al borges hates audibles
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.
Word of the day?
“Huh? Uh, let me think about that one.”
MGoPetulant: “Fake bubble.”
“… Okay. Questions.”
Will you keep the same five offensive linemen that you ended the game with?
“We’ll see. It’s going to be competitive, but those five guys did a pretty good job during the game. It’s going to get tougher. And we’re going to have to demonstrate some consistency. But if they can do that, they will be the five offensive linemen. But we’re not eliminating anybody. We still have some talented kids in the wings. We’re trying to keep this thing competitive. Do we want the five guys? Yes, we do. I’ll answer the question before you ask it. But that being said, we got to this point where we’re pretty functional now because we’ve kept it competitive. We don’t like doing it this way. We’d rather just have the same five from the beginning, but it hasn’t worked out that way.”
MGoQuestion: After looking at the film, did you think Kyle Bosch and Erik Magnuson an upgrade at the guard positions?
“I don’t know if they were an upgrade. They were an alternative, and they had a chance to prove what they can do. They didn’t do a bad job. Upgrade is a pretty strong word. I wouldn’t say that.”
Another identity. [Upchurch]
We predicted at the start of the season that Michigan is talented enough to finish with 9 or 10 wins given normal progression and competent coaching—more if they get the breaks to go their way. After flirting with several disasters before finally succumbing to one, it is clear that the progression is way behind schedule and the offensive play-calling in a severe detriment.
The coaching staff:
Brian completely insane.
Seth finally past my patience point.
Ace and 12; let's line up in an unbalanced formation and run into a 9-man front.
Mathe definition of insanity is actually the definition of science, and Michigan's offense is scientific proof that bashing one's head into a wall repeatedly is not a successful strategy, which most people knew without the study.
Coach broken; it's dead Jim.
Heiko you know the bubble screen is open.
Blue in so long dreams of beating Ohio State.
Time to reassess the season. Can Michigan defeat anyone left on their schedule and make a bowl this year? Will the coaches be able to find offensive competence? What's the expected fallout of a bad November? Is this a massive overreaction?
|Would we be this upset if Gibbons made one more FG like he does always? Honestly yes but we'd feel less inclined to feel like it's the right time to criticize. [Upchurch]|
- We are a Gibbon's chip shot from being 6-0 right now.
- Devin Gardner leading this offense can be very dangerous.
- This defense has been solid and just got's its biggest playmaker back.
- Michigan should be at least a toss up if not favored against the remaining schedule before The Game, which is at home this year.
- We're rightfully furious at last weekend's game plan in a game in which we scored 34 points in regulation.
- That game plan was dreadful and it was far from the first.
- The defense is far from dominant.
- At this point, there are no gimmes left on the schedule.
Where does that leave us, I have no clue. This is both a seriously flawed team and a team that has played far below its potential and is nearly undefeated. I could see this team going 5-1 and playing for a Big Ten title. They could also go 2-4 and limp to the finish. Will the coaches find offensive competence? If they don't have it now, no reason to indicate its going to change. There will be some lip service and probably some window dressing but I'm not expecting any fundamental changes.
Chances are this is the low point but there will certainly be more pain ahead. I have no clue what Hoke is thinking now. He came in talking MANBALL at first it seemed more lip service to the faithful than true philosophy. Over the last two seasons or so things have been creeping back to a results/personnel/performance independent MANBALL philosophy. Realistically, things will look slightly better over the course of the year but the fundamental problems will hold. My guess is that in a world where things don't really change, there is enough success that Hoke gives Borges another year with some of the new toys a year older before seriously considering a change.
A tire fire conclusion to the season would obviously change that timeline, but I don't see that happening. There are enough pieces in place for this team to finish out with at least eight wins and nine is certainly still on the table. The sky isn't falling as fast as it seems this week but at this point I feel comfortable putting a solid ceiling on the offense. The talent will be there to dominate 8-9 games every year but the remaining games will be end up being various levels of excruciating.
One of the most frustrating problems with Michigan's offense is they appear to be burning a lot of first downs by running Toussaint into stacked lines. Whether it's zone blocked or man, they've been tipping it the same with the same results. The concept has been discussed on here and will be again until it stops; my purpose today is to add some numbers to that discussion.
Love Affair with 2nd and Long. Excising all the non-normal situations (4th quarters, burning clock, attempting a comeback, 2-minute drill at the end of a half) here's a a quick breakdown of playcalls this year on first down:
- 101 handoffs to running backs for 3.0 YPC and 6 TDs
- 28 passes for 10.7 YPA, one interception, and 2 TDs
- 20 play-action passes for 17.8 YPA, one interception and 4 TDs
- 17 options for 5.6 YPA and a TD
- 7 called Gardner runs for 2.7 YPA
- 7 wide receiver runs for 10 YPA
- 4 screens for 5.8 YPA
- 2 false starts
Like basketball the efficiency of the things you do goes down the more you do them, and the efficiency of the counters goes up. I don't doubt that the ridiculous numbers for PA passes above are because it's five times more likely to be a handoff.
Michigan's is not the only bad offense that does this. The thing that MSU was doing when they had Le'Veon Bell was running him into stacked lines again and again to open up the occasional big play for a receiver or tight end. This burned a lot of first downs and killed a lot of drives but when you just need 17 points to win you'll take a high variance in drive results. What made it worthwhile was Bell was one of the best backs in the country at getting yards after contact. If a safety came down to fill the hole Bell could still run (or leap) over that guy and thus set up 2nd and manageable. This year they don't have the OL or the RBs to do that, so they line up to pass on 1st down far more often.
Borges doesn't have the RBs or the OL to do that and haven't adjusted. Instead he's gone the other direction, selling out even further with the unbalanced lines, and running even more often.
- UFR database (through Minn) says…
|YPA, 1st Play of Drive||YPA, All 1st Downs|
…that Michigan's drives are starting off with a whimper. If I take out 4th quarters and situations when Michigan is down more than two scores we're getting just 2.9 YPC on 1st down runs, which is over 73% of 1st down playcalls. But I showed the above because that's what Bill O'Brien was probably looking at when he and his coaches strategized for this game.
Let's play Being Bill O'Brien. This is how he responded. Here's the first play of the game:
[after the jump]
10/12/2013 – Michigan 40, Penn State 43 (4OT) – 5-1, 1-1 Big Ten
Mace triptych, by Eric Upchurch
Devin Gardner dropped back to pass. He had two guys in the route, both of them headed to the endzone from the 40 yard line. Two seconds later he ate a blindside sack, because Taylor Lewan was pretending he was a tight end and AJ Williams was pretending he was a left tackle.
Last year in Notre Dame Stadium, Denard Robinson faked a handoff and turned around to find Stephon Tuitt in his face. He reacted badly, because he always reacted badly in that situation.
This fall, Michigan told the offensive line they should do that stretch blocking thing the coaches had run maybe six times the previous two years.
Drew Dileo watched most of these things from the bench and Dennis Norfleet all of them because Michigan would rather play underclass tight ends who couldn't shove a toddler into a ball pit in three tries.
Any individual play can be blamed on a player. Any structural issue in the first couple years can be attached to the previous coach. But there's a breaking point at which it becomes clear that something is deeply wrong with the guys in charge, and this Penn State game was the offensive equivalent of watching Matt McGloin shred a clueless JT Floyd and company in 2010.
I went back into Michigan's statistics archive, which goes back to 1949, and pulled out the top 200 running back games in that database in terms of carries (the max allowed). The sample ranges from 51 to 23, and here's the bottom of it in YPC:
|Don Moorhead||25||57||2.3||0||1969||Michigan State|
|Anthony Thomas||29||60||2.1||0||8||2000||Ohio State|
|Fitzgerald Toussaint||27||27||1||0||12||2013||Penn State|
We're talking about the worst game from a tailback in the history of the program here, and nothing about it was actually Toussaint's fault. This is Greg Robinson level output. The only faith you can have in the offensive coaching is that two to four times a year they will come out with a gameplan so clueless that you spend four quarters telling yourself that you won't send that BORGERG tweet out. It's time to break the seal.
There are ways to work around the personnel limitations Michigan has, but they are not the ones Michigan wants to run. They want to be a rough and tumble Stanford offense; they spend large chunks of games with one wide receiver and three guys vaguely inclined towards blocking, and they've spent almost a month of precious practice time installing an unbalanced formation that resulted in the above table as soon as an opponent saw it on tape. This has been a miscalculation as bad as believing Russell Bellomy was ready to back up the oft-injured Denard Robinson, with results exactly like the second half of last year's Nebraska game.
This is nothing like what Rodriguez did on offense because there was no offense in which Stephen Threet, Nick Sheridan, seven scholarship OL, and a parade of freshmen at wide receiver would be effective. It is instead exactly like what he did on defense: faithlessly pretend to fit personnel to scheme early, ditch that at the first sign of trouble, shoehorn players into roles they are not fit for, make alarmingly large mid-season changes, and get the minimum possible out of available talent. Michigan is 117th in tackles for loss allowed, giving up eight per game.
No offensive line is bad enough to pave the way for 27 yards on 27 carries, because teams running for one god damn yard an attempt stop doing it.
There are problems up and down the team that I can list if you like. Devin Gardner has Miley Cyrus-level ball security. Taylor Lewan went out. Rich Rodriguez didn't recruit any offensive linemen. Brendan Gibbons should be able to make a 33-yard field goal in the dead center of the field. Yes, all of these things. Granted. At some point, though, you zoom out from the micro issues that can be explained away and you get this:
Michigan 14, MSU 28: 250 yards of offense
Michigan 16, Iowa 24: 323 yards of offense, 166 50 minutes into the game when M went into hurry-up shotgun throwing
Michigan 23, Virginia Tech 20 (OT): 184 yards of offense
Michigan 6, ND 13: 299 yards of offense and 5 INTs
Michigan 9, Nebraska 23: 188 yards of offense and 3 INTs
Michigan 21, Ohio State 26: 279 yards of offense and 4 TOs
Michigan 28, UConn 24: 284 yards of offense and 3 TOs
Penn State 43, Michigan 40 (4OT): 389 yards of offense in 19 opportunities, zero OT TDs, 3 TO, worst rushing performance ever by a Michigan tailback
If you are so inclined you can add games against Alabama and MSU last year plus the 2011 Notre Dame game to the pile; I certainly don't think anything about UTL was to Borges's credit.
There have been some brilliant games over the last three years, but we're one upcoming debacle away from having a third straight year in which a quarter of Michigan's games feature offensive performances that are (almost) impossible to win with. Some of those could be explained away by injury or bad luck or a flood of turnovers from the quarterback, except that the offensive coordinator is also the quarterbacks coach.
After his year three at Michigan found high expectations dashed, John Beilein overhauled his program. Now he's coming off a national title game appearance, on the verge of making Michigan into a top-ten program. Unless there's a major turnaround, Brady Hoke's going to have some hard decisions this offseason.
Unless they're easy ones.
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. Frank Clark was in the right place at the right time to scoop a ball off the turf and score when Michigan opened the second half down eleven and added two sacks besides as part of the best damn 43-point performance college football's ever seen, so let's give it to him.
Honorable mention: Raymon Taylor had a pick and was generally avoided otherwise; Devin Funchess had another 100 yard game as a "tight end"; Jeremy Gallon remains an excellent safety blanket and all-around player.
Epic Double Point Standings.
1.0: Devin Gardner (ND), Jeremy Gallon (ND), Desmond Morgan(UConn), Devin Funchess(Minnesota), Frank Clark(PSU)
0.5: Cam Gordon (CMU), Brennen Beyer (CMU)
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. Should I even do this after that? I probably shouldn't. I will anyway: Funchess's second touchdown displayed his incredible potential, as he shot through the center of the defense to get over the top. This one wins because Penn State was actually trying to cover him this time.
Honorable mention: Gallon's shake gets him wide open for a touchdown; Chris Wormley rips through to sack Hack, as does Jibreel Black, as does Frank Clark a couple times; Fitzgerald Toussaint gets past the line of scrimmage that one time.
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.
9/14/2013: Michigan does not lose to Akron. Thanks, Thomas Gordon.
9/21/2013: Desmond Morgan's leaping one-handed spear INT saves Michigan's bacon against UConn.
10/5/2013: Fitzgerald Toussaint runs for ten yards, gets touchdown rather easily.
10/12/2013: Devin Funchess shoots up the middle of the field to catch a 40 yard touchdown, staking Michigan to a ten-point lead they wouldn't relinquish. (Right?)
[After the JUMP: decisions, and the rest of things.]
“ ’Sup? What are you shaking your head about?”
I’m laughing at your “Giants and Tigers, it’s on” thing.
“It’s on. I’m fired up.”
Are you a baseball fan?
“Yeah, but not as much now as normal. Just a little more focused on other things, but I’m like anybody else. I like watching Sportscenter.”
What’s the word of the day?
“The word of the day? God. Good question. What’s the word of the day … Hmm. ‘Ear confection.’ Yeah. ‘Ear confection.’ It’s two words, actually. She has an ear confection. That’s what she said. And I’ll be darned if I’m going to correct her. It’s too cute listening to her say it.”
What did you see from the Michigan State film that you liked?
“Oh, certainly wasn’t flashy. But there were some good plays. We played a very close-to-the-vest football game offensively. It was by my own admission conservative. The nice thing about it, as much as we failed inside the red area -- or we could have been better because there were some chances there -- but our quarterback took care of the ball. Other than when it was in essence a meaningless interception at the end of the half. He did play pretty smart. It kept us in the game although it wasn’t flashy. That part I liked, which has shown, the last three weeks particularly, is his growth. About being conscious of taking care of the football, making plays where there are plays, and not trying to create something that’s not there. That was good, and that will help us in the future I think.”