Each week, Michigan safeties coach Chris Partridge calls his safeties into the film room and shows them the same piece of video: their first quarter performance against Notre Dame in the season opener.
They probably don’t need to re-watch that quarter to remember it. Surely, it’s scarred in their minds regardless. But Partridge wants to remind them what can happen without proper preparation.
Fortunately for him and the Wolverines, that quarter is becoming a more distant memory with each passing week. The same secondary that got torched for back-to-back rapid fire touchdown drives to open the season was a catalyst in their dominating win over Wisconsin, at one point forcing 12 straight incompletions that spanned more than two quarters.
Even in Michigan’s dominating wins over Western Michigan and SMU, penalties in the secondary were a major source of criticism from the fan base. Those have been noticeably absent against Maryland and Wisconsin.
Ignoring criticism, from both fans and media, has been key to the secondary’s transformation.
“The main thing is they have to understand it doesn’t matter,” Partridge said. “Anyone’s opinion out there does not matter besides people in this building and the people who are really coaching them and know. For instance, the media might blow a coverage out of proportion when it wasn’t the guy that they’re blaming. So you have to teach them to silence the noise.”
The rise of Josh Metellus
Junior safety Josh Metellus has been perhaps the biggest catalyst for improvement. He was responsible for some of the miscues early against Notre Dame, and was ejected for targeting on the second drive of the game.
Since then, he’s enjoyed his best stretch at Michigan, culminating in a game-changing second quarter interception — his third of the season — that helped the Wolverines extend their lead against Wisconsin.
Most importantly, he has acted as a leader of the secondary, helping unify one of Michigan’s least experienced units.
“The Maryland game was a really great example, with all their shifts and motion,” Partridge said. “… He took charge back there and was able to get the secondary lined up back there so we didn’t miss any gaps and didn’t miss any coverages.”
What’s been good for Metellus has also been good for the rest of the secondary, and vice versa — because the group is more unified than ever before.
“From the beginning of the season to this point, I would say the practice habits,” Partridge said when asked about Metellus’ biggest area of improvement since Notre Dame.
Metellus’ success rubbing off on unit
That has spread to the team’s other safeties.
“The in-season practices have been really, really good and we’re really happy with the intensity and the way those guys are playing and playing with a chip on their shoulder,” Partridge said.”
Because ultimately, a unit’s improvement never comes down to one factor — unless the unit is quarterback and that factor is Shea Patterson.
For Metellus and the secondary, improvement started with recognizing its poor performance against Notre Dame and isolating itself from outside noise so that it could practice well.
Now, it’s starting to pay off on Saturdays too.