Part of the Sugar Bowl swag is pre-transcribed press conferences.
Michigan Offensive Coordinator Al Borges
THE MODERATOR: We'll get started with our Michigan offensive press conference this morning. We're joined by Offensive Coordinator Al Borges. Coach, opening remarks.
COACH BORGES: This is actually my second trip to the Sugar Bowl. I had an opportunity in 2005 to come here, and ironically enough, we played Virginia Tech, which is kind of cool.
But I can tell you, I've been fortunate over the last few years of my career to go to several Bowl games, but the Sugar Bowl is without question at the top of the list with regard to hospitality, accommodations, the whole deal.
They just do a wonderful job. You can tell they've been here before. They know exactly what they're doing. I know our kids are enjoying this experience. The coaches, when they've had an opportunity outside our work schedule, to do things, we've had a great time so far.
And our preparations have gone real well. Back at Ann Arbor, a precursor to the Bowl game, the kids have practiced hard and stayed pretty focused and it's carried over these last couple of days of practice.
So we're looking forward to playing a really, really well-coached, tough football team in Virginia Tech, a team that I think deserves to be here, having the type of year they had and being the type of team that they are.
You know, Frank Beamer is a proven commodity in this business, and having an opportunity to coach against Bud Foster who coordinates the defense and does now and always has done a great job of coordinating his schemes and style of play that really presents some real issues for us offensively.
So it's going to be a great challenge for us. But we're looking forward to the challenge and having an opportunity to win 11 games, as great a tradition as Michigan has, I think it's only been done about five times. So our team is fired up and can't wait to get this thing underway.
Q. You talked about Foster. Is that something that you see as like somewhat of a challenge because he's so well respected and because you guys have a little bit of a history, at least?
Yeah. And, again, I don't have a lot of history other than one football game.
But just knowing Bud and knowing what they do and have an idea what they do. And he's like we have been offensively. Their defense is ever?evolving. They're a little different than the last time we played them, but still some of the base schemes are the same.
But he's a well-respected guy because he's done such a nice job and presents some problems for you. They have a nice pressure package when they need it. They play the run real well. All their numbers, statistically, would bear that out.
Q. How much of an advantage is it, if any, that they haven't faced a quarterback like Denard Robinson this year?
How much have they played a guy like Denard? I don't think they've played a guy like Denard.
Q. How much of an advantage is it for you?
I'm not sure. I'm not sure how to answer that question. Denard presents some problems. I don't think anybody would argue that.
The biggest thing with Denard is if Denard's throwing the ball well, which he's been doing of late, then he really adds a new… a whole different dimension to having to defend him, because with opportunities, he's going to run the ball well. He can do that.
You very seldom have slumps running the ball. But passing, you can go into some slumps. But he's been throwing the ball well lately.
And if we haven't lost any of our timing, which it doesn't appear at this point in our practices that we have, I think we'll be okay. But I think, like I said, they're going to have answers. They're not going to make any concessions to us, that's for sure. And we're going to have to deal with those as the game progresses.
I don't know if I answered your question or not, but...
Q. To the end of that question, to what extent does this game come down to identifying early what they're trying to do to him and reacting to it?
It's always huge, because within the first couple series, you'll have somewhat of an idea how they're going to go about defending you. And I have found here at Michigan, with Denard, more so than probably most the quarterbacks I've coached in the past, is everybody's got kind of a different solution to dealing with Denard's skill level.
So as a coach you have to identify what they're overdefending and then be able to make the adequate adjustments to take advantage of what they're defending less. Okay? And now it comes down to whether or not you can exploit that. Sometimes it's the passing game, like I said before.
And if they're giving you some opportunities in your passing game and you can take advantage of it, you can have a pretty good day. But if they make you play left-handed and you can't take advantage of it, then you could have a long day.
So I think it's huge, is figuring out how they're going to go about defending you and then being able to counterpunch.
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Q. Does playing indoors change the dynamic of what you do offensively, or how does it affect what you do offensively?
It doesn't really make too much difference to us. I mean, it doesn't really matter where you play or when you play, it only matters how you play. So, no, I don't see—what's kind of nice is there's really going to be no weather issues. So, no, it really doesn't.
And the biggest thing, I think, with our guys, we've got to get used to getting in the Super Dome. I found this last time we were here, you have to get in the Super Dome, get used to catching the ball in the lights, because that part of it is a little different. You get practicing in there and you get accustomed to how it is. I don't see it as any major issue.
Q. Al, you mentioned Denard throwing the ball better lately. What's gone into that in your mind or what are the factors of him having better days throwing the football? And also can you tell early in the game, two, three throws in, whether he's got "it" that day?
COACH BORGES: I think it takes more than two or three throws. I've had guys start slow and end up playing real well. I don't think that's an indicator. Although there's at times, if a kid gets off fast, the passing is a lot like shooting 3-point shots: You start feeling it, the hoop gets bigger. What was your first question?
Q. Improvement in passing.
COACH BORGES: That to me, again there's a lot of factors in answering that question, but I think as much as anything is just basically having a better overall understanding of what we're trying to do and not forcing throws. Not trying to do too much.
But more than anything, what Denard's done in really the last three games, the people recognized the last two, but even in the Illinois game before he got injured, he has got a much better feel for what we're doing with our passing game conceptually, where the first, second, and third read is and when to use his legs, which is huge for Denard, because we talk a lot about using your legs as a checkdown, which is a little different than what I'm accustomed -- how I'm accustomed to coaching a quarterback.
In the past we look at the first guy, second guy, maybe check in on the third guy if protection would allow. But with Denard, we'll look at the first guy, second guy, and use your legs as a checkdown. But he's doing more of that. And he's keeping drives alive because of it and he's presenting more problems for the defense.
Q. How has Denard handled being kind of the face or the focal point of the offense this year?
COACH BORGES: I think he's handled it great. And I mean, I can answer that with all my heart. Because he's had to make sacrifices. He went from being a 1700-yard rusher to being an 1100-something-yard rusher, I don't know what exactly it is. I told him from the beginning from day one that he wasn't going to rush for 70, 80 yards, because we're going to keep him in one piece if it killed us.
And he accepted that and really worked at developing other phases of his game. Now, in the interim, he took some hits. I mean, figuratively and physically, some scrutiny because he just wasn't quite—didn't have his feet on the ground. And that figuratively and literally, too.
But once he got to a point, I think, where he got comfortable, you know, he's done real well. But he has accepted his role in this offense, which is always huge, always huge, but certain phases of what he had done before are not quite as prominent now. And that would be easy for a kid to say: What the heck?
Not him. He's been a pleasure to coach. And I think that the kids are following his lead like they never have, like they never have. And I think he's always had some of that to him because of how he's been. He's been an exemplary figure in our program, not just in our offense, but I think the kids have really followed his lead and has helped us win ten games. It's as big a factor as anything as far as I'm concerned from an offensive perspective anyway.
Q. Fitz Toussaint, how well has he progressed this season and how well has he grasped your offense as the season went along?
COACH BORGES: Interesting evolution with Fitz. We started the season off, we played four, five, six games, and no one had really jumped to the forefront of our offense from a running back perspective. So we were using it by committee, okay? And it's never been my preference. I never liked that.
But we were doing it. We were winning, it was working out okay. But we finally decided…I can't remember what game it was, I think it was Purdue or game before Purdue where I talked to Fred Jackson, running back coach, I told him let's leave him in there, see what it does, let's let him carry a few. And he took off.
I mean, he played well, and he kept getting better and better and every phase of Fitz's game got a little better every week. And I think it's just from playing more. He went from spring football and he'd run into bodies. His vision was questionable.
He's always tough, always fast, always explosive but he wasn't always running where he should run. But once he played more and got a feel for where his help was coming from with regard to our blocking schemes and such, he just blossomed and got better and better. And that's what you got now.
You've got a guy that is another big play dimension, where Denard carried the load of that, I think, for a long time, he doesn't have to do that anymore.
And what Fitz has done, as much as anything, is he's kept Denard healthy. I really believe that to be true, because now Denard doesn't have to carry the ball 24, 25 times every game. We'll still do that with him occasionally, but he doesn't have to do it every game.
Q. Jumping back to Denard for a second. You mentioned how much he had to adjust this year, how much did you have to adjust to him and his particular skills that I can't imagine his skill set's really exactly what you've had for like a pro-style offense?
COACH BORGES: I've made more adjustments with regard to schematics than I ever have. But that's no endorsement for me. That's what you should do as a football coach. You have to identify the skill set of your players and then gear what you do schematically to what they're capable of.
So, yeah, this offense is completely different than what had been run, what I've done here in the past. But that's what you should do. So we've had to think a little more out of the box as an offense. It hasn't just been me, it's been everybody.
All the guys in my room all make significant contributions to how we go about doing this thing. And we're constantly hammering stuff out trying to find the best way to explore our talent and keep our quarterback healthy. It's required some adjustments on our part but we're not beating our chest. It's something as a football coach you're not a good football coach if you don't figure out a way to do that. I said when I took this job is they said well the talent is not pro-style offense. And my next question is, is there talent? And the answer was, yes, there is talent.
Well, enough said. We gotta figure out a way to use the talent. If there's no talent then you've got issues. Doesn't matter what offense you're in.
Q. Can you talk about how complex a defense Bud Foster runs and how pro-style that is in terms of its attacking nature?
COACH BORGES: Well, without getting into all the stuff, they just… what they do is he has the ability to crowd the box to stop the run, particularly in certain situational groups, depending on who you put on the field. Plus he has the ability by down and distance to play pass and still get pressure in your quarterback. They've got several kids, several sacks, and they can blitz you and they can cover you.
And he has enough flexibility… you've got to understand this. He's been there a long time. And that system, although he's got some young players, you know, that system that he has is kind of… they know it, you know what I mean?
Once you've run the same offense, the same defense for a long time, your kids can actually start teaching the new kids as much as the coaches do, you know? And it just becomes easier and easier.
You'll see with us, as we run our offense more and more, and it evolves more and more, it gets easier for the kids to understand, simply because they've just done it more. And you're not teaching ever little tiny thing, you know what I mean? They understand some of the tiny things and you can start dealing more with nuance and things like that. And I think Bud's at that point because he's been there so long.