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.
The firing of offensive coordinator Al Borges obviously shook things up among Michigan fans as Twitter and MGoBlog almost exploded once the news dropped. Then all that happened was a pluck-job of Alabama’s offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. Again, the Michigan universe went into a frenzy. How is all of this affecting recruits? I was able to touch base with a few just to get an idea of how the decision is sitting with people who will and might wear the Maize and Blue.
2014 TE commit Ian Bunting
The Fire: Coach Borges did help recruit me so it’s obviously not the ideal situation but I trust that the staff is only making decisions that are in the best interest of the team. I’m still set on Michigan though! I have no idea who the replacement could or should be. Someone who likes to pass a lot, especially to the tight ends. Maybe the New England Patriots OC? (Laughs)
The Hire: It’s awesome! The OC from Bama? It’s sweet. It’s definitely encouraging. I just hope he likes throwing to his tight ends. I do know that he likes winning.
2014 RB offeree Vic Enwere
The Fire: Coach Borges getting fired changes things for me a little bit. It’s just going to take more time now to understand the new offensive approach. Coach Borges and I had a great talk when I went up there and a little bit before that too. We haven’t really talked since my last visit. I’m not sure if the words “hurt Michigan’s chances” are accurate but it does make it a bit tougher. Uncertainty just makes it tough.
The Hire: I honestly never heard his name before but I am familiar with his style. Being the offensive coordinator from Alabama definitely means something though.
2015 OL offeree Sterling Jenkins
The Fire: I definitely respect Coach Borges as a person but I hope I get to meet the new OC and I hope no one else from the staff goes. On my visit I mostly talked to Coach Borges and Coach Funk so we for sure had a relationship. Him being fired won’t really affect me. That has been happening all over the country. Michigan won’t hire someone who’s not up for the job. I think they’ll be okay, if not better from this move.
The Hire: I am looking forward to meeting him. He definitely has a good track record coming from Bama.
2015 WR offeree Christian Kirk
The Fire: I never got a chance to talk to Coach Borges during the bowl practice so I don’t really have a thought on him being fired. It doesn’t change anything for me in regards to Michigan.
The Hire: Interesting! We will see what he brings to Michigan! It helps Michigan’s case in my mind because I’m interested to see if he can turn it around. If he decides to come in contact with me it definitely helps Michigan’s chances.
2015 QB offeree David Sills:
The Fire: I’ve actually never talked to Coach Borges but I heard he was a great coach. He wasn’t personally involved with me and my offer. I’m not sure if I’m going to visit Michigan or not. Having two teammates up there means Michigan will always be an option. Right now though I am still with USC.
The Hire: I’m sure he will do great at Michigan. Michigan has always been attractive to me and always will be, so no real change.
2015 QB target Jimmy Fitzgerald:
The Fire: I just heard about Coach Borges being fired. I haven’t ever talked to him too much, Coach Mallory is my main contact. It doesn’t really change my view on Michigan. It’s not exactly the news I’d like to hear but Michigan is still a very attractive school both academically and athletically.
The Hire: That’s big time!
2015 QB target Kyle Kearns:
The Fire: Wow, I didn’t know anything about Coach Borges getting fired. I probably talked to him maybe 2 or more weeks ago. I’m still very interested in Michigan though, I’ll make sure to talk Coach Ferrigno about it the next time we talk.
The Hire: It’s awesome. I am really good friends with Coach Nuss. I have been in contact with him since last year.
2015 QB target Riley Neal:
The Fire: I had no idea they were thinking about firing him. I talked to Coach Borges maybe a week or two ago, but it’s crazy that he’s fired. Him getting fired doesn’t really change my view on Michigan. I liked Coach Borges but I still like the program they have at Michigan. I’m interested to see who they hire. I plan on calling one of the GA’s here soon to see if he knows anything.
The Hire: I think it’s a good hire for them. It should help Michigan in my eyes because he has won national championships and that’s always the goal so he brings that experience in with him.
2015 QB target Nick Johns:
The Fire: I heard about Coach Borges getting fired while I was at school. Now I’ll just wait and see who they hire. It doesn’t change anything for me right now. It’s been a long time since I’ve talked with Coach Borges. I kind of assumed he might be let go since he stopped talking to me. Hopefully Michigan will hire someone good.
The Hire: That’s a great move of power on Michigan’s part. It absolutely helps their cause in my eyes.
2015 QB target Alex Malzone:
The Fire: Man, I had no idea Coach Borges would be fired. I have always stayed in touch with Dan Ifft and then Coach Singletary a little bit so we’ll see who is brought in next. Obviously I’ve started to build a relationship with Coach Borges but it’s still Michigan football and they will bring in the right guy. I haven’t talked to Coach Borges since my Ohio State visit. I’m anxious to see who they hire.
The Hire: It’s a great hire, I’m excited about it. I’ve always been high on Michigan but it is a boost in my interest. I plan on calling Coach Ifft today to see what’s going on.
2015 QB target Zach Gentry
The Hire: (I didn’t hear back from Zach until news had surfaced that Nussmeier would be the replacement so we discussed only that) I think it’s a really solid hire! He balances the running and passing game well and he makes the system easy on the quarterback. I’d say it definitely helps Michigan in my eyes. I think it’s important that they have a really balanced attack. they seem to have the right players coming in that can help plus solid returning offensive guys. I’m still highly interested in Michigan. Coaching changes are going to happen everywhere. It doesn’t take anything away from Michigan and their tradition. I think I’ll probably try to reach out and get in touch with Coach Nussmeier and get established with him.
When you have success at the level that Alabama has, it carries a lot of weight and the reactions from commits and targets is clear evidence of that. The hiring of Nussmeier has already sent a shot of rejuvenation into the Michigan fanbase as well as potential Michigan players.
It is going to be really interesting to see how this hire affects recruiting as well. I’m very curious to see how the 2015 quarterback situation shakes out now, as Borges sort of ran the show on that evaluation. #1 2015 QB Ricky Town was recruited to Alabama by Nussmeier and while I don’t see him bailing on Bama, I’m sure Nuss will get in touch with him. Intrigue all around with a splash hire like this.
Per the Athletic Department, offensive coordinator Al Borges has been fired. Here's the entirety of the press release:
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- University of Michigan head football coach Brady Hoke announced today (Wednesday, Jan. 8) that offensive coordinator Al Borges will not be retained for the 2014 season.
"Decisions like these are never easy," said Hoke. "I have a great amount of respect for Al as a football coach and, more importantly, as a person. I appreciate everything he has done for Michigan Football for the past three seasons."
Prior to joining U-M in 2011, Borges was a member of Hoke's staff at San Diego State in 2009 and '10.
The Wolverines will begin spring practice on Feb. 25 and finish with the annual Spring Game on Saturday, April 5, at Michigan Stadium.
The fallout will be covered in exhaustive detail in the coming days. One interesting candidate—coincidentally, from Borges' former school—is rumored to have been contacted by Brady Hoke regarding the now-open position, according to coachingsearch.com:
A source tells me that Brady Hoke has reached out to UCLA offensive coordinator / quarterbacks coach Noel Mazzone and at least one NFL assistant, though Mazzone isn't likely to leave for Ann Arbor.
Mazzone runs an "uptempo no-huddle spread," according to Chris Brown (Smart Football); even if he's not interested in the job, moving in that direction would certainly please the people who write for this here blog. As for recruiting, it's unlikely the class of 2014 will be affected much, if at all, and there's plenty of time to make up any lost ground in the 2015 class. Again, we'll have much, much more on this in the coming days.
Brian Sipe and Al Borges did not see eye to eye
Nope. When Borges arrived someone asked him about having a QB coach, and he said that he wasn't a fan of the setup they had at SDSU, where Brian Sipe was hired as a dedicated QB coach. That relationship was strained, it seems, and Borges now handles all that himself.
My google-fu has failed me in an effort to find this quote, but a couple years back there was a direct statement from Borges that he prefers to work with the QBs himself, alone.
UPDATE: a commenter comes through.
“I’m sure there were times I was driving Brian nuts, because I was being driven nuts. Coaching quarterbacks is more my M.O.”
What is the argument for Borges?
What is the argument for Borges?
Watching bowl games and I'm jealous of Iowa and their dinosaur coaching staff occasionally running up tempo offense.
Al Borges has either had the game pass him by or hasn't trusted his QBs at michigan one bit. They don't/can't run tempo, don't/can't get out of the huddle in time to gather any info on the defensive alignment pre-snap and don't/can't commit to any spread concepts that put playmakers in space and pressure defenders to make one on one plays in space.
Michigan's offense doesn't take advantage of ANY of the benefits of modern college offenses.
The argument in his favor is that he does tend to have high YPA offenses when he has decent quarterbacks, and in YPA is generally regarded as the stat most predictive of victory. If you've heard the roundtable on WTKA this year you've heard Craig bring this up weekly, at which point I shoot him down because Michigan's running game is just so so bad this year. Then he brings it up the next week because his pet YPA stat was actually pretty accurate, and we repeat the cycle.
Anyway. In year two at SDSU, Ryan Lindley had a 9.1 YPA, which is near-great. In three years at Michigan:
- Denard 2011: 8.4
- Denard 2012: 7.9
- Devin 2012: 9.7(!)
- Devin 2013: 8.6
Things at Auburn were great, then increasingly grimmer. Jason Campbell cracked the 10 YPA mark in year one, then Brandon Cox went from 7.6 to 8.1 to 6.6, whereupon Borges got fired in favor of that Franklin spread guy who got fired midseason the next year, leading to Borges's current pathological worldview.
I'm not even sure how much of the Cox degradation I blame on Borges. I saw Cox live and in person in his senior year, and by that time his arm strength had degraded to Russell Bellomy-against-Nebraska levels. Meanwhile Tommy Tuberville's staff was a collection of Just In Charge Of Something For No Reasons that undermined the next guy and got fired as a unit as a result—they were Rodriguez's defensive assistants and Borges was Scott Shafer.
This year's actually-quite-good YPA stat (23rd nationally) is impressive in context. I think you can make a case that with a functional running game, Borges can pilot an effective offense. The program is pretty dinosaur all around, but at least Borges has shown that he is looking for the knockout punch.
I've read and heard a lot about our miserable offensive line and how Coach Borges's hands are somewhat tied with such an incapable unit. But it seems to me that the larger problem is the predictability of his play calling. I don't study tape or rewatch games the way our opponents must, but even I feel like I know exactly when he's going to run the ball and when he isn't. The Nebraska players said as much after they completely shut us down. The only game that I can remember saying to myself "I didn't expect that" with regard to our ground game was against OSU, and in that match-up our O line suddenly looked average/competent against a good Buckeye unit. I feel like Borges is a guy that really believes that as long as everyone "executes", it doesn't matter if the opposing defense has an idea of what's coming. I'd like to hear your thoughts on this.
Thanks again for your hard work.
When one half of your offense is totally incapable of picking up yard one in most games you do tend to get predictable. Defenses figure out the thing that you are trying to do and shut it down because they aren't worried about the other thing. The Kansas State game was a great example of that: once the Wildcats figured out what Michigan was doing and adapted to stop it there wasn't much else Michigan could execute so they had to keep doing the one thing they could do.
This pattern is familiar from 2008, when Rodriguez would insert various tweaks and folds into his rushing offense that would work great for about a half and then die in a heap. Remember the 2008 Penn State game that was 17-14 at halftime and then ended something like 80-17 Penn State? Same thing: unleash something unexpected that really works (in that case it was MINOR RAGE), then have bupkis when opponent adjusts.
Predictability is a hallmark of crappy offenses, but it's more a symptom than a disease.
The Jerry Montgomery effect?
I see a lot of Michigan fans saying they will give the defensive staff a pass for this season's defensive performance because this is the same staff responsible for vast improvements seen in the first year under Brady Hoke. But, this isn't the same staff. We lost Jerry Montgomery to Oklahoma last offseason. Our d-line was definitely disappointing this year. Could you please comment on whether Montgomery leaving was a bigger blow than anticipated? Also, could you please comment on Roy Manning's performance as the linebacker coach?
Thanks and Go Blue!
How disappointing was it, though?
Our impressions are always colored by the most recent thing to happen and those two things were eviscerations by OSU and Kansas State, but the overall picture is less than awful. Michigan finished 35th in raw YPC without an imposing pass rush and without a whole lot of blitzing or load-the-box safety help. Their YPC allowed (3.81) was identical to last year's number, when Montgomery was around.
On an individual level, by the time the Ohio State game rolled around Ondre Pipkins had torn his ACL and Michigan's first choice nose tackle was 285 pound Jibreel Black, which went about as well as you might expect against what was by far the nation's top rushing offense. That is a huge and obvious personnel issue caused by injury—I continue to assume that something was just not right with Quinton Washington because otherwise his deployment makes no goddamn sense at all—and youth.
On an individual level, Michigan got strong upward ticks from everyone on the line:
- Frank Clark went from hype bust of the offseason to a solid, Tim Jamison-as-senior effort.
- Willie Henry went from obscure rotation guy to solid starter and potential future star.
- Black was considerably better than he was as a junior, though completely overmatched because of his size at certain points.
- Brennen Beyer… actually went backwards a bit, okay. But again this was Michigan's first choice SDE against OSU, a 250-pound dude.
The lack of imposing pass rush is an issue that needs to be addressed, yes. I don't think this season was necessarily that disappointing when you look at the roster at the three interior DL spots (SDE counts as one in my book). There is a gap akin to the interior OL on the roster.
Remove injured Pipkins and your non-freshman options at three interior DL spots that really need about six guys to rotate through are Black (285 pounds), Washington (inexplicable lack of PT), Ash (never played meaningful snaps in his life before OSU), and Heitzman (dumped from rotation in favor of 250-pound SAM). All things considered they were doing really well to hold up like they did before the season-ending collapse.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma was 53rd in rushing D, giving up a third of a yard per attempt more than M. I don't think Montgomery was a huge blow.
As for Manning, he's got the outside linebackers, which means SAM and only SAM. Michigan got quality play from first Beyer and then Cam Gordon; Jake Ryan was not as impactful this year but with the injury that's understandable. Tentative thumbs up in year one.
It wasn't too long ago that you were ready to cut someone about something something
EMO QUESTION OF THE WEEK OF THE YEAR
Is there a point for you at which fanhood of Michigan football is so disappointing because of things besides kids trying their best (e.g., Borges/Hoke insanity, almost everything Dave Brandon) that stop...like, really, at least sort of? As we as a fanbase get to consider your experience of being a fan and weigh it against our own, you shared some, I don't know, despondency or something at times this season, usually in appropriate situations. And in a time in my life when I am thinking of getting ready for my marriage, and getting something resembling a career going, and God help me I'll be a father in a few years...this football stuff just seems like a waste of time when everything besides the kids gets me as worked up as [REDACTED TOPIC OF CHOICE] does.
Honestly, larger than the blog, which I could see continuing in a hundred ways, is there a "this far and no further" point in your tolerance of extraneous bullshit for the sake of the joy or whatever it is that's so incredible when the kids on the field do amazing things?
I mean, after the 2009 Illinois game, I locked myself in a dorm and turned off my phone and didn't talk to anyone until late Sunday. As crazy and immature as that was, nothing about the disappointment of a loss has ever made me feel like I should stop following the team. But now I read about BWW Bowls and Jerryworld II and I'm like...whatever, man.
This is a natural consequence of aging and putting things in your life other than football that poop all over themselves when you would rather they not do that. Eventually, this will be you, wishing you weren't pooping all over yourself while watching Michigan poop all over itself in a hologram.
Anyway. It is an annual rite for person X on message board Y to declare that they just don't have the steam in them any more. I get it. To be blunt, I've been struggling with motivation issues since about midseason and understand anyone who flips the TV off and goes bowling*.
But, again, it is a human tendency to project most recent thing as thing that happens forever. It is not so. It was just last April that I was in the Georgia Dome, panicking about a Ke$ha song (probably, anyway; getting to the point where I can't necessarily discern which pop ingénues is which) because it was the thing going on before the national championship game. If they had played The Final Countdown I literally would have grabbed my buddy and gone AHHHH AHHHH AHHHH until he slapped me.
This season has been particularly enervating because of not only the suckiness of the team but its total unwatchability. As I mentioned in the post-bowl column, the 3-9 outfit was a worse team but they came by their awfulness honestly. Not that these folk didn't, but there is a special pain in rushing for negative yards consecutive weeks. It is transmitted direct to your eyeballs.
When this is not the case, you will discover the terror of your attachment again. Probably.
In your specific case, I've tied my career to this and don't have the option, so I don't know man. I tend to think I might get fed up, but I'm still getting hockey tickets and no one really cares if I go to hockey. Maybe I would just complain about feeling like a sucker and continue acting like a sucker.
*[I finally broke down and played Skyrim. Do not do this. Skyrim is the kind of awful that only reveals itself after you've set 60 hours of your life on fire listening to boring conversations and dully hacking things in the face. Their open world is beautiful and soulless, shiny on the outside but hollow in the center. Bethesda's mechanics are hopelessly broken in every single game they make, and while being able to jump across a continent in Morrowind was charmingly broken, Skyrim's mechanics invite you to a dull, iron-dagger-laden trudge through one moronically designed UI after another.
I just played the computer version of Michigan's 2013 football season. I DID IT TO MYSELF. AGAIN.]
Obviously changes need to be made, and probably already have for all I know. I posed this idea to some friends this morning and got intrigued responses but it was ultimately dismissed as unrealistic: Michigan should hire Pat Narduzzi as head coach right now.
He's obviously ready for a move, would clearly help Michigan's defense tremendously (and bring in a new OC who could only be an upgrade), and this would really hurt one of our division rivals who is on the verge of becoming a regular contender. I would say this move would be on par with hiring Bo (who, at the time, was an Ohio State guy, even though he was at Miami). Getting Narduzzi now is no different, except skipping the middle step of him coaching elsewhere first. Has anyone suggested this idea yet, and what do you think from the perspective of is it possible as well as is it a good move?
IT HAPPENED, JV
IT HAPPENED RIGHT NOW WITH EVERYONE WATCHING
12/28/2013 – Michigan 14, Kansas State 31 – 7-6, 3-5 Big Ten, season mercifully over
we are desperate lonely and underpaid [Adam Glanzman]
If you were disinterested in a December bowl game that kicked off at 10:15 PM, don't feel bad about it. You are far from alone. Frank Clark:
"I think a lot of guys lost the will to play as a family. That's one thing you can't do in football. In football, you've got to stick in there and stay together as a family.
"It was our mindset from the jump, we weren't totally into it I would say. We didn't come out with a lot of energy."
For their part, the coaches didn't bother to go into the hurry-up down 18 points with 8 minutes left. As far as unconvincing attempts to look interested go, the fan is on level footing with the rest of the program.
The coaches did go up-tempo once it was 31-6, mysteriously. You've already given up. No one is going to feel better about losing by three scores to a 7-5 Big 12 team instead of four. I guess you have to send the message that You Never Give Up despite having already given up. That's the kind of program this is. We Never Give Up (we gave up).
That's as indicative of the current state of the Michigan football program as anything. Fail to live up to expectations, try to make it look good with meaningless hand-waving after things are decided. Michigan is just six… eight… sixteen… okay, thirty-five plays away from a really good season, you know, and Lloyd Carr's seniors are about to ride to the rescue.
I guess it's good that Michigan conceded from the drop that they could not run the ball whatsoever, because they were right about that. Eight tailback carries on the night, and three of those were option pitches. Michigan did not repeat their mistakes from the Penn State game.
Unfortunately, while they've learned what they cannot do they have not learned to do anything. Kansas State gave up 301 rushing yards to Oklahoma on the second to last weekend of the regular season; Michigan stared that front seven down and said "no thanks, we like end-arounds."
The most frustrating thing about this season is that any hint of progress is quickly stomped out. Michigan has a human run game against Northwestern, then gets obliterated by Iowa; they are once again human against Ohio State, then correctly assume they are helpless against Kansas State.
Meanwhile, the defense is so incompetent against a modern packaged offense that Kansas State essentially ends the game by the second quarter. Michigan had zero answers for a play that Rich Rodriguez pioneered at this very university. Here we are, talking a big game about how This Is Michigan and playing football like it's 1989, the last time This Is Michigan actually meant This Is A Consistently Elite Football Program.
Bo hovers over the program with speeches about the team the team the team, but his penchant for running quarterbacks and option football and running the damn ball has been discarded in favor of notions about a "pro style" offense that reflects the modern-day NFL in no way whatsoever. Chip Kelly's taking a team that was 4-12 last year to the playoffs with Nick Foles as his quarterback. QED.
At the beginning of the year I wondered aloud if Michigan was going to end up on the wrong side of history here, what with their failed attempt to move to the spread traumatizing them so much that they'd mutter something about Denard Robinson holding the offense back from its true form, which is apparently lots and lots of end arounds with two tackles next to each other. And sacks. Michigan's base play this year was a tackle for loss. This was our innovation.
I like the thing where the quarterback pulls up to throw late better.
It'll get better. I mean, you'd think so. I know that's what everyone said about the offensive line this year. But we've detailed the various ways in which the previous coaching staff decimated this roster on both lines and the fact that Hoke has collected and retained a lot of guys who will be maturing over the next couple years. Michigan won't be ripping the redshirt off an offensive lineman midseason again.
But at some point I realized that the only thing that resembled what football used to be—fun—came when Dennis Norfleet grabbed the ball on kick returns and once when he took an end-around. He juked a guy and got nine yards and I felt a little flutter. Then the grim trudge resumed.
Maybe the reason I hold onto Denard so hard is because he's about 90% of the fun that Michigan football has provided since Bo died. As this season descended into a lifeless backwards march, I kept thinking about my uncle's exclamation during the 2008 Fandom Endurance III Northwestern game: "We do this for fun!" We did even then. There was a perverse joy in our abject stupidity. Five years on, all the diamonds have been sifted from that ash. We do this out of momentum now.
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. Obviously no one on the defense can acquire this, as the defense was completely disassembled. The offense… barely scraped over 200 yards thanks to a Shane Morris QB draw that went for 40. Jesus. Uh.
Well, Jeremy Gallon did break the single-season receiving record and is a cool dude, so Jeremy Gallon.
Honorable mention: Shane Morris?
Epic Double Point Standings.
3.0: Jeremy Gallon (ND, Indiana, K-State)
2.0: Devin Gardner(ND, OSU)
1.0: Desmond Morgan(UConn), Devin Funchess(Minnesota), Frank Clark(PSU), Matt Wile (Nebraska), James Ross (Northwestern)
0.5: Cam Gordon (CMU), Brennen Beyer (CMU)
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. Nope.
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?)
10/19/2013: Thomas Gordon picks off an Indiana pass to end the Hoosiers' last drive that could have taken the lead.
11/2/2013: Clock expires.
11/9/2013: Nebraska muffs a punt through no action of Michigan's.
11/16/2013: Michigan executes a clock-running last-second field goal to get the game to OT.
11/23/2013: 404 file not found
11/30/2013: Michigan forces a Hyde fumble to get back in the game.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK. Michigan, down 31-12 with two minutes or so left, runs a two-point conversion that features Jeremy Gallon taking an end around and throwing the ball to a wide open dude for the score.
First of all, you gave up already. Screw you and your two point conversion. Second, every Ohio State fan on twitter instantly said something along the lines of "oh wow that totally would have worked against us." I don't think it's possible to be more disgusted with a successful two point conversion.
[AFTER THE JUMP: stuff.]
Welp. There's not much you can do when your QB is a freshman who is liable to put the ball in a defender's chest twice consecutively when you finally do have to open things up far, far too late and your tailbacks rush eight times for 16 yards. Borges did the things he could do, implementing a screen and edge-rush attack that saw Michigan mount actual drives on their first two possessions.
Unfortunately, you can only run constraints for so long before they start getting obliterated, and once the scripted fancy new stuff was over so was the offense. The game was over once Michigan could not punch the ball in on either of their first two possessions and then punted once; down 21-6 without a prayer of a non-gimmicky offense, it was over. Gameplan took Michigan their first 120 yards, and then they had no more. On an individual game level, you can't expect much more from your offensive coordinator.
That Michigan went into this bowl game utterly convinced they could not run the ball conventionally against a not particularly good run defense is a huge failing that you can spread out to at least three different people: Rodriguez, Funk, and Borges. Rodriguez for the roster, Funk for being the position coach, and Borges for treating this rag-tag assemblage of walk-ons and freshmen like they're the Denver Broncos and expecting they could handle every run concept ever expressed by man as they were being bounced around like gas molecules.
Statistical complaint #341. It's inane that those touch passes forward that are essentially handoffs get filed as passes. Jeremy Gallon's probably happy that is the case since without those he probably does not pass Braylon Edwards for the single-season receiving record; everybody else should be shaking their fist at the NCAA scorer in the sky in a futile attempt to get stats that make sense. Scorers should be able to judge whether a play is a run or pass and credit accordingly.
One step forward, one step back. Michigan's approach to this game was mentioned above, but to reiterate: despite being forced to start a freshman quarterback Michigan assumed they were totally incapable of moving the ball on the ground. And they were.
I have no idea how this line improves enough next year for Michigan to be able to do anything after losing both tackles, who are going to be on NFL rosters next year. They can be better, but like the radioactive situation Rodriguez walked into the reclamation project here is a two-year job. (Yes, thanks in large part to Rodriguez.) Next year's line has no seniors and one junior.
God willing, Michigan goes into spring practice focused on getting this unit competent at one base running play instead of three and does not try a blizzard of different combinations during the season. That might be enough to make their running game bad. Anything more is in the realm of the fantastical.
Morris eval. Could have been worse. Hosing hoser hoses, which mitigates some freshman issues since he can rifle the ball late and not get punished because the thing gets there so fast. Has accuracy issues caused by firing every ball a hundred miles an hour and predictably put two balls in K-State defenders' chests late when Michigan was forced to try to go downfield; overall an encouraging debut. Morris's wheels are a surprising asset, as well. He is not Gardner; neither is he Navarre. He could be a Connor Shaw type QB who takes the occasional carry to mess with defenses. (Hypothetically.)
QB controversy? No. The training wheels were obvious and once taken off the punishment was immediate. Given what we've heard about practice he has Gardner's INT issues except worse, and as long as both guys improve at the same rate Gardner will still be well ahead.
That was a total disaster. The season as a whole was a macrocosm of the defense in each game: pretty good for most of it, gives up one WTF touchdown midway through (Indiana), and then collapses in a heap at the end. Kansas State has an underrated offense but even so, this drive chart…
- 75 yard TD
- 60 yard TD
- 59 yard TD
- 59 yard FG miss
- 33 yard drive ending in fumble one play after Tyler Lockett dropped a touchdown
- 60 yard FG drive
- 39 yards, punt
- 7 yard TD drive
…is a total and comprehensive failure. Michigan did not force a punt until there were 7 minutes left in the game and things were over. This follows a game in which Michigan gave up 393 rushing yards to OSU.
Now instead of having one solid unit that can expect to take another step forward as they age, Michigan has question marks everywhere. Mattison's reputation as salvager and hero took enormous hits over these last two games. Hooray.
Exposed. Tyler Lockett is an incredible player who was checked by essentially nobody this year; it seems like KSU decided they were going with Waters late mostly because he takes best advantage of a guy who is probably the best WR in the country. Any ideas that Blake Countess is in that league as a defensive back are now bleeding out in the gutter after Lockett ghosted in and out of Michigan's defensive backfield all night, knives at the ready.
While Raymon Taylor struggled equally, Taylor had been targeted all year and we had some grasp of how good he was already: decent, but not Lockett good. Countess had largely been avoided and made a lot of interceptions when not avoided; this was a comedown in hype and expectation level on par with that Mattison suffered.
Spread and shred. The most brutal event of the night was K-State busting a fullback up the seam for 40 yards on a version of QB Oh Noes that put Desmond Morgan in a bind: defend the QB draw or cover the fullback. With Waters not a huge threat on the ground, the answer was "cover the fullback fergodsakes"; either way the Wildcats were about to get a good chunk of yards. Morgan acted like it was a run and Kansas State was on their way to their third touchdown.
In the aftermath…
Snyder hit them with that QB run/pass option sweep. That play is no joke. Irony is first team I saw do it was Michigan with Denard under RR
— Smart Football (@smartfootball) December 29, 2013
…that was my exact thought, too. K-State just looked hard to defend in ways that Michigan is not. A lot of people were griping about Michigan's decision not to double Lockett, but when you're going up against a defense that uses the QB's legs in a way that demands attention you find yourself with limited options unless you can win certain one on one battles. Michigan could not, and as in the Ohio State game once that was the case it was over. There is no hiding weak spots against these spread to run attacks, and against Tyler Lockett every member of the secondary is a weak spot.
About that line. Dominated again. Zero pass rush and after some nice stops on the first drive, K-State had a quality day on the ground. Michigan spent much of the day stunting defensive ends into double teams, and those ended up with Clark and Ojemudia and Beyer on their back as dudes darted by.
I will never understand the insane deployment of Quinton Washington this year; we're now deep into Announce Everyone Was Injured All Year time and there hasn't been a peep about Washington, who was a quality starter all last year and spent most of this one on the bench. Without him and Pipkins, this outfit was just too light to hope to hold up. Other than Willie Henry, who is a freshman who needs some technique work badly, the rest of the line is Black, Beyer, and Clark: defensive ends all.
Things should get better next year, at least, with great piles of returning players and Pipkins hopefully coming back from his ACL tear. Much rests on him. I mean, much rests on him for a team that projects to finish third in their division.
* Spielman said something about how he asked Mattison who his best defender was this year, and the first thing out of Mattison's mouth was "Frank Clark." Against Ohio State, Frank Clark had one tackle. Against Kansas State, Frank Clark had one tackle. When your best defender is averaging 1 tackle per game in his last two, something is wrong.
* As Ace pointed out, our two leading rushers were our QB and Tight End. Our running backs should be made to watch how K-State's little Hubert ran. I get it that the offensive line generated zero push, but eventually someone has to break a tackle or make someone miss. Our 4 RBs combined for 8 carries and 13 yards. Our offense was slightly better in not giving up so many TFLs, but that's because we rarely had the ball. K-State had 5 TFLs for a total of 13 yards lost. Hey, I'm looking for positives, no matter how small.
Worst: The Coordinators
I’ll admit to being a bigger fan of Greg Mattison than Al Borges, so up front I want to make it clear that Al Borges called a pretty good first half of football and Mattison seemed absolutely lost in stopping a team whose passing offense was “throw to #16” and “throw to guy wide open in the middle of the field.” Borges has no functional running game, in part, because nobody seems able to block defenders, and so he went about trying ever-ludicrous methods to move the ball on the ground and the air without putting too much pressure on Shane Morris. These were all plays fans have seen before, but he wove in screens, end-arounds, sweeps, and easy middle-distance throws into a coherent gameplan that let UM move the ball pretty effectively on their first couple of drives. At the very least, he came out punching despite having one hand behind his back, and for that he deserves kudos. And in particular during that first foray into the redzone, a PI on either of Morris’s two passes to Gallon and Funchess probably would have allowed UM to score a TD and kept the game closer. The fact the offense sputtered in the 2nd half isn’t that surprising, as WR runs and delayed screens only work so often when your base offense is churning up less than a yard a carry and your WRs are being blanketed when they aren’t dropping passes from your amped-up QB. Borges has shown an ability to adapt somewhat these past couple of games, and next year it is going to need to be flexible because I have a hard time believing it will suddenly start running the ball under center for 4 ypc while airing the ball out with aplomb.
On the other side of the ball, this “bending” defense clearly broke in the first half, as KSU had no trouble moving up and down the field despite holding penalties putting them in some poor down-and-distances. Taylor and Countess couldn’t keep Lockett even remotely contained, and it seemed virtually impossible for the team to bring pressure while also maintain their assignments, leading to long conversions after acres of open field just appeared. The defense tightened up somewhat in the 2nd half, but this defense needs to make a massive step forward next year for this team to improve on their record, and it’s now been two games in a row where the defense seems flat-footed and ill-prepared against good offenses. That needs to change, and given the youth out there (Gedeon, Thomas, and Henry seemed to get significant run) along with some improving older players like Clark and a healthy Ryan, I expect that to happen.
bronxblue brings up the 2013 == death meme, and takes issue with it since the basketball team did make the NCAA final. I would like to point out that my particular version of 2013 == death is based on the Old Yeller premise, in which our once-loved dog contracts rabies, and is therefore 100% accurate except in this version of Old Yeller the dog is a cyborg with shotgun arms and continues blasting us long after our corpse has cooled.
Selfie: Go save Christmas again.
Kids! Gandalf the Maize's follow-up on which factors seem to be the most predictive of offensive line play compared the r-squareds of 19 things, from o-line experience as a whole, to their recruiting stars, to the left tackle individually, depth, QB talent, how much the team goes long, etc., and found the ONLY factor with relatively high significance is…
Interior. Offensive. Line. Experience!
Let's get a DotW to the wizard, and tell Funk to put some years on his charges, RIGHT NOW.
Ron Utah followed up by showing the relative age of Michigan's whole roster versus teams of significance.
Part II by dnak438 on Michigan's offensive regression this week went back and added 2011-12 to the study of YPP versus opponents, tracking it by dividing Michigan's yards per play each game versus the average that team gave up. The results are charts that really show the history of Al Borges's various offensive strategies:
Here's the progression:
[after the jump]