There’s a game inside the game for the Michigan football defense, and so far, it’s taking a little time for the Wolverines to catch on.

“We have a big chart up in the hallway that you get points for tackles, for assists, for caused fumbles, all those kinds of things,” said Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.

Players also receive negative points for plays that hurt the team, like missed assignments and missed tackles.

After the points were tallied following Saturday’s 34-10 win against Western Michigan, Mattison wasn’t pleased with the results — except for one player in particular.

“We had too many guys that didn’t have a lot of points,” Mattison said. “You had one guy who had 47 points — Jordan Kovacs.”

The redshirt junior safety led the team in tackles on Saturday with 10, and he had two sacks on Broncos quarterback Alex Carder — the second of which led to a 29-yard fumble return for a touchdown for fifth-year senior linebacker Brandon Herron. It also gave the Wolverines a comfortable 27-10 lead early in the third quarter.

Mattison and Michigan coach Brady Hoke have talked numerous times about “hearing” their players play football.

Consider Kovacs’s hit music to their ears.

“That hit that he came on one of the pressures, it was what you tell and what you coach,” Mattison said. “Put your face right into his chest, wrap him up, eyes up, and he put his helmet right through the football. The thing that people didn’t see on that is he was in the end zone almost the same time as Herron after he had caused the fumble and made the hit.

“That’s what Michigan defense is about.”

Kovacs later defined what it means to play Michigan football: “Michigan football, defensively, is about big hits, making big plays, and just flying to the football. That’s what I hope (Mattison) means.”

Just more music to Mattison’s ears.

Kovacs, a former walk-on, burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman in 2009, finishing second on the team in tackles with 75 and earning Sporting News Freshman All-Big Ten honors.

He followed that performance by leading the Wolverines in tackles last year and earning All-Big Ten honorable mention. It was a tremendous season for Kovacs, but Michigan would rather not have him lead the team in tackles again this year.

“When your safety is making a lot tackles, that’s not a good thing,” Mattison said. “It’s a good thing we have Jordan Kovacs, but that’s not a good thing (that he led the team in tackles). That happened a number of times where if a linebacker was where he was supposed to be, he would’ve made that tackle.

“The great news is Jordan was where he was supposed to be.”

Kovacs has gone from an unknown walk-on to one of Michigan’s biggest defensive forces — and arguably one of the best safeties in the Big Ten.

But though he’s officially been on scholarship since last season, the Ohio native won’t forget where he started.

“The walk-on chip on my shoulder is something I’ll always carry with me,” he said. “I’m proud of being a walk-on. It’s nothing that that I regret or nothing that I’m disappointed about. I think it’s a special thing.”

And if he burst onto the scene in 2009, then he looks ready to blow right through it this year — not to mention continue to lead the defense in points.

“He’s a football player,” Mattison said. “He’s a Michigan football player. If you had a team of eight of him, you might sit in a lawn chair and watch the game.”

That might complicate things on the points board.

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