"That's something we really want our defense to do," said defensive coordinator Greg Mattison Tuesday afternoon. "We probably spend more time in film preparation giving our guys the extra hint of what's going to happen than a lot of people do. That allows a guy that maybe isn't the biggest, strongest guy, that isn't the most experienced guy—that if he uses tendencies he can play better.
"As they get more comfortable in the scheme and as they start feeling better about everybody, that's the next step that you take," added Mattison.
Judging by the difference between the Wolverines' first two games of the season in which they allowed 41 points to Alabama and 26 points to Air Force, and their last three games where they've given up a grand total of 32 points in … there's definitely improvement.
"Where we are as a defense right now is: okay, these are the guys that are going to be playing," said Mattison. And from the players' point of view, he says this means: "I understand what you're asking me to do, and now I can say, ‘Okay, what's going to help me do that?' Rather than, ‘Okay, I'm trying to be the starter,' or ‘Boy I wonder if I can play this.' They're starting to get to that step, and that's what should happen this time of year. We have to get better at that.
"You can't be successful at this level unless you're total," added Mattison. "Unless you're strong physically, but mentally strong also."
One senior taking this approach to heart is defensive tackle Will Campbell, whose effort and effectiveness appears to have improved as the Wolverines are getting set to host Illinois for Homecoming at the Big House.
"The biggest part is probably our preparation during the week," said Big Will. "We are communicating, getting in and watching our film together. We are doing everything together—so we know what is coming and what to expect when we get down in our stance."
Despite added preparation and an obvious understanding of what Purdue was hoping to accomplish offensively, the defense was only able to account for two sacks, totaling a loss of 17 yards against the Boilermakers. Head coach Brady Hoke said Monday that as long as the lack of pressure persists, the Wolverines are forced to look for ways to manufacture some disruption in the backfield.
"I agree with (Coach Hoke) 100 percent," said Campbell. "We need to get more pressure up front with a four-man rush. We don't need to blitz every down to get to the quarterback. Me being a senior, me and Craig Roh take that on us, we need to work on our pass rushing more so we can get to the quarterback, and put our defensive backs in a better position to cover for less time."
While the Wolverines are still a work in progress in several different areas defensively, one facet that can't necessarily be coached is effort. According to Mattison, getting bodies to the football hasn't been a problem, especially against Purdue.
"There were plays in that game that I was very pleased—when you looked out there it was the way I perceive Michigan defense," said Mattison. "Where you had all eleven running as hard as they could to the football. Not nine. Not eight. And then when a young man played a number of plays, then the next guy goes in and he did the next thing."
Mattison added a couple caveats: "Still our technique, still we've got a long ways to go that way." And, "We had some missed assignments that you can't have."
That said, Mattison concludes: "But all in all the effort was very pleasing."
To watch video of Mattison from Tuesday afternoon, press play below.