Coaching Clinic Notes: Offense

Submitted by Brian on April 21st, 2011 at 3:22 PM

The second half of Craig Ross's recap of the coaching clinic.

Borges and the Offense

Borges, unlike Mattison, obsessed over last year’s tape. This makes sense since the O was pretty effective for much of the year, and he wanted to evaluate what he had (particularly on the OL) to see what changes they might need to make. He noted (in a presser) that he felt that the zone blocking from RR’s tenure wasn’t a lot different from the style he prefers, but then said that they wouldn’t do a ton of zone. It is a part of the offense, but it sounds like it is like power was last year—a changeup. Borges has a lot more problems than Mattison even though we assume offense is going to be much better than the defense, because he actually has something that asks him to adapt.

Hoke made it clear that the “signature play” (their words, more than a couple of times) would be “power.” This is often out of a 21 package [ed: 2 RB, 1 TE—usually a standard I-form] with the FB kicking out/protecting the edge and the play being run through the A gap, with the backside guard pulling through the gap. Here’s what it looks like. The diagrams below were created by Borges when he was OC at Auburn and are found in Bill Mallory’s (and Don Nehlen’s) book Football Offenses and Plays:


[ed: Here's an excellent Smart Football primer. Also here is another diagram. Key player is the guy just to the left of the X representing the center:


That's actually a counter play that the Steelers used for a 75-yard touchdown in a Super Bowl a few years back. It's not "A-gap"—A gap would go right next to the center.

This won't be entirely unfamiliar. Michigan pulled guys last year. This Picture Pages covers a "down G" play—like power but with the playside guard pulling outside of the TE/tackle. Here's the C and frontside guard pulling against Indiana:

Here's an actual backside G pull on a power inverted read veer pickle sandwich (or something… Rodriguez's run game forced me to figure out/invent lingo every week):

Plenty of college spread teams use power. Here's seven minutes of it:

Yes, I am slightly obsessed with this. Also whenever this topic comes up I hear EA Kirk Herbstreit's disembodied head say "he used POWER… he used POWER… he used POWER." I'll stop now since this editorial aside is turning into its own post.]

Ideally, the back is reading the WILL who will be spilling over to the playside once he determines he has no gap responsibility on his side. If the Will pursues hard the back can even cut back to the weakside of the formation. Borges has said that they won't be in 21 and 22 personnel running power 14 times a game, but Hoke had a slightly varied message.

This Spring, power for the most part sucked against the #1 D, but it is clear that this is their primary running play. They run the Wildcat in a similar fashion. That has pretty much not been very good either.

The Borges article in the above book remains vital. My guess is he is still using slice plays: the slice pass, the naked boot and the wide zone. Funk says he has run the power for 25 years (he doesn’t seem that old) but he likes to run some zone also. He says, a la Landry, Bo and Lombardi, that they like to practice power more than it is used in games so that “the kids have seen everything a defense can throw at you and they are always prepared—we want to get to where they are always comfortable in blocking the play, regardless of defense.” Funk also said they will “never check to power” but they might check out of it.

On a personal level, Hoke has an extremely high regard for Funk. He implied that SDSU wasn’t very tough or fundamentally sound in 2009 but by 2010 Funk had created a different deal. Hoke says that Funk is the best OL coach in the country and, I have to admit, he is incredibly impressive.

At this point I don’t know what to think. I thought the offense was sketchy in the Saturday scrimmage. I thought offense was sketchy in the spring game. OK, Molk didn’t play a lot. Lewan didn’t play at all. These are two of our top three guys on the line. In both events the O was still working on reps as much as anything else. But I didn’t think either QB looked comfortable in this offense. Did the offense, really, look any better than the offense with Steve Threet in Year One of the Years of Complete Implosion? And, weren’t we running against the personnel that was the worst D in History last year? Well, everything has morphed. Wasn’t the D playing against a pretty damned good O from last year? Uh, yeah, except it was running a completely different system. [ed: DUCK!]

My sense/conclusion, though it is more mist than light, is that the D has truly improved. Part is experience. Part is growth by the younger guys, the natural progression. Part is Mattison and the HC’s focus on defense, not offense. Part is a scheme that gets guys in the right places. My sense/conclusion is also that the offense will decline, perhaps massively. Now, it is early. But doesn’t it feel like, as RR in Year One, that we are pounding a lot of square pegs into round holes? Doesn’t it feel like we have taken the best weapon in college football and hamstrung him? I can’t be right.



Special Teams

Place kicking remains a debacle. I have watched this a lot. These guys just can’t do it. If the frosh (Wile) isn’t the starter this fall we are (again) in trouble. Think four downs—not that I have any problem with that on just about any place on the field. But if you ain’t playing four downs from down 1—different deal. And, since no one but Pulaski High School is, well, we gotta get better here.

Hagerup, of course, isn’t a problem. He should be a better punter than last year and he was competent last year. He gets great hang time and doesn’t chunk them often. [Ed-M: provided whatever kept him out of the bowl is now behind him]

Punt returns: The coaches have tried a different idea re: training. Instead of hassling and bumping the returner (something I thought would have worked pretty well) the coaches are turning them around pre-punt and then forcing them to find the ball in the air, post punt. Another drill has them catching the punt with another ball tucked in one arm. Seems to be working or, at least, I didn’t see Junior, Dileo or Gallon drop one. Even when being turned around or holding another ball. Better than last spring. I will predict improvement here, for whatever reason, or only because it can’t continue.

KOs and returns I haven’t witnessed. Or, if I did, it wasn’t much and it didn’t register.


As an abstraction I could not (and still don’t) believe the offensive transition will go well in the short term. Now, Borges seems a very sharp guy. I have no concerns about his intelligence, experience or ability. His OL coach, Darrel Funk, is awesome: off the charts smart and personable. He seems less obsessed than Hoke about smashmouth football. He wants to be physical, but concedes that spreads are viable. He reminds me of Carr. Carr wasn’t a believer in zone blocking but was willing to be convinced and DeBo (plus Alex Gibbs) were able to convince him. Funk seems confident in his ability to teach any style. I am convinced he could teach anything, also.

I have zero issue with the hiring of this group. I am impressed. They stress that they never belittle or embarrass a player. Criticisms are constructive and positive. But they are more classical football guys who have inherited a lot of spread offense pieces. In this, I don’t see 2011 as much different than 2008. Lotsa round offensive pegs in square holes. In the long run, I have no doubt that Hoke will put high quality football on the field. But this might be three years away.



April 21st, 2011 at 4:13 PM ^

The obvious comp he's trying to make is that Sheridan/Threet were as miscast in the spread as Denard is in the WCO.  I don't think that's true.

Regardless, what he's missing is that Threet/Sheridan were going to lead a suckballs Offense in 2008 even if it remained pro style.  Why?  Because they didn't have much talent, and neither did the O line. 


April 21st, 2011 at 3:34 PM ^

"In this, I don’t see 2011 as much different than 2008. Lotsa round offensive pegs in square holes. In the long run, I have no doubt that Hoke will put high quality football on the field. But this might be three years away."

Someone put Brian on a 72-hour watch.


April 21st, 2011 at 3:36 PM ^

I like this coaching staff a lot, FWIW, and think that they'll get Michigan back to being Michigan.  I agree with Brian, though, that it might be 2014 before that happens.   The defense might get all the way up to being a 5 out of 10 this year, and you would think that that would lead to an improved record from last year's 7-6.  I don't think it necessarily will, though, b/c I think the offense is likely to drop off while struggling to transition to Borges's scheme.  To put it simply: Michigan won't give up 65 points to Illinois this year but they won't score 67 either...I don't think Michigan will be able to right the ship completely for several years because of both this year's adjustment and the fact that the roster just isn't that talented compared to OSU and teams like it.   It's going to take a little while to get all the right pieces in all the right places.

I think this looks like a .500 year, more-or-less.  I think that Eastern, Western, Minnesota, and Purdue are (knock on wood) the only sure-fire wins. 


April 21st, 2011 at 5:17 PM ^

We're getting back to MICHIGAN FOOTBALL, so we'll be good this year.


But to your point, this has been my fear (not my prediction) as well. I definitely understand the camp that says "Borges/Hoke want to win, so they'll put whatever scheme they have to to do that, calm down." I understand that, but disagree, in that they are limited in their ability to adjust fully because they are trying to build an offense and team that does things very differently. IMO it's not enough to simply say "Denard will be in the shotgun many times per game." Well Denard won't be in the gun the majority of the game. Denard won't be a threat to run on every single play, like he was last year, and defenses will know that. A huge factor in his passing success was that threat to run. And one more thing: there will be a natural struggle for this offense early this year, simply because of the new coaching, new system etc, but add to that Denard trying to polish skill sets that he had to pay far less attention to last year. So instead of improving even further, he will be thinking. And that usually isn't that great for any QB in a new system. 


April 21st, 2011 at 5:45 PM ^

I don't think that Borges and Hoke are inflexible or stupid.  As you say, though, you can't change even partially to a pro-style offense and not have some growing pains.  Even the best players and coaches suffer through the kind of switch we're seeing at Michigan.

Blue boy johnson

April 21st, 2011 at 9:07 PM ^

Yep. Borges knows as well as anybody, Denard is a phenomenal playmaker.  I think Spielman said, Denard might be the fastest guy he has EVER seen on a football field.

The threat Denard poses to defenses on a play by play basis is unquestioned, Denard's challenge is to not turn the football over.


April 21st, 2011 at 9:00 PM ^

The threat of the designed run presumably won't be as much, though.   In other words, if you're not running Denard 25 times a game, the defense is going to adjust and not be as likely to bite on fake runs. 

Denard rarely ran when a pass was called last last year, as Brian noted.  Oddly enough for a guy with his running ability, he may have to learn to be quicker to give up on a pass play. 


April 21st, 2011 at 9:46 PM ^

Denard is about ten pounds heavier than he was last year, but what are the odds of him making it through another season without a more significant injury than what occurred last year if he runs 25 times a game?  It is not a bet I would want to make.

The one difference between now and 2008 is that  the coaches recognize what they have and seem to have a way to make it work within their system versus the other way around.  Any comparison of the talent level between 2008 and now is a joke. If the first game were a week from now, I'd say we are in trouble, but it is more than four months down the road.


April 21st, 2011 at 8:41 PM ^

...about will be how the team is able to run the ball with its Running Backs as its impossible to say based on the Spring Game (a team lacking its best linemen, particularly at key positions like LT and C) is not going to show a running game that we can competently evaluate. 

A good running game allows for things like Denard Robinson bootlegs, which should be good.  A bad running game leads to too much Denard running (last year) or too much passing (likelier in this offense).  Most of the running backs were fairly highly recruited (Shaw was being presuded by Nebraska, Penn State, and Iowa for instance).  So they should have the talent for it.  And if you added up the RB's combined numbers last season they didn't do that badly when they had chances overall (a lot of the issues in short yardage had to do with using Vincent Smith in a role he simply wasn't suited for particularly less than a year after ACL surgery).


April 21st, 2011 at 7:47 PM ^

I lost my potential post on this subject when the old laptop started producing smoke, however, the idea that Michigan is way down in the talent standings is not nearly as true as some like to think.  Most of the guys on the roster had offers from at least one other big time school and many had offers from numerous bigtime programs (if we look at the much maligned defense we have Mike Martin, Kenny Demens, Jibreel Black, MRob, Craig Roh, Kellen Jones, Blake Countess) and a lot of the non-highly rated guys are looking surprisingly good (Carvin, Courtney Avery, and Jake Ryan).  Are we the most talented team in the world?  No.  However, I'm going to put down the majority of our struggles (maybe even 70%) down to a combination of scheme, coaching, and playing predominantly true freshmen (who didn't early enroll) in the secondary.


April 21st, 2011 at 3:37 PM ^

And here is where my season prediction of 6-6 comes from. Massive offensive regression coupled with moderate defensive progression is a recipe for mediocrity. I sure hope Hoke is not 7-6 in year 3. Just hearing this offense and 2008 in the same sentence makes me shiver.


April 21st, 2011 at 4:22 PM ^

Denard could very well be a system QB. A great QB for a spread team, but not great for a Pro-Style team. The bulk of Denards passing came about because the threat of him running was on the minds of the secondary.

I hope thats not true and do not expect it to be completely true but massive offensive regression is certainly possible.

I do not think that 2011 is going to be as bad as 2008, but I expect it to be much harder than most people think. 6-6 would not at all surprise me. 9-3 is the ceiling of this team and I would be very pleasantly surprised if we reached it.


April 21st, 2011 at 4:38 PM ^

Read that first paragraph you wrote. Your suggestion of "massive offensive regression" only will become true if Al Borges is too stupid to realize your first paragraph. He's been coaching for 25 years, I highly doubt he doesn't know how to use Denard.

Now, keep the best parts of Denard's game, and mix in better use of Stonum, Koger and the running backs, and this team will be just fine, and probably more offensively efficient, than 2010.

Most importantly, don't get caught in the intellectually weak position of arguing that less yards in 2011 makes the offense less effective. Once Big Ten defenses had tape on Denard, Denard got (marginally) less effective, and good teams bottled him up long enough to march to 3 and 4 touchdown leads.


April 21st, 2011 at 4:49 PM ^

I think many people (not you) are missing the point that the spring game is a practice. Borges stated in his presser that Denard does a lot of things good already, (he stated above that he studied the previous film a lot) and he doesn't need to teach him how to run. As ugly as it was, I think Borges was using the spring game as a practice rather than a show game. He is working on stuff they (especially QB) don't know, so that they know what to work on during the summer.  My guess is that in fall we'd see a very different offense that uses the playset that best compiments the team after summer practices.

Borges is not an offensive innovator, but understands a large assortment of offenses, and will run whatever is working best.  I don't think this is going to be anywhere as innovative as RR's system nor as predictable as Deboard's (sp?).

Also of note, the power ball run  play was also to help the defense.  It was mentioned they wanted the defense to know this play as well as the offense as it is a base set of many offenses. In the fall, I'm guessing the scout team will run this play ten fold over the starting offense.


April 21st, 2011 at 8:12 PM ^

When he is under center and dropping back 5 steps, his running will take the form of scrambling on covered plays or designed draws.  This puts pressure on the D line and linebackers, but not as much on the secondary as the spread does.

Having the whole field spread out with Denard a threat to run the second the ball is snapped puts pressure on the entire defense to protect against the run.

Hopefully Borges won't overdo the Denard under center thing.  It takes away one of the key things that makes him effective. 

Maize and Blue…

April 21st, 2011 at 7:31 PM ^

3 year starter 262/576 or 45.5%.  As a senior 100/231 for 43.3% with 500+ yards rushing.  The threat of him running scared safeties into no man's land leaving wide open WRs.  Take a good portion of that threat away and you get ? 

The West Coast Offense which Borges runs is all about timing and the QB and WRs being on the same page.  If they don't read the defensive coverage the same way the WR is going to run one route and the QB will throw another.  Bill Walsh, father of this offense, said it takes 3-4 years to master it. 


April 21st, 2011 at 3:43 PM ^

To claim that the offense looked similar to the 2008 version is just asinine and ruins the writer's credibility.

First off, your caveat on the front end of this piece is incredibly relevant and makes almost everything else irrelevant: two of the three best linemen hardly played.

Second off, you're willing to say the offense is terrible when the first-team was out there for about 25 plays, after practicing for 3 weeks in the new offense.

Third off, they weren't running plays in the scrimmage that they were already comfortable with and that Borges has repeatedly said they will run 10-15 times a game (Denard-designed runs).

Fourth off, if a defense can't stop a team it sees in practice everyday, where said offense is running no more than 6-8 different playcalls, you should be mortified (hello 2009 and 2010 spring games).

Fifth off, the only square pegs that cannot fit into this offense are wide receivers playing on the outside who cannot catch fade routes, and undersized tight ends.


J. Lichty

April 21st, 2011 at 3:52 PM ^

Jr. Denard > Threet- Sheridan-Fegin

Lewan/Huyge/Schofield > Dorrestein/Ortmann/ out of position So. Schilling

Sr. Molk . > So. Molk

Sr. Koger > Butler/ Fr. Koger

Barnum/Khoury/Ommameh > John Ferrara

RB is step down from healthy Minor, but on par/ or better  par with McGuffie

Sr. Odoms, Stonum and 7th yr sr Hemmingway . Fr. Odoms, Soph Stonum and third year soph Hemmingmay.

Know I am missing some, but you get the point.


April 21st, 2011 at 3:46 PM ^

"I have no doubt that Hoke will put high quality football on the field. But this might be three years away." This is unacceptable! If you are right about this then how could anyone be "alright" with this staff? If this year is like 2008 then 2012 will suck too. We would be looking at 4 out of 5 years without a bowl game and no BCS games!


April 21st, 2011 at 4:43 PM ^

The comparison to the 2008 offense is extremely premature. We didnt have the opportunity to see that offense at this point of its infancy because that spring game was closed. There's a lot of practice, voluntary and otherwise, until we should even consider such a comparison.


April 21st, 2011 at 3:50 PM ^

How much longer do we have to wait as fans to have a good football team. My patience is wearing and I will spontaneously combust if we don't win 8 games this year. The schedule is beyond favorable and the offense can't be 2008 bad with the returning starters UM has. Either way, I will start to walk the plank if they don't win 8 games BEFORE bowl season. (pity party over here).


April 21st, 2011 at 3:56 PM ^

and I'm no analyst, I think the biggest difference between 2008 and 2011 is that, bar none, the player we need to worry about (namely Denard) is simply a better athlete than the two quarterbacks RR was given when he came to the program. From what we've all been reading and seeing it does look like he is struggling some with the new offense.  Who wouldn't?  He's got to get used to the new foot work that is required of QBs under center, and he has to get used to throwing a bunch of new routes, something he has not had to do his first two years.


Denard is a hard working player.  He will put in the hours.  Because he is such a gifted athlete, I think when the season comes we can feel confident hoping for 8-9 wins.  Our schedule is condusive to a strong year, and even if we lose all of our MAJOR* games (ND, MSU, Neb, and OSU) we still have eight wins.  Not a dynamite year, but a step in the right direction I think. 


*As a caveat, I know there are people who will say  that Iowa should be included in the major games category, but I didn't include them because they lost their starting QB, their horror inducing D-lineman and I expect them to still be struggling with the self induced plague come fall


April 21st, 2011 at 3:59 PM ^

but from what I can see there are only 2 teams that have a + coming as far as defense goes and that's Neb and OSU. Illinois and Notre Dame could get a 1/2 + but the rest of the schedule looks like we can get some decent yardage/pts. 

Some big things that may be less stress inducing is the inflated numbers our O had last year from 1) terrible D never getting 3 and outs 2) KO returns not getting much past the 20. If the D this year can help us get some drives starting at the 45ish then we don't need a top ten O but one that can manage 1-2 first downs then let our + WRs work their magic or let the scrambles from Denard for the end zone begin.

Oh how I relish the thought of not needing 35 pts to be in a game at the end.... 


April 21st, 2011 at 4:00 PM ^

Son of a bitch, can we get SOME POSITIVE NEWS PLEASE?! Something REASSURING?!


By the way thank you for being honest in the post even if it seems like this is blaming the messanger it's not, I just want the team to win football games. These posts have been informative and well written.



April 21st, 2011 at 4:02 PM ^

Dave Brandon said a critical factor in the hiring process was bringing in someone that was willing to be flexible and adjust to the talent. I'm assuming he saw this in Hoke.

The true test of this premise is when they are having trouble running the power play--what will Borges/Hoke do? I'm extremely interested and excited to see.

I'm more optimistic than Brian. They have talent and decent depth on offense. If it takes three years to field a good offense with the personnell this team has--Borges was the wrong hire.


April 21st, 2011 at 4:03 PM ^

that our offense is fitting square pegs into circles, but that we might still have the ability to actually do that from time to time simply because we have a lot more talent available now?


April 21st, 2011 at 4:07 PM ^

an extremely insightful and informative analysis of Michigan's current situation.  But I don't think the comparison to 2008 is entirely accurate.  Our QB talent level is much higher now than in 2008.  In 2008, we had two QB's who were bad to very bad no matter what the system whereas this year we'll have two QB's who are likely either decent (if forced into an ill-fitting system) or very good regardless.  In addition, I think Hoke is more flexible than Rodriguez and is more likely to adjust his system to fit the players on the roster.   

Promote RichRod

April 21st, 2011 at 4:17 PM ^

to ban clips of last year's offense on the front page.  I keep watching them and it's making me depressed.  To say nothing of its production, that offense was incredibly fun to watch.

(This is the part where someone says something like OH YEA REAL FUN WATCHING US BOG DOWN IN THE RED ZONE AGAINST GOOD DEFENSES HERP DERP.  Save it.)


April 21st, 2011 at 4:20 PM ^

Is anyone else dissapointed that we didn't run any power out of the shotgun in the spring game? That seems like it would be a perfect way to transition into Borges offense. It keeps Denard in the shotgun where he is more comfortable and is still able to the power which is the base running play in the offense.


April 21st, 2011 at 4:58 PM ^

Deep Breaths!

In order for 2008 to repeat itself we would have to be as turnover prone and considering that the 2011 team has far better talent and Senior leadership on offense that is just not going to happen.  The only similarity between 2008 and 2011 is the learning of a new system less some of the needed parts.  Just because you have some rain in the forecast does not mean you will see another "perfect storm".

However anyone expecting to see Denard 2.0 under Borges has some rose colered glasses on.  Everyone wants to see the Denard of the first 7 games 2010 and even under RR it was not a given that Denard comes out making a Heisman run this year becuase end of the B10 season last year things seem to have been figured out by the opposition.

IF we do not have devestating injuries, IF we catch more breaks or just break even and IF we find a FG kicker 8 wins would be a good first season and should make for a top 15 recruting class.

micheal honcho

April 21st, 2011 at 4:24 PM ^

Really?? 2008?? That was a f-ing debacle. I willing to bet that we will be WAY better on offense than 2008 and only slightly lesser than last year(statistically).

1. We wont have a QB standing 7yds behind the LOS clapping, stomping, staring over at the sidelines like a deer in the headlights. Only to mistime a handoff and watch as his running back gets stuffed 5yds deep. 2nd and 15.

2. We wont have numerous procedure penalties per game on inexperienced O-lineman trying to figure out what clap or stomp the should go on.

3. We have experience at WR & RB, even though nobody has emerged a "star" out of those groups, they're all becoming bigger, stronger, smarter football players every year and regardless of "scheme" those things cannot be undervalued(as we proclaimed by every RR apologist for the past 3 yrs)

4. We have a QB who is a world class athlete & great instinctual football player, even when the "plan" breaks down he secondary option remains what was essentially last years primary option...RUN MOTHAFUGGA RUN!!  This is a whole lot better than 2008 when, if the "plan" broke down you had a pocket passer crapping his pants and waiting to be clobbered.

5. Out on a limb I predict that 2011's team will make more 1st downs than the world beating offense of 2010 did. This means more sustained drives, more offensive momentum(something I always felt we lacked under RR, his offense was like a cruise missle, deadly as hell but when it misses its right back to D, first downs & sustained drives are like a machine gun, you hit some and miss some but you get to keep shooting) and less turnovers(experience again).

I guess I just dont see all the doom & gloom. I see a ton of potential in this teams O. Its still got all the pieces of last years "ferrari" we're just going to give it a lower final drive gear, bigger tires & a better off road suspension so that it doesnt get stuck in even the shallowest of mud bogs. I expect more consistancy, less flash and better overall results(wins).