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Posted on Sat, Nov 13, 2010 : 6:02 a.m.

Numbers aside, Michigan defense intends to keep momentum going against Purdue

By Pete Bigelow


Michigan defensive lineman Ryan Van Bergen (53) thinks last week's defensive effort against Illinois, which rolled up 65 points and 561 yards, may have been the Wolverines' best of the Big Ten season. And he has a point.

Lon Horwedel |

In last Saturday’s triple-overtime thriller against Illinois, the Michigan football team’s defense surrendered a school-record 65 points and 561 yards of offense.

Call him crazy, but defensive lineman Ryan Van Bergen thinks the performance may have been the defense’s best performance of the Big Ten season.

“You don’t want to be the guy who says that when you give up 65 points, but the way we played, and the attitude we had,” he said.

When the scoring defense ranks as the worst in the Big Ten and the Wolverines are on pace for their worst defensive season in history, optimism is hard to come by.

But Van Bergen has a point.

Statistics aside, Michigan’s young, inexperienced and re-tooled defense perked up last week, and the Wolverines think they’ve finally found the right formula. They’ll test it again today against Purdue (12:01 p.m., Big Ten Network).

Dare he says it, but Van Bergen thinks the trodden-upon unit is ready for a big game.

“I’m more excited for this game than any game in a long time, because it feels like there’s a swagger and confidence about us,” he said. “Going into Purdue, I’m just excited to see us play again.”

It wasn’t only the way the defense turned away the Illini after they started three drives in Michigan territory in the first quarter alone or the open-field stick that true freshman Courtney Avery laid on Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaasse on a crucial 3rd and 6 to stop him one yard short.

It was the more tangible signs.

Two weeks ago against Penn State, the Wolverines allowed first-time starter Matt McGloin to riddle their defense. The Nittany Lions converted 10 of 16 third-down attempts. The Illini converted six of 16 third-down attempts.

It had been four games since the unit forced a turnover. Heck, it had been six games since the Wolverines recovered a fumble. But against the Illini, Jonas Mouton recovered one in the first quarter that atoned for a Denard Robinson interception.

And, of course, when a victory was on the line, the defense clinched it with an all-out rush of Scheelhaase, who couldn’t dodge the pressure. His flailing pass to no one in particular bounced off the turf.

“In light of some of the inexperience we’re playing … I thought they competed,” Rich Rodriguez said. At times, the Wolverines had three true freshmen and one redshirt freshman playing in the secondary.

The youth influx won’t end today. The Wolverines will play without cornerback J.T. Floyd, out for the season with an injured ankle, and possibly without Mouton, who is listed as questionable with a chest muscle injury.

Michigan’s entire linebacking corps has been in flux lately. In recent weeks, Cam Gordon has moved to the hybrid position and Craig Roh has moved from the outside to defensive end.

Meanwhile, Kenny Demens took Obi Ezeh’s starting position in the middle, J.B. Fitzgerald has started on the outside, and Ezeh himself has seen more time on the outside.

Rodriguez said earlier this week that former fullback Mark Moundros has had “a few good weeks of practice” and will probably see time somewhere in the mix.

A state of constant change, combined with the eight true freshmen seeing significant time on the defense, may have contributed to this year’s struggles, but Van Bergen sees the end result.

“I think coaches are doing a good job placing guys in positions where they are comfortable,” he said. “The defense has been adapting around the personalities of these guys and on Saturday, we had an attitude about us. Now we have to keep plugging away.”

Pete Bigelow covers the Michigan football team for He can be reached at (734) 623-2551, via email at and followed on Twitter @PeterCBigelow.



Sat, Nov 13, 2010 : 11:28 p.m.

All you Mich haters a win is a win is a win.The people who think the Mich schedule is a cream puff schedule you need to look at your own schedule. When you do look at it please respond. You all that think the boys from Fla can't play in cold weather my son and his teammates from Miami (8) played for Bo in tne snow and it wasn't a problem. OSU, Wisc, MSU and Iowa their boys from Fla don't have any problems with the weather.


Sat, Nov 13, 2010 : 10:53 a.m.

Today is the last chance for our King to attain Lloyd Carr's worst season record ever. And, it is also possible to achieve the coveted title "Champion of Indiana".


Sat, Nov 13, 2010 : 10:21 a.m.

That's right Julius. They should also blitz 5 or 6 during the game. The receivers are often wide open anyway so you might as well put pressure on the QB. You might get a sack or at least make him throw while running for his life, greatly reducing his accuracy.


Sat, Nov 13, 2010 : 9:06 a.m.

John, you have nailed it very precisely. I think you're also right in rivalries getting replaced with RR "grudge games" -- they don't mean anything (other than we have a very immature coach) to the fans.

Somewhat Concerned

Sat, Nov 13, 2010 : 9:06 a.m.

The defense is terrible and has no momentum. Question: would it be better for the players to be telling themselves that they were terrible, are terrible, and will be terrible, or to tell themselves that they are getting better, that there is hope, that it is a big game. My guess is that people who have competed will answer the question differently from those who have not.


Sat, Nov 13, 2010 : 8:58 a.m.

Is everyone crazy have you watched the season? defense has momentum? They stopped them on about 2 plays the whole game. Im a huge wolverines fan but this aint big ten defense, this aint even pop warner defense. They are last in all of the ncaa. Every game is a crap shoot with this defense. We have 3 star secondary playing 7 yards off the line the undersized line cant stop anybody. Penn state kicked our ass with an inexperienced freshman qb and they are horrible. Next year shooting for championship?? Not unless there's a coaching change. We haven't beaten a good team since coach Carrs last bowl game against florida. Unless theres a coaching change we wont get good defensive recruits and our defense will still be the worst in the big ten.


Sat, Nov 13, 2010 : 8:36 a.m.

Disappointing to hear that VanBergen is "More excited for this game than any game in a long time"... I guess rivalry games and opportunities to win Big-10 statement games on the road just dont measure up to this opporunity in West Lafayette..


Sat, Nov 13, 2010 : 7:39 a.m.

Let's get a big win today with the defense getting more confident. If they do, we may surprise a few people next week.


Sat, Nov 13, 2010 : 7:18 a.m.

Julius I agree it you. I think the new defensive coordinator will have a much more experienced team to work with. Some returning from injury along with the experience and some lessons learned they will have an average to good defense and a juggernaut of an offense. 9 or 10 wins next season and a shot at a championship or major bowl game.


Sat, Nov 13, 2010 : 6:30 a.m.

Giving up 45 in regulation and calling a blitz when there are minimal consequences... that's called momentum. They should do fine vs. Purdue. The offense is way too potent for the Boilermakers and the defense should manage a couple turnovers. I expect next year's defense will be miles ahead of this one. Most of the guys will have that year of experience and will have learned from it.