a terrible blight on our fine country
al borges evil genius
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.
FORMATION NOTES: Michigan was split close to evenly between shotgun/pistol/under center. Notre Dame, meanwhile, was in a ton of four-man fronts until late, when they went back to more of a 4-3 look. Here you can see Shembo with his hand down and a 1-3-5 technique split to the strongside of M's formation:
I know I've mentioned in the past that Notre Dame's defense is not really all that different from Michigan's, and this game was a good demonstration of that. ND prefers over fronts when they go to a four-man line since their SAM equivalent is Jaylon Smith, a fast light bugger. I guess that's kind of a big difference. The point is: ND runs a lot of four man fronts.
Here's ND's 3-4:
The DL are head up on the Michigan OL, with the SAM over the TEs and Smith is over the slot.
This is the pistol. Pew pew:
Another 4-3 over from ND.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: QB Gardner, RB Toussaint on almost every play. Derrick Green got in for two, I think, and M lined up Norfleet as a back once. The line was the starters the whole game, but when Lewan got poked in the eye, Michigan sent in Magnuson, not Braden. Lewan returned, so Magnuson didn't get a snap. He's your #3 tackle it appears.
Williams, Funchess, and Butt all played plenty; Williams went out with an injury, came back for a few plays, and then left permanently. At WR, Gallon (obvious) with Chesson and Jackson rotating more heavily than Reynolds, who may still be dinged. Excepting the Norfleet package early, the slot was always Dileo. Michigan never had more than two outside WRs in the game. On passing downs they filled out with Funchess and Dileo.
[After THE JUMP: slicing and dicing goes both ways.]
Al Borges CMU press conference:
"He's a third play guy. You guys have heard me talk about the third play, right? He's a third play guy."
Devin Gardner's ridiculous redzone efficiency last year has gone to ludicrous this year. The standard answer we've been giving for this is "well his legs and size" but there's been more to it. I grabbed this one play from the ND game because it shows several things that Gardner and Borges have been doing to defeat what should have been one of their toughest redzone opponents.
What you saw: Michigan gets a 1st and goal from the 2 yard line after a pass interference. They line up in…is that an unbalanced formation? Then Devin checks out of it, runs what seems like an option play, then dives through the whole thing suddenly for the score. Afterward we learn Hoke was trying to call timeout.
Play the First: Ace 2TE Twins Unbalanced HB Dive:
It is unbalanced: Funchess (on the l.o.s. just outside the left hash) is covered by Reynolds, and Schofield
is an eligible receiver would be eligible if he had a non-OL number on. There's also some epic space between the end (Sheldon Day) and the linebacker to his side (Shembo).
The middle linebackers are seeing this and pointing. Let 'em; we're motioning to something else anyway.
[after the jump]
9/7/2013 – Michigan 41, Notre Dame 30 – 2-0
The media trend of the last ten years is a demonstration of the power of hope. There are now three national networks covering recruiting, plus ESPN, plus a cottage industry of who-dat bloggers who get picked up by these national networks far faster than actual journalism majors get picked up by, you know, newspapers. (Michigan has no journalism major, which explains why you can't throw a rock at a sports editor without causing him to hire a Daily grad.) This site alone saw two guys snapped up and almost hired a third who was snapped up just a bit later. Meanwhile, newspapers continue to give us Drew Sharp and wonder why they're withering on the vine.
Here's all you need to know about recruiting sites: they can charge for content on the internet. Hope, man. Hope.
Because the next guy is always going to be The Guy. The Guy will rescue us from the purgatory of not being Alabama and deliver us unto glory. He may be a defensive back, or a running back, or a quarterback, or a defensive lineman. He is going to be Woodson or Adrian Peterson or Andrew Luck or Jadeveon Clowney—except Clowney's defense just got torched for 41 points and lost.
Jadeveon Clowney! Indisputably The Guy, and somehow still not. If Jadeveon Clowney can't be the guy, well… there's always the recruiting sites. It's college football. The next arrival is always just around the corner.
Devin Gardner turned in what I can confidently state is the worst play in the history of organized football—I have watched all of it from Pop Warner on up—and was still awesome Saturday night. Awesome. I do not mean this in the Spots-gave-me-extra-wings way. I mean this in the light-from-the-sky, tremble-at-the-power, bow-down-lest-we-all-perish kind of way. If I could use the words "yea" and "lo" genuinely, I would deploy them now. The numbers are amazing. The numbers do not do it justice.
Here's the thing about Notre Dame's defense: it's going to be just fine. Gardner ate plenty of defensive lineman Saturday, usually after delivering a perfectly-placed dart. Notre Dame blitzed him almost two-thirds of the time and got the one huge mistake and nothing else. Notre Dame defensive backs were, with rare exceptions, in position to make a play on anything other than a perfectly-placed ball. They could not make plays without committing pass interference, called or not, because Devin Gardner was spitting hot death all night long.
If you happen to rewatch that game you'll see did-that-just-happen surgical strikes even more impressive the second time around.
On third and goal from the 14, Drew Dileo screwed up his route. He ran next to Gallon, bringing a third defender into the area. Gardner fired a ball in between all three guys that hit Gallon in the hands instead of the chest because KeiVarae Russell was riding him like a horse. Earlier in the drive he'd tossed up that back-shoulder throw that he might have been attempting against Central Michigan when he got hit, and Gallon plucked it out of the air. Russell was there. He just couldn't do anything about it.
By the fourth quarter, Gardner and Gallon had become so proficient at the back shoulder fade that Notre Dame was actually sitting on it, which I have never seen before. There were a lot of things last night that I haven't seen before in a winged helmet, that have traditionally been the province of passing specialists like Texas Tech. They tried to man up Crab, once, and Texas Tech beat the #1 team in the country without a running game or defense. Michigan has at least one of those.
In the aftermath, Michael Crabtree looked a lot like you did at some point last night:
IS THIS REAL LIFE
Oh and Gardner led the team in rushing at 7.5 yards an attempt. He might be The Guy. Gardner hinted at this kind of thing over the last six games, and now he has delivered. You could feel it coming, maybe, but Michigan just graduated a guy who was The Guy, like Jadeveon Clowney is, and could not get over the hump, like Clowney. Even in the world where talent comes through it doesn't always end up steamrolling the opposition.
Devin Gardner just left Notre Dame a two-dimensional smudge in the rear view mirror, and now it's downhill for a while. Shovel on a little more coal, and let's watch old 98 roll.
Parkinggod has the Michigan stuff:
And Notre Dame has some things that Notre Dame did right:
Pressers are available from Maize and Blue News.
Gardner thing from Gameday:
Also a lady got hit real hard.
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. How does a guy who threw four touchdowns at nearly 10 YPA and ran for 90 additional yards split this award? Well, to get the award by himself he has to be a separate entity from guy who caught eight of his passes for 184 yards. This does not appear to be the case. DevinJeremy GardnerGallon, come on down.
Honorable Mention. Thomas Gordon and Jarrod Wilson (invisible all game in a good way), Drew Dileo (THROW IT TO DILEO), Brendan Gibbons (your record-holder for kicking consistency /2009 version of your head explodes), Blake Countess (drifted off his man for critical INT), Brian Kelly (thanks for not running the ball).
SPECIAL NEW RULE. Doubling points from this game because I can.
Epic Double Point Standings.
1.0: Devin Gardner (ND), Jeremy Gallon (ND)
0.5: Cam Gordon (CMU), Brennen Beyer (CMU)
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. Since it featured Borges screwing with ND, an NFL dart from Gardner, a crazy spin move from Gallon, and Chesson The Destroyer reveling in the blood of the fallen, this is an easy pick:
Honorable mention: Countess's game-changing interception, Jeremy Jackson catching a long handoff for seven yards because ND is playing in the parking lot against Jeremy Jackson for some reason, Fitz Toussaint using a tackle attempt as an awesome juke to dart 20 yards when Michigan really needed something, either of Gardner's perfect back-shoulder throws to Gallon, Gardner nailing Gallon 40 yards downfield, and Gardner taking off on a zone read so open you'd think Stephen Threet was running it.
Epic Double Fist-Pumps Past.
8/31/2013: Dymonte Thomas introduces himself by blocking a punt.
9/7/2013: Jeremy Gallon spins through four Notre Dame defenders for a 61-yard touchdown.
[After THE JUMP: offense, defense, and everything in-between. Plus incredible chicken gif!]
HAPPY THANKSGIVING. This will be the only post today, probably.
Formation notes: You make one offhand comment about how this notes section gets boring late in the year and Al Borges goes and does that. Okay, so. For the TE/WR/RB section I am classifying Gardner as a WR and Denard as a RB when they are not at QB.
Michigan had two different backfields featuring Denard behind Gardner with one or two lead blockers flanking him. I could have called this one "offset I three-wide" but it felt more correct to note it as a Fritz variant:
Since Michigan does have a declared strength here I tabbed the Iowa defense here an under. They also ran the two-FB version, which is just plain old Fritz.
The thing I used to call Denard Jet also re-emerged:
And then there was… this.
In keeping with this blog's tradition of naming weird things he hasn't seen after the nearest equivalent in NCAA Football X, this was dubbed "far twin TE."
Formation lingo may not match your local football talking guy and is merely present to help facilitate communicative acts.
Substitution notes: Line as per usual. Tight ends as per usual. Joe Reynolds got some burn at wide receiver on actual passing plays, catching a long handoff type thing that Gardner clearly aborted to—about which more later—and a hitch on which it looked like he ran a nice route, for all I know about route running. Other than that, WRs were as per usual including usual lack of focus on throwing to Dileo when not throwing to Gallon or Roundtree.
Toussaint went out early with his injury; after that it was all Rawls and Smith until very late; Justice Hayes did get in at fullback(!) on a play where Michigan ran an iso. Oh and that Denard guy played some.
[AFTER THE JUMP: TURKEY no just UFR]
“Ah. How we doin’?”
“Got a full house today! Wonder why’s that?”
You draw a crowd.
“I’m being Elvis.”
Speaking of a full house … what is it that you call your formation with Denard in the backfield?
“We call it, ‘Denard in the backfield.’ How about the word of the day? We have to take care of that.”
What’s the word of the day? [Chantel Jennings would like to point out that this is not an MGoQuestion.]
“Resolve. Heiko, any technical questions?”
MGo: Uh …
“The finer points of attacking quarters coverage, maybe?”
MGo: Actually, yeah.
“That was stupid. That’s the stupidest thing I could have said. Go ahead.”
MGoQuestion: Virginia Tech’s aggressive quarters coverage made it hard for you to run the quarterback last year. Do you see that as a problem against Ohio State?
“They play totally different than Virginia Tech. Their structure is different defense. Really is. Now they may take a little bit of the same mentality, but from an X and O perspective, it’s a different.”
MGoFollowup: But in terms of having aggressive opposing safeties, does that make you hesitant to run the QB at all?
“Nope. Nope. Nooo.”
How many possibilities can there be having both Denard and Devin on the field?
“I don’t know.”
Legitimately you don’t know? Or do you just not want to answer?
“I don’t want to answer.”