I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
OK, after this past weekend we all need a laugh. I was poking through the box score of the Denver - Jacksonville game. I noticed that Denard got his usual one carry (for two yards) and no catches.
Have Denard in the game for more than one play a week and get the ball to him! For a team that can't get out of its own way, you would think a competant OC would try something different. Maybe there is hope for Borges after he leaves Ann Arbor.
Anyhow, getting back to my point, the defensive statistics caught my eye - D. Robinson is listed with a solo tackle. That places him squarely in the top ten in tackles for the Jags. They will have to change his Offensive Weapon moniker to Offensive-Defensive Weapon if this keeps up (yeah, I know they were forced to change the OW position, but never let facts get in the way of a good story).
This post started as me wondering if we could be seeing Kugler and/or Bosch with the revelation from Borges' presser that they are giving shots to other OL in the wake of the PSU debacle.
Currently on the 1st page of topics for the board there are 8 threads focusing on Borges/Offensive philosophy/etc. I deem to make it 9. To try and come up with something new and entertaining and keep from it being just another Fire Borges/we can't block/Y we no innovate? post, I present to you:
Pick Your Poison (an MGoGameshow which allows you to select your least terrible solution to the offensive issues we've had, that, if enacted TODAY, would be the best possible fix for our offensive ineptitude). This may be stupid and pointless, but at least it's different. You may only choose 1, so choose wisely...
1. Fire Borges
Easy to say, but doing this midseason will cause issues before it fixes any, so you better have a good replacement/plan ready. Then again, putting ANYONE in the box that is ok with getting plays in quicker, not huddling, instituting quick checks and giving Devin the power to utilize them, taking free yards on the outside instead of running into 9 man boxes, etc. may be better than what we have. But we would be firing our OC and QB Coach mid season, which can never be considered "good". Y U No Use Constraints? Y U Hate Free Yards? (This assumes Borges is 100% responsible for our offensive philosophy, game plan, play calling, etc and Hoke has nothing to do with it - would anyone really pick "Fire Hoke" for their one option?)
2. Fire Funk
You sure you want to leave Borges here to call the same terrible plays / refuse to take free yards with a new OL coach? Maybe a new/better OL coach could give us some shot of executing perfectly to help make up for imperfect gameplan and play calling. Firing the OL coach midseason can't be "good" but it shakes things up "less" and maybe is just enough for a fresh start and a new look at things in the trenches.
3. Start Kugler and Bosch at C and LG, respectively.
This can't get any worse with Borges and Funk still around, right? Might as well get some experience for next year's presumed interior OL. (This assumes they aren't any worse than the current starters skill-wise, and the only reason they're not playing is to preserve their redshirts and gain experience in the system before being thrown into the fire.)
4. Keep everything exactly as it is, and trust in Borges/Hoke to figure it out. All is ok.
Everything is going to be fine. Funk will coach 'em up. We trust that Borges (maybe with Hoke's urging) will get more creative and be more open minded. Current OL just needs some more time to gel. Borges may just wear a bubble screen smiley face tee shirt in the box! By the time we get to MSU and OSU we'll be a road-gradin' terror that noone wants to stand across from and try to stop. Stop This? Oh, well here are all my constraints! Plus with JMFR back and promises of a practice-ball-hawkin' Stribling getting more time, the defense will continue to improve. Maybe we can win without any serious changes on O. At the end of the season we'll think "Thank goodness we didn't fire anyone or shake up the OL again in a panic move after a tough 4OT road loss only 2 games into conference schedule". Stay the course, trust the coaches, and all will be ok.
Due to process of elimination, which is best when you're talking "least terrible" solutions, I would go with #3. If I had faith that they'd be able to commit to/execute #4, I'd go with that, but does anyone actually believe any of that could happen? #1 solves the most of our problems if you have a viable replacement mid-season, but who would that be? Plus, like, that's not happening, right? #2 doesn't fix enough IMO.
If this is a long, failed attempt at a gameshow post then at least give me your thoughts on Kugler/Bosch playing and risking burning their redshirts to "see if they're better".
On Saturday, I had the distinct pleasure of attending my first Michigan away game, attending it as a 29th birthday present, which fell on that same day. My accompaniment for the game was none other than a friend and MSU grad from New York. You see, I had gone to the MSU at OSU game with him a few years back and we decided that Penn State was a good game to spend a weekend at my in-laws cabin in Central Pennsylvania. My immediate family and in-laws were there. And they are all Buckeye fans (except my 3 year old son, who is very much into saying Go Blue, though he still doesn't grasp the concept). Yada, yada, company you keep, bla, bla, bla.
Sparty and I got our tickets well in advance. A homecoming game at night seemed to predicate that. Our reasoning was confirmed as I saw very few scalpers outside the stadium. At Penn State, they have giant rolling grass hills that can more than accomodate the parking for the game. The problem is that you have to buy parking passes. In advance, they are $10, but on gameday, they charge $40. Both he and I had known about the parking passes, but failed to buy them in advance. If I had it to do over again, I would have bought the passes. We parked off the road about a mile from the stadium, which was free. We also had literally zero traffic until we hit the highway, which was nice. The parking was on Puddintown Road. Unfortunately, we missed out on the bulk of the tailgating, which was huge due to the cheap price of parking. There were likely tens of thousands of vehicles all crammed into a few giant lots.
(Damon's Grill, stock)
We rolled into Happy Valley at around 11:40am. State College has the lower-middle class feel of any random rural Michigan town, only larger. Picture Jackson, MI with a college in it. Sparty insisted we stop at the first spot we found to watch Michigan State adequately beat Indiana. That first place was a Damon's Grill by a hotel, which meant that a large portion of the lunchgoers were Michigan fans. It was a generally suitable "generic sports bar" to a T. Slightly dingy, but with a bevy of HD TVs on every wall. Their menu featured an item for each Big Ten school. "The Wolverine" was a chicken and bacon club with pepperjack cheese and chipotle mayo. It sounded delicious, but I got the generic appetizer sampler as I prefer food without spit in it. The phrase "Can I get a liter of soda... for a Michigan Fan?!?" resounded.
During the first half, I found myself rooting hard for Indiana. But by the second half, I was pulling for the Spartans to pull away so we could make our way to campus. Sometime in the 3rd quarter, Sparty informed me that Gardner would throw two picks and lose a fumble. Had he known who Nostradamus was, I'm sure he would have reminded me of this fact. A small part of me wanted Gardner to lose an inconsequential turnover in the second half so that smug bastard would be wrong. We left Damon's towards the start of the 4th quarter once MSU went up three scores.
After a short walk in unseasonably sunny and warm weather, we arrived at the stadium. I haven't been on a college campus in about 4 years, so I'm just entering that phase where being on campus means I'm the awkward old guy. We didn't stop to tailgate with anyone. I had a decent beer buzz, but what was I supposed to do? Swoop in and pick off a football being thrown from father to son, then offer myself one of their beers? I'm a pretty social guy, but nobody prompted any conversations on my way in. No sarcastic Michigan comments, no "good luck" wishes. It dawned on me quickly that parking BFE was a bad choice, as sobriety would set in before game time. In briefly eavesdropping on passing conversations, though, I can confirm that soroity girls still literally say literally about literally everything. When I was younger, it was cute. Now it is just kind of grating.
So we sauntered through the tailgate for a bit before arriving at the stadium. It was the typical tailgate wares. Grills, beers, underage drinking, and footballs. The only thing I did see which was new was a game in which opposite sides threw a frisbee into a barrel. The barrel had an opening up top and a slit in front for the frisbee to pass. Teammates were able to bat the frisbee to help direct it. Points were scored for various outcomes. It was like east coast cornhole. There was also a game where what looked to be litter boxes were filled with sand, and inside the sand was a coffee tin that people tossed rings into. Likely an artifact of the past, when everyone from Pennsylvania was a carnie in some sense of the word. I did not see any cornhole, though we played it at the cabin all weekend.
(gate E, stock)
Upon reaching the stadium, my first impression was that it was a high school bleacher on sterroids. The entrance gates take you into a spiders web of beams that support a thin layer of sheet metal which makes up the floor of the stands. The corrugation of the stands gave the impression that the floor was paper thin. It was actually kind of spooky how little metal stood between you and a catastophic fall. It got even spookier remembering how thin the bleacher floors were when everyone started stomping in unison late in the game. The whole stadium shook.
Our seats were located in EHU, directly below the luxury suites. The stadium is much more compact than the Big House, giving it the illusion of being much smaller. The announced 107,000 + crowd did not seem to add up to a packed Michigan Stadium. The benefits to this, though, were crowd volume, and though our seats were nosebleed, they were still awesome seats. The only bad seats appeared to be the third deck in each endzone.
(view from EHU, stock)
What struck me about the crowd was not the raucousness (though that was there), but the fact that everything was done in lock step. The "We Are" "Penn State" thing is annoying, but in person, it is a very intimidating thing. There was no argument over standing or sitting. It seemed everyone knew when to stand, which corresponded to all plays in the fourth quarter and OT. The crowd quieted on their offensive possessions. You all saw how white the white out was. None of those shirts were handed out, only the pom poms. I just had a sense of a crowd who knew exactly what they were doing. The student section was clearly GA. They filed in slowly and steadily, like a swimming pool being filled with milk, the sea of white creeping slowly up to the upper deck.
At one point in the game, I got a text message that asked "Are you sick of that stupid wildcat call yet???" to which I replied "Rawwaaawwwrrrr!!!". There is no way to overstate how annoying that cat call was. It was played at every opportunity, and then some. It sounded like a really loud gay guy kept teasing his friend for being too sassy, "Rawwwrr!" PSU needs a new DJ in their stands, as the sound was so crappy. There was no cross fades between songs, and that damned wildcat interrupted the canned music, completely out of beat. I'll hear that raaawwwawwwr in my nightmares, I'm sure.
I won't go into the game, other than the fact that there were some plays in which our receivers were further away from a PSU player than I was. It was nauseating to see us not capitalize on this.
The crowd was as expected. Overtime was surreal. Trying to portray how it felt to be sitting after the PI call in the 4th overtime would be pointless. I had my head in my hands, surrounded by a hornet's nest of activity. There was never another moment in my life so contradictory. My emotional state was completely out of mesh with the entire crowd. It was weird. Sparty was standing next to me jumping up and down. He's a dick. The crowd was loud. One giant unison of dick. They shook my hands, said "What a game!" I extended my hand as well. They were all dicks.
My reception by the fans was overall pretty tame. Coincidentally, my contact ripped in half just after the game ended, causing tears to pour down my cheeks. It was no use explaining this. The hive must have seen it funny to see a grown man cry. Sparty was filled in on the contact situation, he thought it hilarious.
Walking back out through the tailgate, I heard two "Michigan sucks" and a single "F*** you" from a guy driving by in a car. Car guy is always the most offensive, as he doesn't have to answer for his taunts. That's to be expected, although it got pretty scary when the crowd turned on the refs late in the fourth. I'm sure my reception would have been more colorful if Michigan had pulled it off.
Altogether, the experience was a solid B. It did not exceed my expectations, but given the outcome of the game, it went about as well as I could expect. I did get very drunk back at the cabin, still alone in my misery, surrounded by Sparty and the OSU fans. But that one was on me.
So earlier I got the tweet from @umichfootball that the 2018-2019 conference schedules are out. They WERE up on MGoBlue but when I checked back a half hour later to post it here, they were removed and the article said the conference will announce it at noon.
All I remember seeing was Nebraska at home in 2018 to open the conference slate, and at Wisconsin in 2019 to open conference play. The good thing about 2018-2019 is that in 2018 when Michigan is on the road at both rivals, they bring in an SEC team. They travel the following year to Arkansas when they have both rivals at home. Same deal for the VT series.
I've watched with some fascination as the board and its notable proprietors have discussed the debacle that was last Saturday's game against Penn State. Much of what has been said matches my feelings, and hence there was a bit of catharsis in scanning all the commentary about Borges, the offense, and the rest. Read the Borges Conference Video thread for a good example of this exposition.
What the board has been developing is what I call a Theory of Al Borges. It goes something like this:
- Our goal should be to win games, usually by as much as possible.
- Playcalling should reflect this goal.
- Current playcalling does not always (or even, often) reflect this goal, repeatedly doing things we are "bad" at and not taking what the defense is giving you.
- As related, current playcalling is predictable and thus defenses know exactly what is coming before it is coming.
If these statements are in fact true, it would seem that there is almost no conclusion other than (1) Al Borges is pretty bad at coaching football, and that (2) we are never going to become the offensive juggernaut many of us are hoping for. I will thus call this "Dumb Borges" theory.
Can Al really be that bad at coaching football?
As more time passed since the game, I have found my inner eternal optimist coming out, and have tried to piece together a different theory of the offense. This theory I will call "Smart Borges" theory. It goes something like this:
- Our goal, at this point in the Hoke Era, is not just to win games, but to set up to be a powerhouse in the future.
- To do so, we need to learn to be a power team, a.k.a., Manball.
- Given limited practice time, in-game time is being used not just to win games, but to see whether the O-line, etc., is able to block in certain ways, even if the defense knows it is coming.
- Thus, some fraction of playcalling will be frustrating by design, using games almost as if they are extra practice time.
- The reason this is happening in Year Three (and not Year One) is that Hoke and co. knew coming in that they had to win to establish credibility, and to do so with Denard. They did so, and now that the Denard era is over, are slowly building up to what they actually want to be.
- Thus, this year will feel a bit more like a Year One than perhaps we want, but only because that is exactly what the coaches want to do. And we know, from other examples, that Year Two can be really good.
Long story, short: perhaps the coaches are willing to sacrifice some wins this year to be better in the long run. They are using in-game time to see how the young guys do and give them real practice against live competition. While they are not throwing games away per se, this does have the effect of keeping games closer than we would like. In the Penn State game, it led to a highly improbable loss (after all, how many times are we going to give up a TD with 50 seconds left, or miss three field goals?), and it might lose us a few more games along the way this year. But, if successful, this will set up for a longer-term dynasty.
I desperately want to believe Smart Borges theory. I think there is some evidence for it, notably this excellent post (by rshp1). And like any good theory, it should be testable. If Smart Borges theory is true, I think we can make the following predictions about the upcoming season:
- That in some games this year, particularly where the staff thinks a win is likely, we will run some incredibly predictable and terrible plays. These games will be closer than we would like. Candidates: Indiana (esp. if we were not coming off a loss), maybe Iowa.
- That in "important" games this year, the staff will focus solely on winning, because they are not so oblivious to its importance. In these games, Borges and playcalling will make much more sense. Obvious candidates: MSU, OSU.
- That next year, we will have a much better and sensible run offense, with better blocking and rushing outcomes. And the year after that will be awesome.
So what do you think? Am I a rube for thinking that Smart Borges theory might be true? Which theory do you believe in? Or is there a third theory of what is happening in Michigan Football?
In the “What is the Source of Our Run Blocking Issues” thread, I offered my list of things we are doing poorly (hint: everything). This Diary delves deeper into each of those items by examining an example of each in a brief picture page format. Let’s jump right in.
1. Bad individual technique. A lot of plays start from a fresh line of scrimmage 2 yards behind where the ball was snapped because of just plain getting beat 1 vs 1.
Example: First play of Michigan’s second possession.
Pic1: Butt motions next to AJ Williams, who is the defacto LT since Lewan is lined up outside of Schofield on the right in "Tackle Over."
Pic2: Michigan runs outside zone away from Lewan/Schofield. This goes about how you'd expect. Bryant and Williams both take a step laterally and allow their guys to get in on them with leverage. Before the ball is even handed off, they’ve each ceded 2 yards. Bonus: Schofield releases without chipping the DT, leaving Lewan an impossible angle.
Pic3: By the time Fitz gets the ball he has a wall of bodies in front of him 5 yards behind the line. The DT Lewan had no chance at is also there to prevent any hope of a cutback. Michigan would go on to throw for short gain on 2nd down, then Gardner throws his first pick on 3rd.