The Michigan football team’s defensive line conjures images of physical pain inflicted on quarterbacks, a toothless grin from one of its anchors and the sheer size of the dominant unit.

But it might come as a surprise to learn one of the ways defensive line coach Greg Mattison motivates his squad — sweet treats.

“And Ryan (Glasgow) has got it probably four or five out of six weeks, the highest-percentage bag of cookies.”

Cookies might seem like an odd way to motivate a group that brings aggressive intentions into every game, but so far, it seems to be working.

Through six games, the Wolverines have racked up 59 tackles for loss, 24 sacks and have chased four opposing quarterbacks out of the game. Wormley said the most cookies he has earned for a single game was three bags — which translates to about three dozen chocolate chip cookies — and that he usually tries to share the sweets with his teammates. (“Delano Hill usually steals them because he’s right next to me,” he added.)

But while the line competes for cookies, Wormley also pointed out that the unit has a marked cohesion to it this year. Prior to the season, it was easy for fans to fantasize about the prospect of rotating two similarly dominant complete lines. But halfway through the year, that’s been close to reality.

Perhaps the best example of the depth can be seen in Wormley. At his size and speed, he is capable of playing on both the interior and exterior of the line. He expected to play more inside coming into the year, but at the halfway mark, he has consistently been used at defensive end. Manwhile, interior linemen Matt Godin, Maurice Hurst and Ryan Glasgow have combined for four sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss.

That diverse spread of production has given the entire unit more confidence.

“It’s cool to see Taco (Charlton) get a sack, and then Ryan Glasgow, who’s a nose tackle who usually doesn’t get the opportunity to make sacks, get sacks,” Wormley said. “And me, and Rashan (Gary), and Mo Hurst and Godin. So it’s cool to see everyone do that, and I think when we have that mentality and that confidence in ourselves that the (defensive backs) are going to give us time to get to the quarterback, we just make plays.”

When the Wolverines take on Illinois this weekend, they’ll be facing an offensive line that does a relatively good job of limiting those kinds of plays. The Fighting Illini are tied for 28th nationally with five tackles for loss allowed per game and tied for 46th with just two sacks allowed per game.

But against a defense like Michigan’s, those numbers are liable to inflate. Penn State is allowing just 1.8 sacks per game if you exclude the Wolverines, but in that game, Michigan tallied five.

The line relies on a trust and familiarity Wormley says has been building since the end of last season. But that feeling has grown stronger of late, and the results are clear.

“I know Taco’s going to do his job extremely well, and I look to my left and I know Matt or Mo is going to do their job perfectly,” Glasgow said. “So it’s like, ‘I’m going to do my job and I’m going to do it to the best of my ability.’ You don’t feel as if you have to compensate for anyone.”

And when it comes to compensation, Mattison’s wife might be onto something with her reward system. Normally, the players are rewarded for strong play with a sticker for the helmet. But to Wormley, the exclusive treats make that success even sweeter.

“Everyone gets helmet stickers,” Wormley said, “but (only) the D-Line gets cookies.”

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