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Posted on Mon, Nov 14, 2011 : 7:58 p.m.

Ryan Van Bergen: Michigan's defensive line 'is better than any starting 4 in the country'

By Kyle Meinke


Michigan defensive tackle Mike Martin (68) and defensive end Ryan Van Bergen (53) bring down Illinois senior Jason Ford during the first quarter of the Wolverines' 31-14 win at Memorial Stadium last Saturday.

Melanie Maxwell I

The Michigan football team's defensive turnaround is impossible to miss -- it's becoming one of the great national stories of the year -- but coaches and players have been slow to acknowledge they had arrived.

That's not the case anymore.

Two days after defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said the unit had returned to being a Michigan defense -- the highest honor he gives a unit -- Ryan Van Bergen took it a step further Monday in regards to the defensive line.

"We think our starting four is better than any starting four in the country," the senior defensive lineman said. "That’s our opinion. You don’t have to believe it, but that’s what we think and we expect to play that way."

Against Illinois, they did.

The No. 20 Wolverines held the Illini to minus-12 yards rushing in the first half, 37 for the game and kept the Illini out of their territory until late in the third quarter. Needless to say, they also won the game 31-14.

Van Bergen finished with a career-high seven tackles and an impressive 2.5 sacks of running quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. For those efforts, he was named the Big Ten's co-defensive player of the week on Monday with Purdue's Kawann Short.

Fellow defensive tackle Mike Martin led Michigan with nine tackles, and the pair of interior lineman took over the game. They did so by calling an audible without their coaches' consent.

"(They) gave me some freedom to call some stunts up front that coaches wouldn’t typically do, but they trust that I’m smart enough to make the right calls," Van Bergen said. "We didn’t actually get the green light, we just started doing it. Take a risk. Why not?

"It worked the first two or three times, and the coaches were just like, ‘Call ‘em when you feel like calling ‘em.’"

That kind of improvisation exemplifies the defense's surging confidence — something that at one point never seemed possible for a group that was so humbled by their struggles the past three years.

But after allowing 35.2 points per game last year — players have acknowledged they were embarrassed by that last year — Michigan now is holding teams to 15.5 points per game, fifth best in the country.

That means the Wolverines are on pace to go from historically bad to their best defensive season since the 1997 national championship year (9.5 points allowed per game) in one season.

They are allowing 116 fewer yards per game, holding opponents to a 37-percent conversion rate on third down and have forced 23 turnovers.

Ten games into the new regime, and defensive players have gone from embarrassed to hubris.

"I’ve been with (this defense) so long, and we’ve been through so many struggles defensively, especially when it comes to rushing the ball," Van Bergen said. "So, when it comes to making that kind of statement, saying, ‘You’re not going to run the ball, you’re going to be one-dimensional,' that’s huge. It’s been a long time coming.

"We’re finally making statements that the ball won’t be run against Michigan, and it’s because of what the front seven has been doing."

That rush defense will be put to the test again this week as Michigan takes on Nebraska (Noon, ESPN). It will be the teams' first meeting since 2005, and their first ever as Big Ten rivals.

The Cornhuskers (8-2, 4-2), much like Michigan, are a running team. Quarterback Taylor Martinez is seventh in the conference in rushing and running back Rex Burkhead is third. They also run the option together.

That could test the Wolverines' perimeter defense, which has been an issue this year against teams such as Michigan State and Northwestern.

Van Bergen, though, is confident his team can handle the test.

Confidence. Van Bergen is just oozing with it these days.

"We have the potential to win 11 games," he said. "There’s no reason to be satisfied with what we’ve done so far. If we sit on what we’ve done so far, our legacy won’t be anything special.

"But if you win 10 games at Michigan, win your bowl game, you’re going to be remembered for a long time."

Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.



Wed, Nov 16, 2011 : 3:27 a.m.

I wish big Al would have gotten the offense to improve half as much as the defense. We would have a special team. Difference between this group and moo u is this group is doing it within the rules and cleanly. GO BLUE!!!! Pound the huskers. I will be cheering wildly Saturday from section 8.


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 2:58 p.m.

It is pretty obvious that the coaches challenged them to be the best D-line and the same goes for the rest of the other players and RVB happened to slip it in. It would be prudent for RVB to zip it up like Lorraine said so. Bo wouldn't allow it cuz TiM. GO BLUE!

Theo's Brother

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 2:53 p.m.

"As a man thinks in his heart, so is he" Keep it up fellas! Go BLUE!

Lorain Steelmen

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 1:58 p.m.

Note to Ryan Van Bergen....Please do your talking AFTER the Nebraska game. This kind of thing (running your mouth) will get you beat. UM's offense, would be well advised, to maintain ball controll, and keep you and your buddies on defense, OFF the field. I want to see UM win BOTH its' last two regular season games, but I'm more impressed with what you DO, than with what you SAY.


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 5:23 p.m.

ONLY after the BCS bowl game (RVB talking)

Lorain Steelmen

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 2:12 p.m.

Another thought for Ryan, we'll be looking for a shut out, in our last two games. It may take just that, to win them, and that is what I am interested in seeing from the 2011 team. Go Blue!


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 1:33 p.m.

With Defense...confidence is everything! Go Blue!!


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 4:52 p.m.

Size, strength, speed, agility and experience figure in there somewhere as well.

Blu n Tpa

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 1:26 p.m.

RVB is entitiled to his opinion. I respect his thoughts and given where this defense was over the last 3 years it's not hard to understand his enthusiasm and pride at how far the Michigan Defense has come. But the best in the country? Well RVB you and your line-mates are going to have to prove that to me and the rest of the Wolverine Nation over the next two weekends. I hope you are correct because that will take a Michigan "feel good" story and make it a national "feel great" one. The Defensive Line is Michigan. This is Michigan. Go Blue!


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 1:15 p.m.

well Ryan you better go out and back it up not a fan of the thugs in east landfill but I have to admit their Dline is better than ours and they showed it when we played them.

Blu n Tpa

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 12:59 p.m.

FYI Michigan got jobbed by one of the worst officiated football games in the 2005 Alamo Bowl. That would be the last time they player each other.


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 8:48 a.m.

&quot;That rush defense will be put to the test again this week as Michigan takes on Nebraska (Noon, ESPN). It will be the teams' first meeting since 1985, and their first ever as Big Ten rivals&quot;. Actually, lets not forget this debacle and LACK of a penalty flag for too many Nebraska players on the field at the end of the game. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 6:44 a.m.

The greatest of coaching job on Mattison's part. The biggest hurdle for Michigan will be to adapt the RR players on offense to the new coaching philosophy. It's a fair bet that the D will get more and more dominate over the next few years. the question is will the offense, and if so- how long will it take. Great incoming class of offensive lineman next year. That should help. Touissant is only a sophmore; and some bigger backs coming up and arriving such as Rawls and Soumo for the full back and power runners Hoke likes. What will happen at QB the next year? That is the question. Gardner looked good in the 4th quarter last week.


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 9:59 a.m.

Open QB competition all spring and into the fall Id say..


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 3:44 a.m.

I also agree. Best front four will lead the team to another B10 championship... how many will that be? I've lost count!


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 1:48 a.m.

Nice to see that Ryan has a lot of confidence flowing thru his veins these days and just as long as he stays focused and the rest of the front four stay hungry I can say that they can make a strong case for the best in the B1G but lets not get to far ahead with the best in the nation front 4 just yet Ryan. @deb besides Worth msu doesn't really have that super of a D line and I firmly believe that if Michigan played msu again that Michigan would win that game. GO BLUE!


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 5:47 p.m.

lets see first paragraph responds to Jay's point about U of M winning today. Second paragraph responds to &quot; other then Worth&quot; by naming two very good players on the MSU line Your right my mistake on the heck, coveted the heck out of gholston but new he was signing with MSU Understand?


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 5:33 p.m.

@deb Surprising you say UofM &quot;recruited the heck&quot; out of Gholston when Gholston himself says he felt slighted by UofM not recruiting him hard. MSU won in Oct so therefore their D line is better today? MSU beat Iowa so their Dline must be better? Football is not a 4-on-4 game DLine vs DLine, so I don't understand your argument.


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 3:46 p.m.

They played. MSU won. U of M lost. In the past two weeks both teams played iowa at iowa. What would make you think things are different now. And again doesn't matter what you firmly believe, they played within the last 5 weeks and MSU won. Next season? I know the argument earlier in the season was the mutual ND opponen, but that was before they played and MSU won. Marcus Rush is ridiculous, if you didn't know that, you are not watching Spartan games. And Gholston is a Beast (had back to back 15 tackle games after the suspension.) You have to include him. Sorry Oh and U of M recruited the heck out of Gholston too. Just didn't get him


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 2:01 a.m.

Worthy I mean and William Gholston is a dirty thug so I didn't include him.

Terry Star21

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 1:32 a.m.

Agree 100 %, - and it is coming at a perfect time with nebraska and ohio state coming to town. First time in the last four years I am going to enjoy great Michigan football - Defense makes teams look great, defense makes other teams look bad and defense WINS games ! MgoBlueForTiM..........Big Four up front and Michigan defense wins games.......

Terry Star21

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 1:34 a.m.

does even have the best front four in nation


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 1:22 a.m.

The D is much improved, but it does not even the best front four in the state


Tue, Nov 15, 2011 : 1:23 a.m.

does not even have the best front four in the state