MGoQuestion: If you had to play Alabama again, what parts of the game plan would you keep that worked well Saturday? What parts would you want to change?
“Very little would I change. Very little. Almost none. But that’s probably harder to grasp because of the way we executed. The game plan didn’t look very effective, but the whole thing was geared to if they loaded the box up, we were going to throw the ball. If they left the box light, we were going to run it. We ran the ball into a light box 12 times and had plus-four runs three times out of the 12. And we hit two out of 10 shots down the field. So the other alternative is to plus-one run with the quarterback. We did some of that, too, but they weren’t going to let you do that. As much as you wanted to give that a shot, that wasn’t going to happen. No one’s done that to them. Look at the numbers in the past. No one’s done that to them.”
(After the jump, Borges answers questions about Denard, Denard, Devin, Denard, and Air Force but does not answer a question about bubble screens.)
Is there any way counter a defense that doesn’t allow Denard to run?
“Efficiency is a counter. Efficiency is blocking, making plays with you have opportunities to make plays, making the right reads, making the catch when it’s there, and then making a couple of exceptional plays. That’s what they did. They made a couple of exceptional plays. Never in my life have I seen a corner knock a guy out of bounds, run back and intercept a fade. In 37 years of coaching, I’ve never seen that happen. But that one corner was a really good player. Did some nice things. But that being said, there was enough opportunity there to where you could get some first downs, move the ball, and keep the defense off the field. That was our goal. Beating Alabama and the way in the past that I’ve coached against them is you get into a fist fight. You play a close game -- they play great defense, so you have to hold onto the ball, not make mistakes, and hope you can punch it out and have one more point than they do at the end. That’s how you beat that team. Nobody lights the scoreboard up against them. You look at the numbers, that’s just not going to happen. That’s how you go about it. We were not efficient enough to do that. That’s pretty much it.”
Was it a preparation thing or was Alabama just that good?
“I don’t know. I don’t want to believe it’s a preparation thing. Our kids were ready to play the game, and we certainly worked our tails off to get them a plan that we thought was good. But their team, you have to understand, there’s very little margin of error with them. You can’t make mistakes and recover from them. They’re going to take advantage of your mistakes. They feed on your inefficiency. That’ll kill you.”
Was there a point during the game where you felt like you needed to rip the playbook up and just see what would work?
“No. No. Nope. No. Not at all. No. We stuck with the plan the whole game. We kept doing what we were doing. We tried some different things after a while because we weren’t running into the six-man box very well. We tried a few quarterback runs, but that wasn’t very effective. The whole plan was set up that we could exploit a loaded box or run into a soft box. We did neither. Maybe later in the season, if we’re a little more well oiled, we might play a little better, but we just weren’t in this game.”
How much will Devin learn from this game in terms of plays he almost made?
“Oh I think Devin’s going to really be a good player there. He’ll learn a ton. He’s still a work in progress at the position. Particularly in a game like that, where you’re facing a really really good press man team, where you know you need to get off the jam, you have to get down the field, you have to work your way open a lot of time, that’s baptism by fire playing them the first game when you’ve never played wide receiver before. But he’s going to be a really good player out there. I really believe that.”
How does Fitz’s availability change things for you this Saturday?
“We have another back, you know? We’ll see how it goes during the week, but it’s good to have him back. We’ll see how we want to plan that. But he has been working with us. It isn’t like he hasn’t. He’s been on top of the stuff pretty good.”
Do you anticipate him starting?
“We’re not going to make a decision on that yet.”
When did you make the decision to start Elliott Mealer at center?
“... And he plays pretty good. Him and Taylor Lewan played pretty good. Elliott was doing the best job of snapping the ball back. Ricky, who’s really good at -- the profile of center is perfect for Ricky, but we were struggling with some of the snaps, and Elliott was getting them back there, so we figured, what the heck, let’s get the guy that can snap and let’s give Ricky the position he’s played before and is comfortable with -- that part worked out well. One bad snap, which, you know, not good, but that’s why we did it.”
When was that decision made?
“Last week. Yeah. Middle of -- not this past week, but middle of the week before that.”
What did you see out of Rawls against Alabama?
“There wasn’t a lot of room to run a lot of times. He’s still learning the position. Rawls is a lot like Fitz was when we first started coaching Fitz [last] spring. He’s still learning. He runs tough, he runs hard. He’s strong, but he still needs more seasoning at the position, but I think he’s going to be a good back.”
Do you think if you hit one of the big plays early they might have backed off more?
“Yeah. Yeah definitely. You’re not going to hit them all, but if you can hit, you know, half your shots, it makes a big difference in the run game. People just can’t force as fast. You completely change the mindset of the defense when you’re plucking away at them in the passing game. So yeah, I do think that makes a difference. Always has.”
You mentioned that it’s not a given that Toussaint won’t start. Is there an open competition for the job or is this an extension of his punishment?
“No. We’re still going to see how they do. We’re not going to want to put him in and say he’s the starter. I don’t think that’s fair to the other guys. So we’ll go this week and see how everything works out and make a decision -- I’m not sure when, but whenever. ”
Hoke said you had a great practice last night. Do you still sense that there’s confidence going forward?
“Oh yeah. Yeah, I mean, first game, tough opponent -- our kids are resilient. We’ve got some good leaders on this team. It’s a tough way to start for all of us. For the coaches, the players. But, 11 games. If I’m not mistaken, Oregon played LSU last year. Was it the same game?”
“What was the score that game?”
MGoOo!Iknow!: 40-24. (Ed: Actually it was 40-27. My photographic memory got instagrammed on that one.)
“Yeah, it wasn’t even close. How did Oregon do?”
MGoUh…I mean…: Not good?
“How did they do after the game.”
“I think they won 11 games. So it’s not, you know, you don’t chuck it all. You have to be resilient, you have to get back to the basics. I’m never going to say get back to the drawing board, because if you have to get back to the drawing board, you didn’t do a very good job to start with. But get back to what you do best, and onward and upward.”
How do you think Denard will improve from this game?
“Well I think Denard -- the thing about Denard is he has to learn that he doesn’t have to carry the whole thing himself. I think he feels that onus sometimes and as a coach I have to make that clear to him, too. When Denard plays within his game -- run the football well, make good decisions in the passing game, he’s really a great player. Not a good player, but a great player because he has things that other quarterbacks don’t have. But sometimes when you’re losing, and particularly when you’re losing bad -- which hasn’t happened to us too much, we’ve been lucky that way -- you start feeling like you have to get it back in one fell swoop. You know, you put too much pressure on yourself. That’s natural thing for a competitive person. But as long as Denard can understand that he doesn’t have to carry the whole load, I think you’ll see steady improvement.”
Does he need more opportunities to run the ball?
“Well, we’ll play that game by game, but I would not have run Denard Robinson any more than we ran him Saturday. Absolutely not. No. I know a lot of people think that, but no way. That wasn’t going to happen. But in certain games you’re going to run the ball. It’s just like last year. You’ll see certain games he’ll carry it 25 times. You’ll see other games he’ll carry it 10 to 15 times. You can run him 20 times every game, but there’ll be nothing left of him by the end of the season, particularly when you’re playing opponents like that. That’s already been proven.”
Why not run him? Is it the injury factor?
“Well that, and in the Alabama game they weren’t going to let you run him. Look at their numbers, guys. They’re never going to let the quarterback run the football. They play a defense that forces the quarterback to throw the ball. You can run here and there, but if you think you’re going [to run] for 150 yards, it’s not going to happen all the time. But in other games -- in certain games you’ll see him run a lot more.”
How would you assess Denard’s reads? Both he and Hoke were pretty critical about that after the game.
“He did a great job on a couple. We missed a few throws that were really good reads, and we missed two crucial reads that really hurt us. But like anything else, it’s a work in progress. He understands our offense so much better than he did, although I don’t know that it showed as much in this game, but he does. I think you’ll see steady improvement there.”
Was that with the option hand-off to Vincent Smith?
“I don’t think he had a time when he should have pulled the ball when he didn’t … They weren’t going to let him run, period. When we leave the edge free and he’s reading the edge, the guy’s standing there waiting for him every time. So in that regard, I don’t think he missed one of those. ”
When did you notice that Denard was trying to do too much?
“This is more after the fact probably than before. Just in retrospect. You’re trying to troubleshoot some of the problems, you know. I told him the other day, I said, ‘I don’t want you to think you lost the game, although there’ll be people who want to make you believe that.’ We didn’t run the ball. We had a chance to run the ball, and if you want to take the pressure off your quarterback, that’s how you take pressure off your quarterback. In games he’s played real well, we’ve been able to run the ball, but we didn’t. And now it becomes solely based on his ability to throw the ball, and sometimes in not very advantageous positions, like third down and long, which happened several times, too. So we just asked too much of him in terms of how we executed.”
You said you need to get back to the basics of what you do well. What is that?
“Well, running the football. That’s number one. Running the football, being able to play-pass. Being an efficient throwing team. We don’t have to be a great throwing team, but we have to be an efficient throwing team so it’ll complement our run game. That’s when we were good a year ago, and that’s when we’ll be good this year is when we do these things.”
How do you think Roy played?
“Roy didn’t do a bad job, but again, opportunities. We ran 56 plays. So opporutnities for guys to catch a lot of passes when you only run 56 plays, no one’s getting any numbers. I think as you see more and more as the year goes on, you’ll see Roy manifest himself more and more. You’re not going to do it running 56 plays.”
A lot has been made of Denard’s improved mechanics. Did you see that during this game?
“Oh yeah. Other than a couple of -- in terms of getting your feet in the ground. He threw one ball falling back to Jerald Robinson. He did that because the middle of the pocket was pushed so bad that he couldn’t get his feet set. But did you see any balls where he’s throwing the ball up falling backwards? He didn’t really do that in this game. He got his feet set pretty good. His fundamentals are significantly better. Now we just have to shore up every other part of his game.”
When you look at playing an option team from the offensive side of the ball, is it easier to get your team focused because they like to shorten the game in terms of possessions?
“Yeah well what we have to do in a game like this is like we have to do in probably any other game, but more so -- we have to control the ball, try to keep the defense off the field so the clock just doesn’t wind down. I know how option football can be. So we have to be efficient. We need to be more efficient on third down. That was something a year ago that I was -- we dropped off a little at the end, but for the most part we were a good third down team. If you’re a good third down team, you keep the chains moving, you keep the defense off the field, so we have to get better that way. So running the football, converting on third down, those two things are the best thing to beat an option team, because you’ll keep the ball.”
MGoObligatory: So you threw a bubble screen. Two of them.
“I have nothing to say about that.”