In the aftermath of Michigan's quick OC change, everyone who's met, heard of, or birthed Doug Nussmeier has been asked about what they think about him. ("Needs to shave more often." –Mom) This post collects those things and presents them to you, the reader.
1. HE GON' GET PAID. Michigan is convinced that paying people large amounts of money will make them better at what they do (see: Hoke contract, Borges's 300k raise after year one) and they are doubling down on that. According to Bruce Feldman, Nussmeier "will be among the five highest-paid coordinators in college football," which means he'll be at or around one million dollars. Insert usual rabbling about how untenable this situation is, ethics-wise.
2. HE DID NOT LIKE NICK SABAN'S UNHINGED IN-GAME RANTING. In an interesting post on the Alabama 247 site, one of their moderators—in fact I think the owner of the whole 247 enterprise—lays out some reasons Alabama and Nussmeier parted mutually($), and they mostly have to do with blood running out of Nussmeier's ears. A small excerpt:
However, multiple sources tell BOL that Nussmeier was a bad fit for Saban. It takes a special/unique person to be a coordinator for Saban. During the heat of a game, it is common that Saban will become extraordinarily heated, openly and repeatedly question calls. Its not a bad thing, its just him and has always been his style. It is generally something that is understood and not that big of a deal among his staff.
"The writing was on the wall" after the Auburn game, which sounds pretty irrational to me since Alabama would have won that game if their kickers had been anything other than incompetent and Nussmeier's offense racked up 495 yards. The bowl loss to OU featured 516 yards and five turnovers, three of which were lost fumbles that have little if anything to do with the OC.
If this friction is based on three redzone trips in the Iron Bowl, great. Or the bowl game. I mean:
The numbers, however impressive they might be, only serve as a faint silver outline of what turned out to be a disappointing ending, as Alabama's offense failed on the national stage against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. It turned out to be the final game of Nussmeier's tenure, as he's agreed to move north and take the same job at Michigan.
In the Sugar Bowl, the flaws of Nussmeier's scheme were put under a heavy spotlight: the protection broke down, McCarron faltered and three turnovers ultimately doomed the Tide.
Okay, bro. Has nothing to do with the fact that the vaunted Tide D gave up 45 points to a virtual nobody. And it's Nussmeier's fault that TJ Yeldon fumbled inside the ten.
3. HE IS A FLEXIBLE MAN. Rivals caught up with Bama T/G/C Barrett Jones($), and he gave the requisite heap of praise. The most interesting bit is the part about Nussmeier's flexibility. After three years of mobile quarterbacks, Nussmeier adapted to Alabama instead of the other way around:
"I think a lot of guys walk into a situation and try to implement their philosophy but he's not one of those stubborn coaches that only knows one way. He understood we were having success doing things a certain way and he kept the staples and then added some wrinkles."
At Alabama that meant sticking with the Tide's bread and butter, which is meticulously executed inside zone. Darrell Funk is an inside zone guy himself, so hopefully those two guys will mesh.
Meanwhile, a glimpse at Keith Price's 2011 season reveals a mix of shotgun and under center, with an emphasis on the gun:
Here's everything he did against Baylor in that year's Alamo Bowl. At this point Baylor's defense is still a tire fire, FWIW:
This game plan was passing-spread oriented. Chris Polk did get 30 attempts but Price was the main way to move the ball as he went 23 of 37 for 438 yards (11.8 YPA!) in a loss(!) against RGIII. Baylor 67, Washington 56 remains the highest scoring regulation bowl game ever.
Meanwhile, a ten-minute Chris Polk career retrospective is helpful since Polk's career just about exactly coincided* with Nussmeier's:
That is a mix of inside zone and power blocking with a lot of draws mixed in; power seems to be mostly a short yardage or goal line thing from under center but is prevalent on shotgun runs.
*[Polk played two games under Willingham before getting injured and went to the NFL draft right after Nussmeier was hired at Alabama.]
4. HE'S NOT A LIFER. SBNation's Washington blog checked in with their Alabama blog about Nussmeier in December when Nussmeier interviewed for the vacant Washington gig. At 43 with a major reclamation project in front of him, Nussmeier would be a Hot Candidate in the event that he turns Michigan's offense into a top 20 unit. This is good and bad: bad for program stability, good to have a potential candidate to replace Hoke.
5. HE'S GOOD WITH QUARTERBACKS. From that UW-Bama conversation:
The 2011 version of McCarron would have a difficult time throwing the ball down the deep middle of the field, but the 2012 and 2013 versions have thrived in this area. He still lacks elite arm strength, but his mechanics are much improved – along with ability to go through his progressions and deliver the football on time, even to his third or fourth option. Once again, it’s nothing more than a guessing game when it comes to trying to determining how much of his progression is due to Nussmeier. Some natural progression is to be expected, and, over the summer, McCarron has a quarterback coach.
Angelique Chengelis pinged former Nussmeier QB Drew Stanton and got this:
“Doug Nussmeier is everything as advertised and more,” Stanton said Wednesday night after news broke that Michigan hired Nussmeier. “He has an unbelievable approach to the game that demands a lot out of his players but also has a way of making every day fun.
“He represents what college football should be all about. He’s going to make a great head coach some day, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. I was literally in tears when he left my junior year at Michigan State.”
Price, meanwhile, was a throw-in in the Sarkisian/Willingham transition class that no one expected much from. They got a ton:
Doug Nussmeier was given a ton of credit for what Keith Price became. Price was a guy that they brought in in the initial recruiting class after Ty Willingham was fired, and quite frankly was mostly considered a depth guy. People expected Nick Montana to step in after Jake Locker and be the guy for the next three or four years, but all Price did was win the job and then go on to rewrite UW's passing records book. And though there were other factors at play, Nussmeier leaving for Alabama surely had something to do with Price having his worst season immediately thereafter.
6. HE WAS SHAPED BY JOHN L SMITH'S IDEAS. This is a good thing since we're talking about offense. Smith's career has been a series of explosive offenses and good records until things got unhinged at Michigan State, and even there he was setting fire to Michigan's secondary with That Goddamned Counter Draw until Drew Stanton went out and Braylonfest kicked in. Nussmeier was one of Smith's QBs at Idaho back when Idaho was a very good I-AA team instead of a terrible I-A team that should reclassify to I-AA; his first college job was under JLS as a QB coach at MSU.
His formative years were first as a QB in a wide open offense, then in a wide open version of fake football (the CFL), then as a guy in a spread-oriented system at MSU. Alabama fans' main complaint about him is that he got down to the six yard line in last year's A&M game and threw three times instead of running the dang ball, so if we have lizard brain complaints they'll probably be about throwing too much.
7. HE'S SUPPOSEDLY A REAL GOOD RECRUITER BUT I MEAN COME ON DO WE REALLY KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THIS DUDE WAS AT 'BAMA. Nussmeier was instrumental in getting touted 2015 QB Ricky Town to commit to Alabama but not instrumental enough to make Town reconsider his commitment after he moved. He was apparently the point man on a couple of other high profile recruitments and after Mike Vrabel's departure is now the highest-ranked dude in the Big Ten on 247's "best recruiter" rankings.
I give those little credence, but he'll have to be an upgrade on Borges, who rarely traveled and mostly just took guru Steve Clarkson's advice on who to recruit at QB.
Should old B-Dub bowls be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old TFLs be forgot,
in days of auld lang syne?
It's a brand new year full of not last year. Let's enjoy it.
RPI Effect Only Teams:
UMass-Lowell (2-12) picked up their first win over a D1 team. South Carolina State (4-9) played South Carolina close but lost. Houston Baptist (3-11)… don’t ask. are below the 300 mark to KenPom, and Coppin State (4-10) lost by only 2 points to Towson, but remains in a really really sketchy part of Baltimore. Long Beach State (4-10) were actually just down two points with five minutes left to Missouri, but couldn’t close the deal. Holy Cross (6-8) lost a very patriotic week, dropping games to Boston and American. Charlotte (9-4) downed North Carolina A&T.
Big Sorts of Teams:
#9 Iowa State (14-0, 2-0 Big 12)
This week: Beat Texas Tech (73-62); Beat #7 Baylor (87-72)
Iowa State is now the second-best team on Michigan’s non-conference schedule, both in the polls and on KenPom. The Cyclones dismembered Baylor at the Hilton Center. They led the entire second half, pulling away late. Point Guard DeAndre Kane had a monster game, going for 30 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebounds.
This was the start of an absolutely brutal stretch for ISU. They play Texas, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Kansas twice, and Oklahoma twice in the next thirty days. The Big 12 is pretty good this year.
Florida State (10-4, 1-1 ACC)
This week: Lost to Virginia (62-50), Beat Clemson (56-41)
FSU dropped from 24th to 39th in KenPom on the heels of a home loss to Virginia. They shot only 30.8% from the field and had 16 turnovers to only 8 assists. Weirdly, they only got 14 shots out of their front court, making only 5. Maybe they forgot that being really tall helps, or they thought they had an unfair disadvantage being so very very tall.
#16 Dook (12-3, 1-1 ACC)
This week: Lost to Notre Dame (79-77); Beat Georgia Tech (79-57)
|This guy > Jabari Parker|
The Blue Devils lost to Tom Crean Memorial Disappointing-NCAA-Tournament-Run Award Winner Mike Brey and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 79-77. Jabari Parker scored only 7 points on 2-10 shooting. He was outscored by ND freshman Steve Vasturia. Do you have enough canned goods? You should probably purchase more canned goods.
Duke did manage to squeak by ACC palate-cleanser Georgia Tech by 22 points.
#1 Arizona (16-0, 3-0 PAC 12)
This week: Beat Washington State (60-25(!)); Beat Washington (71-62), beat UCLA (79-75)
Washington State isn’t very good. They’re basically Northwestern, but farther west and not as good academically. And sure, they have the offensive efficiency of a cat chasing a laser pointer dot. But they held the #1 team in the country to 28 points in the first half… and still trailed by 21 points. Only one Cougar had more than one make from the field; Junior Longrus scored his team-high six points on 2-for-6 shooting. Amazingly, no one on either team made more than three shots or had more than three assists all night, and the game featured only one player in double-digits (Caleb Tarczewski had 11). For the PAC-12, this game was very B1G.
Stanford (9-4, 0-1 PAC 12)
This week: Lost to Cal (69-62)
Stanford fell out of the KenPom top 50 after a 7-point home loss to rival Cal. This isn’t a huge problem for Michigan given Michigan’s win over Minnesota and the continued improvements of Iowa State. Still, Stanford being good would be good.
[Jump for the Big Ten]
So we've got ourselves a new offensive coordinator. I guess there's no use hiding that I'm on the more ambivalent end of the spectrum of Michigan fans, but I'm a spread zealot, and I admit another gorram transition is just too painful a prospect right this moment. At the very least it was the kind of PR coup that resets the countdown clock on Hoke's tenure. These days you only get to play the "it was my offensive coordinator's fault" card once per Rose Bowl trip, but this was the right time to do so. I'm probably just a cynic who's been sold a bill of Mariucci over Mornhinwheg to believe in any apparent upgrade. Let's see if the readers can convince me otherwise.
Eye of the TIger tried. He found some quotes by an ex-Bama player on how Inside Zone is repped to insanity, which can be taken as evidence of philosophical thinking, or taken as the zone version of Hoke's "Power" philosophy which admittedly never materialized under Borges anyway.
|The thing about Barrett Jones is you don't have to make tough decisions about what your OL can and can't do.|
Tiger pointed out that Alabama's riches in offensive lineman size allowed them to depart from the typical suite of complementary plays and players that limits you to. It's supposed to be this:
Inside Zone has another advantage--flexibility:
The majority of the time in a zone blocking scheme the tailback will follow the design of the play, but occasionally the tailback will perform a cutback and change direction during the run. A cutback is when the tailback changes direction and runs away from where the linebackers are flowing (the tailback can only do this once and must not hesitate). This cutback made by the tailback is what makes zone blocking so dangerous because of how easily a cutback can lead to a big play. The cutback exaggerates the advantages of the zone-blocking scheme.
Watch this video highlighting Texas’ use of Inside Zone to see this point illustrated nicely, not only for cutbacks, but for alternate read options.
Major advantages: You can run an offense with less experienced OL and opens up a bigger growth curve for RBs, who become more effective the more comfortable they get at reading the holes and cutback lanes.
Major disadvantage: It's way harder to run play-action from a zone running look. Reason is nothing gets defenders thinking run like a good running MANBALL (or inverted veer) team pulling a guard. Second reason is the small, cut-rate scatbacks that zone lets you get away with don't typically make very good pass blockers. I probably don't have to tell this to 2013 Michigan fans.
At Alabama they overcame the disadvantage by having massive/quick OL who are naturally difficult obstacles to a pass rusher, and with 5-star running backs who can cut, block, slam, juke, and jet, all for three easy payments of $3,995.95, plus shipping and handler's fee (order now and we'll throw in a free safety). At Michigan, well, actually, we've got just those kinds of guys on campus now. Maybe?
Also there's this:
@michiganinsider I think people don't realize how handcuff Nuss was at Bama, he called the plays, but Nick was in control, handcuffs are off
— Theus DeShon Sears (@Theist313) January 10, 2014
And here I am a quarter way through UFRing an Alabama game. Anyone got Washington tapes?
P.S. I purposely stayed vague on the Song of Ice and Fire references; you're not off the hook from a season recap.
[After the jump: the board goes Borges for Nuss]
There are two main metrics by which I look at an offense, with different philosophies emphasizing different elements. I look at how well an offense does at converting first downs ([# of plays gaining a first down]/[# of first downs started]) and how good an offense is at stretching the field with explosive plays (Any yards gained beyond the first down line).
Below are the season numbers for each of Doug Nussmeier’s seasons alongside of the last 11 Michigan seasons for reference:
Blue=Michigan Red=Alabama Purple=Washington Gray=Fresno St
The top right quadrant is the Oregon zone. Offense that are really good at both. They consistently generate first downs but also produce big plays. The lower right quadrant is feast or famine. Lots of big plays, but can’t consistently convert first downs. The top left is probably where Brady Hoke wants to be, not consistently pushing the tempo or the big plays, but able to grind out first down after first down. The bottom left is for offenses that can’t do either well.
The Washington Years
As noted by Brian, in 2009 Nussmeier took over a tire fire of an offense. If there was a dot for 2008 Washington, you wouldn’t see it because it would be even lower and left of 2008 Michigan! His first year the offense improved along both dimensions and moved to bad but not awful. 2010 saw a bit more explosiveness but in year three the offense took a major step forward along both metrics.
Consistent improvement over three years is a very good sign. In fact, if you compare 2008-2011 Washington and Michigan, every year but 2010 is very similar and demonstrate a lot of positive improvement.
The Alabama Years
For a reference starting point, 2011 Alabama was most similar to 2004 Michigan. That was the team that beat LSU in the national championship. You can have an offense like that when you have a defense like that allows 37 bonus yards/game and an absurd 42% first down conversion (MSU was 59% this year).
In his first year turned the mediocre 2011 offense into a very good chain moving offense in 2012. For 2013 the moved further in that direction. The 82.7% first down conversion in 2013 was the third highest number since 2013. Some of that was due to the overall regression of defenses in the SEC in 2013. Texas A&M actually set the record this year with 82.9% conversions.
This does seem to be the coordinator who can do the things that Borges can’t while still fitting into Hoke’s desire for what his team’s offense looks like. Where Michigan has spent the last three years moving backwards, every single Nussmeier coordinated offense has shown year on year improvement. There aren’t going to be fireworks or a spread offense, most likely, but there should be a lot of first downs and hopefully consistent improvement.
From a watchability standpoint, this won’t be the fun offense many of where hoping for. It is a system that in the presence of elite talent and great defense can do everything you need it to. I have a working hypothesis that if your goal is national championships this is the way to go. Great defenses seem to have lower variance than great offenses. Put a team together around an elite offense and you get 10 amazing games and 2 games where the wheels fall off. Build it around a great defense and you are probably in all 12 games. Elite offense is great for making the leap from bad to good but if you want to get good to great, it has to start on defense. I’ll be pulling some more data this offseason to test this out.
|WHAT||Michigan at Nebraska|
|WHERE||Pinnacle Bank Arena, Lincoln, Nebraska|
|WHEN||9 pm Eastern, Thursday|
|LINE||Michigan -4 (KenPom)|
Right: Lil' Red status update—STILL TERRIFYING EVEN WHEN UPSIDE-DOWN.
Tim Miles is slowly extricating Nebraska from the darkest depths of major college basketball; while the Huskers still struggle to consistently hang with quality competition in Miles' second year, they're no longer a gimme win for half-decent teams—just ask Miami—and Michigan can't except tonight's game in Lincoln to be a cakewalk.
6'6" sophomore wing Terran Petteway leads the team in scoring (17.3 ppg) in his first year playing for the program after a transfer from Texas Tech. He does this largely by volume, taking 30% of the team's shots when he's on the court. While he's a solid outside shooter (40% 3-pt), his efficiency inside the arc (44%) leaves a lot to be desired, though he helps make up for this by getting to the line frequently and shooting a lights-out 87% at the charity stripe.
6'7", 219-pound sophomore Shavon Shields is the #2 offensive option in the starting lineup; while he's listed as a guard/forward on the official roster, he's the nominal power forward among the Husker starters. His best attribute is drawing fouls—a third of his points come at the free-throw line—and while he's a decent finisher at the rim (61%, per hoop-math.com), his shooting has been MIA this year (26% on 2-pt jumpers, 30% on 3-pt). Shields and Petteway both do a decent job of hitting the defensive boards, though neither is stellar in this regard.
The rebounding onus falls on the big man tandem of 6'10" sophomore Walter Pitchford and 6'8", 255-pound junior Leslee Smith; the two split their minutes pretty evenly and each brings something different to the table. Pitchford, the starter, takes nearly as many three-pointers (17/46 this year) as two-pointers (26/52), and does most of his damage as an inside/outside offensive threat; quite remarkably, he's the only qualifying player in the country who's yet to record a turnover this season.
Smith is the superior rebounder—ranking in the top 100 on both ends of the floor—and shot-blocker, in addition to being more efficient around the hoop, hitting 62% of his twos. Smith also draws far more fouls than Pitchford and converts at a solid 72% clip; however, he's not an outside shooting threat and has recorded half as many turnovers (20) as made baskets (40), which explains why Pitchford gets the starting nod over him.
The starting two-guard is 6'2" senior Ray Gallegos, whom you may remember shooting an astounding 4-of-16 on three-pointers against Michigan last year as Nebraska's top offensive option. Miles has reigned him in quite a bit this year; after being a high-usage, wildly-inefficient chucker last season (30% on 271[!] 3-pt attempts), he's now almost exclusively a spot-up shooter and doing well in that role, connecting on 40% of his threes this season—all but one of his makes has been assisted.
6'4" freshman Tai Webster, a native of noted basketball hotbed New Zealand, mans the point. Thus far he's been plagued by the usual freshman PG issues; his 30 turnovers nearly cancel out his 35 assists and his 39/21/58 2P/3P/FT splits are downright ugly. His length may give Michigan's point guards some issues defensively; otherwise, he's a weak spot in this lineup.
Unfortunately for Nebraska, the primary backup guards don't fare much better: 6'0" junior Deverell Biggs takes nearly as many shots as Pettaway despite shooting just 40% from the field, and 5'9" sophomore Benny Parker has a lower ORtg than Biggs while also being a presumed defensive liability at his height.
The Huskers are currently 8-6, though they're just 1-5 against KP100 teams, with that lone win coming at home against Miami; that stands as their only quality win unless you want to count a neutral-site victory over #138 Georgia—the rest have come against your proverbial slate of RPI anchors. They are, notably, still undefeated at home, though the schedule gets most of the credit for that. Their last three games have all been double-digit road losses against top-25 teams, culminating in an 84-53 blowout at Ohio State last Saturday.
Four factors (national ranks in parentheses):
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||47.6 (242)||16.1 (51)||28.9 (251)||44.5 (104)|
|Defense||48.5 (135)||20.0 (92)||30.5 (132)||50.1 (304)|
Nebraska's offense, statistically, resembles a slightly more competent version of this year's Northwestern squad: sub-par shooting and rebounding, little in the way of turnovers, and a knack for getting to the line. The Huskers have been a better outside shooting team and don't get nearly as many of their shots blocked; otherwise the profiles are eerily similar.
The defense, as you can see, is very reliant on forcing turnovers, and they'll hack their way to the ball in an effort to do so. The Yin: Nebraska is 26th nationally in steal rate. The Yang: they cede the 54-most points at the line. In their two Big Ten games (at Iowa and at OSU) they've failed to force those turnovers (15.4%) while allowing a ridiculous 69.4 free throw rate; the Huskers were also bombarded from the field in those contests, allowing 53% shooting from two and 40% from three.
Attack, attack, attack. If their first two Big Ten games are any indication—not to mention Michigan's skill at holding onto the ball—Nebraska should give up a lot of a drives that end in layups, open outside shooters, or (most especially) free throws. Nik Stauskas should have a field day working off the pick-and-roll, GRIII can go to work on the block, and this seems like the right opponent for Caris LeVert to get his offensive game going again, as well. Michigan should look to drive and kick—or just drive and shoot—until the Huskers prove they're remotely capable of stopping it.
Hands off. This one should favor the Wolverines—Nebraska is heavily reliant on getting to the line to score points, while Michigan currently ranks fourth in the country in opponent free throw rate. Nebraska's ability to generate free throws has plummeted in their two Big Ten games (24.4 FTRate) against teams that foul slightly more often than Michigan. If the Wolverines simply play their normal defense, they should be able to shut down a big part of the Husker offense.
Force Petteway off the arc. Petteway is Nebraska's leading scorer by a wide margin and he's a much more efficient producer from the outside than he is once he gets inside the arc. Regardless of who's defending him, the strategy should be to close out hard and funnel him inside, where Michigan's size should give him issues (especially if Jon Horford, the team's one true rim protector, is on the court).
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 4
UMHoops preview. Two must-read UMHoops features on Stauskas—a look at his statistical progression and a breakdown of his versatility off ball screens and handoffs.
Austin Hatch returned to the court for the first time since the tragic 2011 plane crash, and what he did after checking into the game in the fourth quarter was something straight out of a Disney movie (video courtesy of UMHoops):
According to the LA Times, the jumper "caused his Loyola High coach and teammates to charge onto the court and pick up a technical foul."
Loyola won the game, 87-59.
"It was the best technical foul I've ever been a part of," Loyola Coach Jamal Adams told the Times.
Best news of the year, right there.
happier times with Heiko
Al Borges is gone from Michigan after three years. And I'm… relieved. Yes. I think that's right.
Not exactly happy, of course. A dude just got fired. This site had a bizarre frenemies relationship (see: all the tags on this post) with Borges that started with prodding about constraint plays from Heiko by my request. This developed into a press conference Odd Couple thing where Heiko would get crap from Borges and give a little bit of it back, all the while trying to gently ask about the latest debacle. The results were the most entertaining transcripts not involving Steve Spurrier ever.
Then last winter Heiko started agitating me about getting an interview with him. I thought it was a cockamamie idea that would never get past the gatekeepers. This take would have been accurate except for one thing: Borges wanted to do it. So Heiko eventually crept his way past the border guards, was promised 15 minutes, and got 45. The resulting interview ran on the site last summer and was a fantastic glimpse into the day to day experience of being Michigan's offensive coordinator.
Why is nobody else in mourning right now?
— Heiko Yang (@Heiko25) January 9, 2014
I also know that friend of the site Craig Ross did what he always does with Michigan coaches, which is badger them with paper until they are forced to respond. I don't know how he does this, but he does, and he dumped articles and questions on Borges until he eventually got a phone call one morning with Borges on the other end. A debate/harangue sort of thing occurred until Craig—Craig!—had to say goodbye because he had a mediation to oversee (the conversation made it into last year's book).
Personally, I took in Borges's session at the Glazier Clinic in Detroit a couple years ago and came away impressed by his command of the material and ability to communicate concepts.
Al Borges was not a bad guy, and helped us out. That he did so seemingly because Heiko's badgering amused him is the mark of a guy who can take some heat.
It's just that his goddamned offense didn't work.
THINGS STARTED INAUSPICIOUSLY, as Michigan found itself down 24-7 to Notre Dame three quarters into the first night game at Michigan Stadium. Michigan had 141 yards of offense nearing the end of the third quarter when the delirium kicked in. Robinson threw off his back foot just before getting sacked, Junior Hemingway skied for balls between two defenders, Gary Gray refused to acknowledge the existence of footballs, Jeremy Gallon engaged his cloaking device, and when the dust cleared Michigan had squeezed out one of the most bonkers wins in their history.
In the aftermath, things felt ramshackle, and I said as much. Michigan returned nine starters from Rich Rodriguez's final offense, the one that had seen Robinson set records, and this was not that:
This isn't to blame anyone—it seems that coaches are who they are and as much as I want to, you can't hire a guy based on the two years left you've got with Denard. But I hope I'm not the only one who felt a sense of foreboding in the midst of the joy and relief. We've seen this script the last two years, and never has it been as rickety.
Michigan has to fix some stuff—lots of stuff—by the Big Ten season. The stakes are only Denard's career, everyone's faith in the Ethical Les Miles theory of Hoke's success, and the very survival of pandas in the wild. I'll take the escape. I wonder what happens when the drugs wear off and real life reasserts itself.
The drugs did not really wear off for a while as the horseshoe stuck in Brady Hoke's posterior saw them through some rough spots.
Things only came to a screeching halt when Borges unleashed the first of his incredibly terrible gameplans at Michigan State. Faced with a howling maelstrom of trash and in possession of Denard Robinson, Borges featured a gameplan consisting mostly of deep throws as he alternated between Robinson and Devin Gardner. After a stirring opening drive, Michigan went nowhere. They did eat double A gap blitz after double A gap blitz thanks to the fact that their center was telling the entire world the exact moment he'd snap the ball, which he'd done the year before to similar effect. Had any of Michigan's new staff even watched the previous year's game?
Actually, here's a better question: were any of them watching this one?
For the game Michigan tried to pass at least 41 times*, averaging 2.8 yards per attempt and giving up a defensive touchdown.
TWO POINT EIGHT YARDS
RUN THE FOOTBALL!!!!
Michigan tried to run the ball 26 times and averaged… oh, Jesus… 5.2 yards per carry. Fitzgerald Toussaint got two carries, Denard twelve.
That was and is flabbergastingly stupid, but Borges managed to top that just a few weeks later when he ditched the spread entirely against Iowa, running a "pro-style" offense because that's what he wanted to do. This was tantamount to forfeiting.
When Iowa punched in their final touchdown on Saturday the clock read 10:42 and Michigan had acquired 166 yards of offense. Forced into a hurry-up shotgun on their final three drives, Michigan matched their production from the first 50 minutes in the last ten.
A chastened Borges went back to the spread for the duration of the season as Michigan scored 31, 45, and 40 to finish the regular season. The 40, against Ohio State, was amongst the best performances Michigan's ever had against the Buckeyes, with Robinson ripping off inverted veer runs for big gains, including the iconic touchdown run to open things.
Michigan had just gutted Ohio State for 300 rushing yards while throwing 17 times. They did this despite running the veer wrong, blocking the guy who teams that actually know how to run the spread would option. It didn't matter. All they had to do was put Robinson in space against the guy they should be blocking, and magic resulted. That, and only that, concealed the rapid erosion of Michigan's ability to run the football. And when the bowl game rolled around, Virginia Tech knew how to defend a half-ass spread. Michigan managed to win that game thanks to the horseshoe; the offense played no part, acquiring under 200 yards of offense for the first time in the Borges era.
It would not be the last time.
ROBINSON HAD SHED THE MANTLE OF INVINCIBILITY acquired over the course of 2010, when he crushed records as a still-raw true sophomore. His interception rate skyrocketed, he lost a half-yard per passing attempt and a whopping 1.3 yards per rushing attempt. That was nothing compared to what awaited the next year.
Setting aside the Alabama debacle as a game Michigan entered with no intention of winning, Borges again reverted to 1990s-style offense completely unsuited for his personnel on the infamous series of plays on which Robinson threw interception after interception.
This is where I deviate from old school hardliners who foist the blame for Robinson's panicked throws on the quarterback who'd been brilliant and efficient two years ago in that very stadium, running the stuff he was good at running. Borges had him run waggles on which not one but two Notre Dame defenders came roaring up at the 5'11" Robinson. He made the results as bad as possible; Borges created a range of results that went only from interception to second and twenty. By that point watching Borges try to utilize Denard Robinson was like watching an otter try to bash open a clam with a shoe.
Michigan did not throw a pass before third down on their two grinding second-half drives before the hurry-up was called for. Do that for the next eight games and run play action off plays you actually run and then Denard might get back to the things he was doing in an offense that was not trying to jam him into a hole he clearly does not fit. I thought maybe we'd learned that lesson after Iowa, but apparently not.
When stressed, people making decisions find it very hard to move away from habit. Everyone reverts to their comfort zone unless they are making a concerted effort to get away from it. Even then, you fall back into old patterns. Lloyd punted. Rodriguez installed a 3-3-5 defense. Borges starts calling plays from a long-ago offense helmed by a guy who was a better passer than runner. Denard throws the ball somewhere, anywhere.
Robinson would go down with his elbow injury midseason, paving the way for Devin Gardner's insertion. This went better than anyone expected—including the coaches who had privately all but given up on him as a quarterback—and eventually Denard returned to the lineup as a slash player, which worked really well for about a game and a half until Ohio State figured out that Robinson at QB always meant run and played like it.
If you've poked around the flaming wreckage of the Michigan internet in the aftermath of Saturday, you have undoubtedly heard the wailing and gnashing of teeth because of that. But the thing is so stark it has to be marveled at again: when Denard Robinson entered the game against Ohio State, every play but one was Denard Robinson doing something. Once it was fail to chip Ryan Shazier and try to get out for a screen; all other times it was run the ball, sometimes with a pitch included. The fakeout was a six-yard completion to Mike Kwiatkowski in the first quarter, and there ended any attempt at deception.
Devin Gardner was at quarterback for three of these plays. Michigan held up a sign that said RUN or PASS, and didn't even try the token fakeout where Robinson goes over the top when the safeties suck up. Gardner ran three times. Denard passed zero. Ohio State figured it out. Surprise!
Most of the time the two quarterbacks weren't even on the field together.
Have I mentioned that Michigan's non-Denard running game was so bad we assumed it couldn't possibly be worse this year?
four DTs and an SDE
two turntables and a microphone
And then, this year. While the unacceptably stupid gameplans based around distaste for the only thing you can get your team to do right evaporated, that was only because Michigan could no longer do anything right at all. After the de rigueur exciting offensive performance against a Notre Dame team that got everyone's hopes high enough to crush Michigan settled into a pattern of ineptitude so vast as to be unbelievable.
Personnel issues contributed, but when the reaction to those issues was the looney-tunes decision to put Michigan's two best offensive linemen next to each other even if they both happened to be tackles, it was over. Michigan put it on film against Minnesota, wasted their bye week repping the never-before-seen tackle over offense, and proceeded to have their tailback rush for 27 yards on 27 carries. The tackle over was quickly dumped, but only after wasting three critical weeks of in-season development for a painfully young offensive line.
That that offensive line had been asked to run first the stretch and then a bunch of power before finally seeming to settle on inside zone—ie, run the full gamut of modern blocking schemes—compounded matters immensely. Borges treated a collection of pups barely out of high school like they were the 1998 Denver Broncos and reaped the whirlwind.
Except the Broncos did one thing and did it very well. Michigan did everything and in the in the end, Michigan did nothing. Two years after a broken version of the inverted veer performed well enough to put 40 points on Ohio State, Michigan had been forced away from it because the only play they could pair with it was a moderately successful QB counter. Not once in Borges's final two years could he run play action off that look, and teams eventually boa constrictored it out of the Michigan playbook.
That was emblematic of the offense as a whole: tiny unconnected packages unrelated to each other, all of which could have worked if Michigan would just execute that one thing they practiced three times last month. When things worked they worked briefly and then were held on to long after the opponent had adjusted, because Michigan never had enough in its arsenal to sustain a full game of production without its quarterback playing out of his mind.
As the tackles for loss mounted and the press conferences got shorter, "we didn't execute" became Borges's self-damning mantra. Michigan could not expect to execute. There is your firing in a sentence.