The Auburn Perspective On Al Borges

Submitted by Brian on January 19th, 2011 at 11:54 AM

Now that Mississippi State has been pointlessly scouted to death, Michigan fans have set to finding fans of every team Al Borges ever coordinated. Maize 'n' Brew put Cal up first despite the fact that Borges's tenure there consisted of a single star-crossed year; this is the view from the plains.

Many thanks to Jerry Hinnen of War Blog Eagle and CBS's generically named but excellent College Football Blog.

Here goes:


So, Al Borges. I won't bury the lede: after watching him for four years at Auburn, I don't think he's a particularly good fit for Michigan's current personnel, Denard Robinson most especially. He is as advertised: a veteran, pro-style, pass-first West Coast disciple. But there's a reason he's that veteran, namely that he's a whip-smart, clever, above-all solid offensive coordinator.

He might not be a Malzahn or Kelly-style miracle worker, but I can assure you he's not a Jeff Mullen or Steve Addazio or Patrick Nix, either. (No, I wouldn't expect the return of the Avalanche anytime soon.) Given the right tools to work with and a quality defense on the other side of the ball, there's no reason Borges couldn't be the coordinator for a championship-caliber Big Ten team.

Auburn fans would argue he proved that in 2004; it's a testament to how dominant that offense was (and how wretched it had been the year before*) that even after his final two teams finished 76th and 97th in total yardage, he remains universally respected and admired among the Tiger fanbase. Yeah, a well-trained sugar glider [ed: ?] could have turned Campbell, Williams, Brown, Marcus McNeill, etc. into a competent offense, but that 25th-place finish in total offense you mentioned doesn't come close to doing that unit justice. They finished fifth in yards-per-play, first in yards per-pass attempt (at 10.0 a pop), second in passing efficiency, all against an SEC schedule and all with Tuberville's Carr-like insistence on downshifting into clock-killing mode as soon as the lead hit two scores. (Which it did a lot that year.)

Before that year Campbell had been a head case who'd already gone through three coordinators in three seasons. Borges got his head on straight, deployed the two-headed monster of Williams and Brown to maximum efficiency, and even added in the occasional gimmick play to good effect. It really was a terrific coaching job, and a lot of Auburn fans will tell you his 2005 effort -- in which Auburn finished 24th in yards per-play and scored 27 or more points 9 times, despite replacing Campbell with Brandon Cox and and not discovering a running back until Kenny Irons emerged at midseason -- was even better. (They're exaggerating, but it was still awfully nice.)

So what happened after that? Certainly Tuberville's conservatism and the lack of help from the world's most mediocre set of position coaches (the same ones who eventually got Tony Franklin fired midseason) didn't help, but the principal problem IMHO was the collapse of the passing game. Cox's myasthenia gravis—a debilitating muscle disease—seriously reduced his effectiveness, a series of recruiting busts meant that there were no replacements for the two departed NFL receivers on the outside, and the loss of McNeill opened up huge problems in pass protection. For a coordinator who set up his running game with the threat of an efficient passing game (even in 2005, Cox threw 44 times against Ga. Tech, 40 times against LSU, 33 times vs. Wisconsin, huge numbers for a Tuberville team), this was DEATH.

So how much blame does Borges finally share for the downturn? Not that much; the lack of player development from the position coaches, Tubby's handcuffing, and plain old bad luck in Cox's downturn hurt more than anything Borges did. Nevertheless, he does share some blame for things getting as rocky as they got, there's some lessons for Michigan's expectations for Borges here:

  • He needs the talent. Obviously, the array of tools at Borges' disposal in '06 and '07 wasn't nearly what it was in '04 and '05, but the cupboard wasn't as bare as to totally excuse the off-the-cliff plummet Auburn experienced. It may be fair to say that Borges is well-equipped to maximize a talent advantage over lesser opponents -- his success with a very talented SDSU offense by MWC standards this year would seem to be more evidence -- but isn't as effective "coaching up" lesser weapons. In the long term this is probably a good thing.
  • He's not going to recruit that talent himself. Can't speak for what he's done at SDSU or his previous stops, but virtually any skill position player who truly shone at Auburn -- during his tenure or after -- was either recruited under his predecessors or after he'd departed.
  • He's not super-flexible. Borges' schemes didn't change a whole lot as Cox's effectiveness decreased and his receiving corps began sucking. It was still the same array of mostly off-tackle and iso runs, play-action passes (yes, waggles!), and occasional pro-style passing concepts. They just stopped working. Borges made some offseason comments to the effect that Auburn would do more to get the running backs and tight ends involved in the passing game (as they had been in 2004), but that never really seemed to develop.

To that same point, Borges did precious little work at Auburn with a "dual-threat" quarterback, but what little he did wouldn't be very encouraging where Denard is concerned. That work came with Kodi Burns, who came to Auburn as a true freshman in 2007. Cox began that season completely out of sorts and Burns was brought off the bench in Weeks 2-4 to stop the bleeding. It didn't seem like Borges had made much of an effort to teach Burns the offense or develop a functional package to put his running skills to use; Burns seemed to mostly just take the snap and run around. A true freshman Kodi Burns might not have been able to do much more than that, but it still just didn't seem like Borges had much of an idea about what to do with him at that stage. Obviously Robinson is miles and miles ahead of where Burns was (or ever got to) as a quarterback, but maybe it's something to keep in mind all the same.

Again, none of that is to say Borges can't succeed at Michigan ... but the current situation just isn't in his wheelhouse. Based on the last half of 2005 (when Cox, Irons, and the AU receivers were at the height of their powers) and what he's done at SDSU this season with the Lindley-Hillman-senior wideouts package, I'd say the prototypical Borges offense is one with an accurate (and not necessarily strong-armed) pocket passer, big NFL-type receivers on the outside to stretch the field, and a single stud running back as a home run threat out of the backfield. It seems like aside from Darryl Stonum, Michigan doesn't have any of those things.

What's ironic, says Alanis, is that Michigan used to have those things in bunches. Give Borges Henne, Hart, Long, and Manningham/Arrington, and you're going to have one of the best offenses in the country, hands-down. And maybe he can work some magic with Denard (or Gardner), and Hopkins, and Stonum/Miller/Jackson/whoever. But I can't shake the feeling that Borges is the right guy in the right place at the wrong time.

*[Since you asked, sort of, and because it shows how deeply, deeply flawed Tuberville's understanding of offense is, in 2003 Auburn used co-offensive coordinators: quarterbacks coach Steve Ensminger and offensive line coach Hugh Nall. Tuberville asked them to operate the identical scheme run by Bobby Petrino in 2002, but with a twist: he would ask them for either a running play or a passing play as the situation demanded, and then Nall would make the playcall if Tubby had requested a running play, and Ensminger the playcall in the event of a pass. (I don't think this has been officially confirmed, but it's a matter of general understanding amongst Auburn fans.) And that is how you take Campbell, Williams, Brown, and like four other NFL players and wind up with a lousy offense. Nall wound up as a trucking company executive when he left Auburn; Ensminger's next job was as an assistant coach with a local high school.]


Jerry walked back what pessimism existed in the above—there but under the "this guy is pretty good" bit—in a brief addendum:

So I read back over what I wrote yesterday and it's too far on the negative side, I think. I don't mean to imply Borges can't/won't succeed at Michigan, I'm just worried it's going to take a couple of seasons for

1. Hoke and Co. to recruit the missing pieces for the offense (especially a load-carrying RB)
2. Borges to coach up the pieces he's got, like (hopefully) Gardner.

Given the state of the defense, I wonder if he'd really be given the necessary slack to survive a Rodriguez-like transition period. But Mattison ought to help. If he's Hoke's Malzahn, there's no question Borges can be his Ted Roof.


I think Borges will be all but forced to adapt when there turn out to be things that work with Denard and things that don't. In the Cox case above criticisms about not adapting to the situation might overlook the fact that there's no adaptation that turns suck into not suck. See Michigan's 2008 offense—when you don't have anything you can adapt all you want and you're still going to be hilariously bad.



January 19th, 2011 at 12:06 PM ^

...well and good, but wouldn't it be prudent to make an evaluation of how well Borges will do with DRob style talent based not just on his Auburn offenses, but his SDSU offenses? It seems there's been some substantial evolution in his approach over the past few years, and that indicates that additional evolution may be in the offing for the newfangled Michigan "Third Coast" offense.


January 19th, 2011 at 12:07 PM ^

I have heard Michael Vicks name thrown out at times by the staff in regards to a running QB who has been successful in a Pro-Offense.  I actually expect Borges to pull a Denard, and tape his eye lids open and jam football into them 25 hours a day.  I am willing to bet he spends most of his time alternating between game film of Denard and game film of Vick.

I also expect them to mix a few spread and waggle plays in.  Keeping Fred Jackson helps.  I can't imagine that Fred Jackson would spend 3 years under Rich Rod and not pick up a thing or two. 


January 19th, 2011 at 12:09 PM ^

Maybe we need another offensive coach to help with recrutiing since Borges doesn't seem like the best recruiter.  I know we have 5 offensive coaches already, maybe one more.  As for the defense, we have 2, looking for a DB and Mattison and Coach Hoke can work the d line. 


January 19th, 2011 at 1:44 PM ^

One of the problems with Rodriguez at Michigan was an imbalance between offensive and defensive coaches, with six offense (HC, OC, OL, QB, RB, WR) and four defense (DC/LB, DL, DB, S). I'd like to see a balance, with five offense (OC/QB, OL, RB, TE, WR)  and five defense (HC, DC, LB, +2) -- Mattison gets to bring in two coaches with him. Maybe he coaches the DL with Hoke (between them, they have 11 years of experience coaching Michigan's defensive linemen), so he can bring in two DB coaches?


January 19th, 2011 at 1:54 PM ^

I would normally like to see a balance as well.  I more responding to Brian's comments about Borges and recruiting.  I may be totally wrong, but it doesn't seem like he is the best recruiter out there.  He is great at using talent, but needs to get that talent. 

With Hoke and Mattison being so defensive oriented, maybe we have a luxury to have an extra coach to help with the offense and the most important position of QB, as well as recrutiing. 

My thoughts - 10 coaches including HC.

OC - Borges

QB - Loeffler?

RB- Jackson

TE/ST - Ferrigno

O line - Funk

WR - Hecklinski

DC - Mattison

DB - ?

LB - Smith

D line - Mattison/Hoke

This is my suggestion to more of the Borges recruiting issue.  I agree that I would rather have a balance between the 2.


January 19th, 2011 at 2:04 PM ^

I really think that Loeffler is a must for this staff. The guy from the Auburn blog made it sound like Borges can't recruit and does not like to recruit. Recruiting is the lifeblood of college football. We need a guy like Loeffler who has experience with NFL quarterbacks and has been able to lure in big high school prospects (Henne, Mallett, Brantley, Driskel etc.). As you correctly mentioned as it is right now we don't have a top notch offensive recruiter (other than maybe coach Jackson)


January 19th, 2011 at 12:11 PM ^

This pained me to read.  Borges appears to be very capable based on your research and info but it appears as though the offense is going to move back to where it was under Carr.  That's not horrible if they win but I, for one, was looking forward to a future of a more spread-ish offense.  It just seems more "exciting" to me - less professional and more of a "college" feel to it - and I liked that.  Alas, it appears as though the spread may eventually vanish from Ann Arbor.


January 19th, 2011 at 12:32 PM ^

What makes you think that this would be the return of Carr? He says that with the talent that Carr had in 2005-2007, he could have had the best offense in the country. This is an aggressive passing-first offense that puts up big yards rushing and passing, just like the spread. It's also the HC's call of when to slow down and when to blow someone out of the water. That would not change even if we had Malzahn.

Yinka Double Dare

January 19th, 2011 at 12:46 PM ^

I worry a bit too, but if he really was running a "pass to set up the run" pro-style with Auburn and was throwing it 30+ times a game quite regularly, that sounds a lot more like the offense we saw against Florida in Lloyd's final game.  And that's an offense those of us who thought the scheme was getting stale can get behind.  We just want an offense that actually unleashes the talent rather than holding it back with hyperconservative play.  If the head coach gets out of the way and lets the the coordinator stay on the gas pedal with the offense, we can get what we're looking for out of a pro-style too.

El Jeffe

January 19th, 2011 at 1:05 PM ^

And that's an offense those of us who thought the scheme was getting stale can get behind.

I have visceral, vivid memories of weeping hot bittersweet tears at what I was watching and what might have been had it not taken until game 13 to unveil and unshackle that offense.

Hey, I like zone left zone left incomplete punt as much as the next guy (which means not at all), but that '08 Cap One bowl offense was gorgeous. If Borges to some extent replicates this, then yes fucking please.


January 19th, 2011 at 1:44 PM ^

I have those very same vivid memories (ask my wife, she'll comfirm).  I too, am on board with the possibility of that type of offensive firepower.  And, even though we may not have the current "proto-typical" athelete for that offensive style, I believe that those (elite) atheletes will come to UM if it means they're prepared for a possible NFL career.


January 19th, 2011 at 2:43 PM ^

After the first drive of that game I was screaming, "WHERE HAS THIS BEEN ALL YEAR?"  Then I remembered the injuries, poured a Jameson, and enjoyed the show.  Henne didn't make many passes in that game that Shoelace can't make (the Arrington one hand catch to the red zone was one)...I am all for making the offense of that game the 'Michigan Offense".

Frank Drebin

January 19th, 2011 at 2:07 PM ^

It sounds like the Carr offense from the Capital One Game vs. Florida. We attacked the fast Gator defense by spreading them 4 wide and used a great passing game. We had a great run counter game with Hart. I would love to see this return, and I wish that we would have used that style of offense all year long. It may have been possible if we didn't have all of the injuries. It sort of reminds me of Oklahomas passing spread offense. 


January 19th, 2011 at 2:46 PM ^

If the new coaches can take what they have and utilize all of the skills that the players bring to the table to their fullest, I think that's all I care about.  The actual scheme doesn't really matter at the end of the day - I would just like to see a more "exciting" offense than I grew up watching.  I got used to the winning and would like to again, no doubt.  If it was a Michigan in the Capital One Bowl offense, I'd be extremely happy.


January 19th, 2011 at 12:13 PM ^

Well that was kind of hopeful. At least we can look forward to seeing something new this year. I really liked RR's offense, but a different direction could be refreshing. 

Maize n Blue

January 19th, 2011 at 12:16 PM ^

Thankfully, Denard had the season that he did. His athleticism forced the media, other coaches, and Michigan fans to acknowledge that he is a unique talent that needs to be utilized AT QUARTERBACK. Hopefully the, often unfair, pressure that is placed on incoming Michigan coaches (see RR) will be positively applied to Al Borges and Brady Hoke in order to inspire a prolific offense at Michigan that is a hybrid of Borges' and Robinson's areas of expertise.


January 19th, 2011 at 12:21 PM ^

TALENT.   Bring it in, which Hoke is supposed to be very good at.   DRob's only around 2 more years, things will transition to Borgess' style they bring in the stars.  Have faith in the program they bring in.


January 19th, 2011 at 12:25 PM ^

There are already 3 potential "load carrying" RBs on the roster - Toussaint, Hopkins and Cox. They all will get their chance to be "that guy."

Also - Junior Hemingway would count as a Lloyd Carr - prototypical big play wide receiver. 32 catches in 2010, averaging 19 yards per reception, yeah, that's a big play guy right there.

Kilgore Trout

January 19th, 2011 at 12:35 PM ^

Couple points that occurred to me...

1.  Given this, it seems like it would have made a lot of sense to get Loeffler on this staff, one way or the other.  He's been a QB coach in a prostyle and spread / option system.  He seems like the perfect bridge to help with this situation.

2.  I think this undersells UM's WRs.  Like someone said above, Stonum and Hemingway are solid outside guys with Jackson and Robinson in the wings (assuming Miller is really a TE now).  In addition to that, Roundtree seems like a perfect fit for the Avant role.  He's similar in size and seems to be able to get open pretty easily.  He just needs to catch the ball.  And, I think Odoms will continue to find his way on the field.  Good hands, top end speed, best blocking WR I've seen in a while.  Only his height holds him back, but I think they'll find a way to make that work. 


January 19th, 2011 at 1:30 PM ^

The timing for passing to the WRs a little awkward however.

The 2010 WRs are pretty loaded with talent and depth.  After Hemingway, Stonum, and Odoms graduate it'll be Roundtree and ?s.

Meanwhile the QBs will presumably have some awkward transition in 2010 and (hopefully) in 2011 be better able to figure out Borges preferred scheme.

We'll see...hopefully we'll see plenty of 3 or 4 WR sets in 2010 to take advantage of personnel and smooth the transition towards pro-style going forward.

Finally, besides height, Forcier sounds like an ideal Borges QB.  Hope those WCC classes are going alright...


January 19th, 2011 at 2:10 PM ^

with one exception: he never learned to settle down in the pocket. Even this past season he was running around like a chicken with his head cut off.


Denard is a star and will be very effective in this offense, I'm convinced. I think the real future is Devin Gardner though. I'm so freakin' excited.


January 19th, 2011 at 12:38 PM ^

Good read.

Borges/Hoke have made every indication that they will adapt the offense. I lost count of the "square peg in round hole" analogies long ago. He may not be used to spread concepts, but they aren't foreign to him. SDSU ran spread options this past season. Denard is in no way a hinderance to any OC, whether it be Calvin Magee or Mike DeBord. Borges won't feel the need to force a scheme or rely on Denard to make throws that he may not be able to because he has his legs to fall back on. As for running back, Ronnie Hillman is all of 5'10" 175 lbs. and he excelled in Borges' offense. Another Mike Hart would be nice but it isn't an immediate necessity.

As for the future, if Borges stays on then he has the chance to be great. Michigan has a recent lineage of NFL quarterbacks that is unparalleled as far as I can tell. From Griese (even though he was a walk-on) to Mallett, Michigan has recruited and signed NFL caliber quarterbacks. They did it for a decade straight. I doubt it'll be too much of a problem down the road to do it again.


January 19th, 2011 at 1:55 PM ^

"Borges/Hoke have made every indication that they will adapt the offense."  Words, just words.  I'm not convinced that have any idea what to do with Denard except to shoehorn him into what they know.  Much like Threat into RR's offense.  I remember hearing the same thing from RR on modifying the offense to fit the personnel, which sure did not work the first year.  I would love to have had someone who actually demonstrated the ability to use someone like Denard in the near term rather than someone who has talked about it but never actually demonstrated it..

In the long run it will be fine but I think we are screwed with this guy in the short term.  Sound familiar?


January 19th, 2011 at 12:38 PM ^

Honestly, I think that Denard will be a good fit for this offense. He started out the season with out-of-his-mind passing efficiency and slowly regressed as the season went on. I attribute this to his coaching from preseason wearing off a bit. I think another offseason of being coached up will really help him with mechanics and accuracy. What I am more worried about is Denard learning the playbook in time. Hopefully, he can learn much of it in the off-season like he did last year, and the coaches can continue adding plays throughout the year. By the time that we get to the meat of our schedule, we might get lucky and start to see a well-oiled machine continue to move the ball on good competition.


January 19th, 2011 at 2:02 PM ^

A whole different offense, new plays, new reads, new terminology.  I expect a very rough transition.  Don't expect the offense to be equal to or better than last year in 2011.  Hopefully Defense and Special Teams will improve enough to offset it.

Without the threat of Denard to run as much you won't have safeties crashing the line leaving receivers incredibly wide open.  Denard has not show the ability to be especially accurate with guys open, what happens when he is turned into a pocket passer and has to thread the needle.

It seems like the right guy might be able to find some middle ground, and that guy does not appear to be Borges.


January 19th, 2011 at 5:18 PM ^

in an under center drop back pocket passing scheme, where it is clear he is not going to run until he's about to face a coverage sack.

Part of his passing effectiveness has been because the secondary needed to keep one eye on Denard the moment the ball is snapped.

Denard had trouble when he need to sit in the pocket and go through reads on covered recievers.

I hope Borges can show some flexibility with Denard.  I hope he does not do a Threet on him where he just shoehorns him into a pre-existing system.

Please, no more "system" guys.  Hate him or not, that is one thing that Tressel has been good at - adapting to the talent he has on hand, and not just in a token way.


January 19th, 2011 at 12:39 PM ^

That dual situation sounds like one of the most hilariously frustrating ideas I've heard for how to run an offense.Good god. Talk about dysfunctional. 


January 19th, 2011 at 12:43 PM ^

i don't know that the inability to adapt once means that he'll demonstrate the same inability again.  hopefully he learned from his previous inflexibility and can get Denard doing Denard like things.

The Rake

January 19th, 2011 at 12:45 PM ^

then he damn well better be. The most frustrating thing by far about leaving RichRod behind was this offense had the potential to be stunning, and was still pretty darn good as it was for a young group. I hate the idea of a complete scheme overhaul. I hope Borges and crew keep their word, adapt to the personnel and get Denard on the edge and in a dual threat position. I can handle 10-12 rushes from him a game instead of 20+, but still he is a weapon most effectively used when given the chance or at least threat of using his incredible speed. #goblue