and I would see a young man and he would say, ‘What’s your record?’ and I would always go, ‘Oh, 10 and 1,’ and they would go, ‘Good record!’
That is 0-10-1.
Northwestern was a great place, it really was. But it was a good place… except on Saturdays.
Things have certainly changed. Mattison got back to coaching a few years later and has held a coaching job somewhere ever since. He has been to Michigan, Notre Dame and even was defensive line coach for the Baltimore Ravens. He was a co-defensive coordinator when Florida won the national title in 2006.
Now he is back at Michigan and staring down a very different Northwestern team. A Northwestern team that he described as the biggest challenge that his defense will have seen thus far.
He compared Dan Persa’s playmaking ability and vision to Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, saying he can turn a passing play into a 15-yard run if the defense does not stay in its running lanes or rushes too far upfield. Unlike previous games against such vaunted foes as Eastern Michigan, San Diego State and Minnesota, Northwestern can put points up in a hurry. That is, at least, what the team showed in building a 28-10 lead at Illinois.
The defense has been the big question mark for the Wolverines all year. Michigan was torn up last year, giving up 393.3 yards per game and 27.5 points per game. This year, the Wolverines have fared much better with 316.2 yards allowed per game and, probably more importantly, 10.2 points allowed per game.
Again, the competition has not been so great quite yet. Notre Dame is the best team Michigan has played, and the Wolverines gave up 452 yards in the 35-31 win under the Big House’s freshly installed lights.
That is improvement, but ghosts of 2010’s past.
Mattison has been working hard to turn those numbers around and he and Michigan are using the Northwestern game to take some measure of where the defense is at. Mattison is wroking on finding ways of making Dan Persa uncomfortable and getting pressure on him.
That is what Mattison is thinking about as he prepares his team. And maybe he is having some nightmare flashbacks to the Dark Ages too.