Al Borges In Repose Comment Count

Brian January 9th, 2014 at 1:58 PM


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.


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.

Sorry. Sorry.

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.



January 9th, 2014 at 2:17 PM ^

I haven't even read this yet, but holy Al Borges tags. Al Borges really does hate stupid.

Edit: Just finished reading and I am also relieved like Brian. Watching an offense continually run up the middle (duh the weakest link in the offense) and run reverses twice within just a few plays during the bowl game was tough. May this be the beginning of an offense that is actually able to perform. 


January 9th, 2014 at 3:50 PM ^

I'm surmising that Brian harbored many of the feelings I expressed (though much less eloquently) but knowing that recruits and fans read this site, he probably feels a certain responsibility to show a bit of restraint for the benefit/image of the program.

On my end I blasted Al for months and predicted this firing would come in January after the season, and that Hoke would naturally protect his staff until such time as he needed to make his move, and, well, wisdom comes with age I guess...

Almost as disturbing as Borges' performance was the endless wave of Borges apologists on this forum...  I was definitely one of the more vocal anti-Al posters and while I naturally took a beating because anyone bringing negativity naturally would, the justifications people would spew for months just flabbergasted...

Glad we can move on.  Working on new avatar shortly.



January 9th, 2014 at 4:33 PM ^

Maybe Brian has the same feelings as you, maybe not. But either way, Borges is not necessarily a bad OC (his track record is pretty decent, all things considered).

IMO, it was his unwillingness to work with what he had and adapt that did him in. He was a bit stubborn, IMO. I am not one of the apologists, I am glad to see Michigan move on; however, I do believe given time (which I don't think he necessarily deserved) he would have made the offense a pretty good one. I am excited to see what Nussmeier brings to Michigan but even more excited to see if he can make the offense a working one with the young OL and RBs. 


January 9th, 2014 at 2:12 PM ^

We have had 2 offensive coaching staffs in a row that could not successfully adjust to their personnel, and it has KILLED Michigan football.

I don't know if Nuss is an elite OC or not, but I do know the fact he is inheriting personnel designed for his offense is a good thing. A very good thing.


January 9th, 2014 at 2:20 PM ^

He inherited next to nothing and by his 3rd year had the offense working as well as it ever did under Carr. The problem (apart from recruiting and retention) was that he meddled with the defense until it was an incoherent mess.

MI Expat NY

January 9th, 2014 at 2:31 PM ^

This has been rehashed a million times, but in at least a couple of those games the defense never gave the offense a chance to put up big numbers in "meaningful" action.  A couple lost possessions on offense and it was all over.  Yes, the offense wasn't amazing in every single game, but the numbers don't lie (to rebutt what's about to come, no, the stats weren't put up against 4th stringers after the game had been decided).  The offense was pretty damn explosive, it's just that the defense was even more explosive.  


January 9th, 2014 at 2:38 PM ^

Just like a good defense can keep a team in a game, a good offense should be able to do something similar yes? They got a chance after each score by the other team. 7 points vs. OSU, 17 vs. MSU and I even forgot about the bowl game with 14 points. The flurries at the end, while impressive, never got the games within shouting distance.

The offense could be explosive sure but to ignore the definite struggles it had seems silly to me.

MI Expat NY

January 9th, 2014 at 2:55 PM ^

Just like it's unreasonable to expect a defense to get stops on EVERY drive, it's unreasonable to expect an offense to score a TD on EVERY drive.  And remember that FG kicking was so bad in that season that lots of drives came away empty despite good work by the offense.  Even considering all that, the offense did keep them in games (Indiana, Illinois, PSU to some degree).  

Yes, they had a couple bad games.  Almost every unit in college football does.  But to focus on the little struggles instead of the massive success most of the season is even more silly.  The 2010 team was not good, but very little of that blame falls on the offense.  Only people with an irrational hatred of Rich Rodriguez would really argue otherwise.  


January 9th, 2014 at 3:12 PM ^

I'm not saying they had to score EVERY drive. I'm arguing with the idea that the 2010 offense was better than the best offenses of the Carr era.

I absolutely acknowledge that the defense was largely responsible for our record in 2010. I'm just saying that the offense wasn't this world beating attack some people are remembering it as. I really think it could've gotten there in 2011 or 2012 but it wasn't there in 2010.

MI Expat NY

January 9th, 2014 at 3:29 PM ^

I think there's a reasonable argument to be made that the 2010 offense was better than any of the Carr offenses.  I think there is also a reasonable argument that a couple of the Carr offenses may have been better.  What I think is silly is pointing to a couple bad games to make the point that the offense wasn't that great (not to mention including games like Iowa and Wisconsin to make that case).  

I don't think anyone is holding to the illusion that the 2010 offense were world beaters.  In the annals of Michigan football, though, it goes down as one of the best despite being extremely young at almost every key position.  Not the greatest of all time, but pretty damn good.  If it had been paired with even a mediocre defense, it would have been a pretty good season.  Pair it with a typical Michigan defense and it would have been a great season.  

I understand why at the time people had to downplay 2010's offense.  People wanted Rodriguez gone and any credit to him was a threat to keep him around.  It's been three years.  Can't we be reasonable now?  Hate him for his defense.  Hate him for his special teams.  Hate him for his team quitting on him in a bowl game.  But can't anyone just admit that his offense was pretty good?  (this last paragraph isn't entirely aimed at you)


January 9th, 2014 at 4:02 PM ^

I don't hate Rodriguez, I mostly feel bad for him that things went so sideways here. I think he was on the right track with the offense which is why I'm perfectly comfortable calling the 2010 offense pretty good. I don't think I'm being unreasonable when I think that Carr's best offenses went beyond pretty good (I'm thinking 2000 here I'm pretty sure). Ok I guess that's my last comment on it because seems like we've said what we wanted to say. 

And we all probably agree Borges had to go. Woo back on topic!

MI Expat NY

January 9th, 2014 at 4:04 PM ^

Amen on the last point.

I do still think you're being a bit harsh on the 2010 offense saying they stalled agaisnts better defenses.  If you throw out the bowl game as being more a result of quitting on the coach/season, they only struggled to score against MSU (17 points with a missed FG and two interceptions in the end zone and 7 against OSU where they moved the ball well all game and I think Denard missed part of it with an injury).  This isn't all that different than Carr's better offenses.  2003 got stymied by USC in the Rose Bowl, 1999 which is the year you're probably thinking of scored 18 against Syracuse and 21 at Wisconsin, and 2000 scored 13 against Wisconsin and 14 against State.  

A couple down games does not negate an entire seasons worth of offense.  If you wanted to say 2003 or 1999 were better than 2010 on offense, I'm fine with that.  I think it's a lot closer than you're admitting though.  


January 9th, 2014 at 3:22 PM ^

needed to score at least 5 TDs against MSU, 6 TDs against OSU, and 8 TDs against ntMSU for Rodriguez to keep his job. Clearly that's what Rodriguez should have strived for instead of semi-competent defense and special teams.


January 9th, 2014 at 3:29 PM ^

not buying it.  We don't know how those games would have played out, but if team A can't score more than 20 points it has no business blaming the D for the loss.  You score less than 20 don't expect to win many games.  You score more than 30 you should expect to win most.


January 9th, 2014 at 3:52 PM ^

the defense and special teams affect scoring, given that 1) they can score separate of the offense, 2) field goals are worth 3 points, and 3) they set up field position for the offense. If they are all attrocious, scoring offense will also suffer; hence how Michigan can gain 350 yards of total offense against Ohio State yet only score 7 points. (Conceding turnovers matter too, but Michigan's lost turnover rate was average for the season)

MI Expat NY

January 9th, 2014 at 3:53 PM ^

We lost 6 games where we gave up 34, 38, 41, 48, 37, and 52 points, yet you focus on the three games we scored less than 20 points as the reason RR didn't stick around.  To win 3 more games, we would have had to score 27 or more points in every game that season.  Without doing a completely exhaustive search, know how many teams pulled that off this season? Two: Florida State and Texas A&M.  So, a national champion caliber offense and one lead by three first round draft picks.  But I guess I'll concede the point, it is possible to be truly attocious on defense and still finish 9-4.  


January 9th, 2014 at 2:32 PM ^

That 2010 offense was also the first year that RR really had the guys he really wanted to run it, all of whom were young, most importantly at QB.  And Denard was a true sophmore.  The offense certainly struggled against good defenses, but it had a clear identity, and I don't think it was unreasonable to assume that it would have only gotten better as the players gained more experience.  Comparing the only year in which RR was able to get his offense up and running to those from Carr's best years is unreasonable. 


January 9th, 2014 at 2:43 PM ^

I didn't say it wouldn't have gotten better, I bet it would have. I'm saying it wasn't as good in 2010 as many like to portray it. The offense had it's share of problems.

I also agree that it's unreasonable to compare them to Carr's best offense which is why I disagreed with snow in the first place.


January 9th, 2014 at 2:42 PM ^

My post wasn't meant to dwell on the negative but to highlight the fact Nuss is walking into a situation where his system actually fits the personnel, (unlike RR and Borges) which lessens the adjustment curve which breeds quicker success.

I have high hopes for this offense going forward.


January 9th, 2014 at 2:33 PM ^

It's not an indictment of Rodriguez's offense specifically.  Every offense has trouble scoring against a good defense.  That's why it's a good defense.


Even against good defenses, Rod's offenses did better than most others did.


January 9th, 2014 at 2:36 PM ^

"Even against good defenses, Rod's offenses did better than most others did."

That is entirely incorrect.  Do you not remember the last two games of 2010 (OSU and Bowl).  We did not do better against those teams than most.  Ditto MSU (which was just ok that year) and several other decent outfits. 

RR's offense was great at beating up on the crap defenses and fell apart against better defenses. 

Who cares.  RR's offense is in the past.  Let's all be excited for our new OC and what he can hopefully do.


January 9th, 2014 at 2:56 PM ^

There were only two games in the entire 2010 season that Michigan's offense (measured in yards per play) was below what their opponents gave up on average:  Purdue and Mississippi State.  Even in those, the ratio was about 0.98.  Even against Ohio State, the YPP was higher than what OSU's defense allowed on average.


Not really interested in getting into a slap fight about it, but Rodriguez's offenses were pretty damn good.  The defenses sucked, but give credit where it's due. Your assertion does not stand up to close analysis.  Yes, his offense ran up big numbers against bad defenses.  Good defenses certainly slowed it down, but it still outperformed most other teams.


January 9th, 2014 at 3:13 PM ^

I care, but only because it's annoying to read people repeatedly attempt to rewrite history despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Check the stats: Only Arkansas gained more yards against Ohio State than Michigan in 2010. Only the offense is capable of gaining yards. So please tell me how Michigan's offense did not do "better than most others did," given they were better than 11 out of 12 of OSU's opponents.

Turn the ball over too much? Michigan was average at conceding turnovers that year, so they could have certainly been better. Until anyone on the internet can prove conceding an average rate of turnovers prove offensive coaching is bad I'm not buying it. Ohio State had a good defense, and good defenses are good at forcing turnovers.

Not score enough points? field goal kicking, good field position, and defensive/special teams contribute to scoring as well; Michigan was attrocious at all of these things in that game, and the punter was suspended for that game. Yet the offense was very good at moving the ball forward, so I still don't see how it's indictive of the offense. Red-zone scoring wasn't a problem with Michigan; they were 22nd in points per red-zone possession.

The bowl game I'll give you, but that's a cherrypicked stat since we already know Rodriguez lost his locker room during that game. So the offense playing the 2nd half of that game was going to be a shell of itself regardless.


January 9th, 2014 at 2:24 PM ^

We have had 2 offensive coaching staffs in a row that could not successfully adjust to their personnel, and it has KILLED Michigan football.

I recognize that this is rehasing the past unnecessarily, but there's a huge difference between RR not adapting his his offense to Threet/Sheridan in year 1 (his failure to do so did not KILL Michigan football) and Borges' inability to figure out how to use Denard, one of the greatest athletes in the progam's history, in Borges' first two years.  That really set us back.  As did Borges' gameplanning this year.  The offense almost never worked. 

I wish Al all the best, but the change was entirely justified. 


January 9th, 2014 at 2:36 PM ^

Yes, Killed may have been going to far, but it has absolutely had a negative effect that took UM from a perennial top 20 sometimes top 10 program under what are we now?

Don't make the excuse for RR, he had Mallet an NFL level QB and wouldn't adjust the offense for him which in turn made us 3-9 which in turn started the landslide that cost him his job.

As for Borges he was just hopeless, couldn't figure out Dennard and couldn't successfully implement his system, complete failure.

I've never been so satisfied with a coaching hire I think Nuss is a perfect fit.


January 9th, 2014 at 2:49 PM ^

I believe he would have stayed if RR sold him on running a passing spread offense. I know he was supposedly a jackass but your telling me going with Threet or Sheridan was a better plan than trying to convince Mallet to stay?


January 9th, 2014 at 2:54 PM ^

You get to cling to that notion steadfastly because it's impossible to provide any documentation to PROVE you wrong. But common belief is that Mallett was leaving either way - even if Lloyd remained as coach. Of course, Sparty - and apparently you- refuse to believe that's remotely feasible.