Mike Lantry, 1972
al borges hates bubble screens
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.
HELLO! HI! I AM BLUE! I AM A TUBE! I HOPE AT LEAST TEN OTHER STUDENTS MAKE BLUE TUBES! HELLO! ISN'T LIFE EXICTING!
THING NOTES: Torrent had no audio this week, so neither do the clips. Good news for people who get creeped out by the walrus lovemaking noises in the slow ones.
FORMATION NOTES: A note on nomenclature here: Indiana had a kind of weird system where they had a linebacker/safety type (6'1", 225) out over the slot.
That in itself isn't too weird against spread formations, but he still hung out over the slot when there was one in I-form twins packages and the like, and Indiana brought down a safety.
I designated IU formations with that guy in the gray area (and no safety down) "nickel" since the defensive formation thing is more about what the O is looking at than personnel packages the opponent has in and I felt their slot LB was a Hybrid Space Player, but I understand if you think IU was just in a 4-3 all game.
As for Michigan, they did not do much exotic in terms of formations. A lot of shotgun 3-wide stuff, some ace, some I-Form, etc. A couple things: I've changed Funchess to a WR in my personnel set tracking, so if you see "shotgun 3-wide" with four WRs that's because Funchess is the TE-type-substance. Also, when there are only four skill position players that's because Michigan has brought in an extra offensive lineman. Tackle over was still employed but rather rare.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Hoo boy. First: QB and RB were pretty obvious, with Green getting more run than he has in some other games in the past. FB was about split between Kerridge and Houma.
WR was a ton of Gallon and Funchess. Dileo went out early with an injury, leaving Jeremy Jackson to pick up most of the slot snaps. Chesson got in a bit but has clearly ceded a lot of PT to Funchess; Reynolds got a few snaps.
TE was mostly Butt and Williams; Williams ceded snaps to a sixth OL and also Jordan Paskorz, who got in some good blocks in the middle of the game. Funchess also lined up at TE from time to time.
And the OL. Burzynski started, tore his ACL, was replaced by Bosch. Glasgow was the C. Lewan was the LT, Magnuson the RG, Schofield the RT, except when guys were flipping all over the place. This game's version of tackle over was almost always a 6 OL with Kalis reclaiming his RG spot and Lewan flanking someone else: Schofield on the left and Magnuson on the right. Much less likely to get your QB murdered.
I noted OL changes in the notes below. Anyone not mentioned is playing their usual position. Apologies for cutesy name shortenings, but you try writing "Burzynski" and "Magnuson" for 80 plays. (Schofield defies shortening.)
[After the JUMP: nuclear samba Gallon.]
Reader and graphic designer Brian Downing shows off his skills with the above, which I wish I was aware of before attempting my own "Al Borges is trolling us all" GIF:
Brian's (NTB's) is obviously superior; both of these are exempted from voting this week since they're edited. There's still plenty to choose from after the jump, mostly featuring Indiana not playing defense and various reactions to the on-field insanity. It's a good crop, so...
Here is dragonchild's summary of Michigan's offensive gameplan versus Penn State.
Doing exactly what we've done 18 times before is exactly the last thing they'll expect us to do this time! (Remote play prohibited; click the photo or here)
After studying abroad I spent two months backpacking Europe, marveling at their master works while being constantly amazed at the pointless waste accumulated over genera. Nearly every city and town has at least one monument (pre-Napoleonic ones are inside the churches) to townsfolk whose lives were the grist in one war or another's death mill. Overwhelming bodies marching toward an objective worked for the first Louis and Edward, and Europe kept running that same play—regardless of technology—for another thousand years.
Afterwards I spent a week ("The Long Shower") at a friend's apartment in London to get reacquainted with civilization, playing Perfect Dark, watching Black Adder tapes, and just appreciating the hell out of the fact that I was born to the one country in Western Civilization that expects tactical change whenever something isn't working. We lost one Custer (and frankly he probably deserved it) by telegraphing where our inferior force would be, then stopped doing that. From the Euro perspective America is the country that came to the trench war with tanks, and the tank war with an Air Force. Huddling isn't just outdated; it's un-American. As for sending barely trained draftees into machine gun emplacements…
It's not the Philosophy; It's the Fit. Here's Eye of the Tiger from his updated "Reading the Tea Leaves":
Now, as an aside, can we please bury the notion that this result had anything to do with inherent superiority of offensive scheme or philosophy? We didn’t lose because “MANBALL” (i.e. i-formations, power running, play-action and so forth) is inherently worse than “basketball on grass.” (i.e. shotgun spread formations, read-option running, constraint passing and so forth). We lost because our coaches called plays we don’t have the personnel for, then called them again and again when it should have been clear that we couldn’t execute them. Wisconsin, Stanford and Alabama can. We cannot. It’s that simple.
Before there was the UFR of the offense reshp1 tried his hand at identifying what went wrong with the run blocking. This leaves the coaches out of it and talks about the technique problems on the OL:
Conclusion. I can only imagine how frustrated the coaches are getting at this point. There is no one problem or even one guy. Quite the opposite, on any given play, we have the ability to screw up in 4-5 different ways, by anyone on the line save maybe Lewan. That’s wack-a-mole futility right there, where do you even start?
That was bumped. The other bump this week was bronxblue's Best and Worst weekly, which is beginning to really stand out for Sunday content after a game. Co-sign everything up until he says 5 wins and a crazy loss ain't so bad: immediately after it ended I was like "we deserved that," but each day since I'm convinced the level of persistent coach derp it exposed, has me terrified. How confident are you that they're saying to themselves "Wow, predicating our offense on the bet that our young guards will play like All-Americans was just about the dumbest thing we've ever coached; we need to take all of this criticism to heart." So how do things get better?
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.
What are you stressing in practice this week?
“Well, getting ready for Indiana and getting ready for the rest of our season. It’s playing fast. Teams we play send a lot of tempo at you, and sometimes the next play is in 7 seven. It’s guys getting back to the huddle, it’s guys getting the signal on the fly, all those things. The good thing is we’ve been working on the rotation all along. If a guy has to play five plays rather than three plays, fine, we’ll get them in and out that way.”
Some teams prepare for a high tempo offense by having two entire scout offenses rotate in and out. Do you do that at all?
“Well Brady does a great job with that. We’ve played against this kind of offense before. Brady does a great job getting the tempo as fast as it can be.”