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 4:55 PM ^

to my own sense of things. I see us getting stuffed some games like a big carnival teddy bear--the one you get after the water balloon explodes all over the barker's head. I think Denard will look like that deer sometimes, love him though I do. I'll concede you #s two and three as likely improvements over 08, even if not (sadly) over 11. I have no idea if Denard will end up knowing when to run or not, but I worry that the answer is no. And I'll give you #5 as logical but--crucially--that wouldn't guarantee wins.

Edit: To be fair (as someone who was critical about the way the deal went down) Borges is being more flexible than RR was. But that doesn't make the transition easy. Even if he could suddenly become a spreadzen master, what would he do next year? What these guys are trying to do on O is minimize the pain as much as possible. For that reason I'll adopt the same stance I took last year--be totally delighted if they get more than seven wins and hope for better the following year.   



April 21st, 2011 at 6:53 PM ^

1)  A) Yes the QB will still be lining up in the shotgun.  B)  Clapping and stomping?  Just how exactly do you expect to signal for the snap when the entire stadium is screaming at the top of their lungs?  Out yell them, shit he won't have a voice left by halftime.  C)  Starring over like a deer in the headlights at the coach?  You don't have to worry about that anymore, they will now be starring like a deer in the headlights at the defense, left to make their own choices.  I'm not sure I like that trade off.  D)  We will still be running out of the gun so mistimed handoffs are still a possibility.

2)  They're not listening to the stomp or clap, there are a hundred thousand people in the stadium.  They are opperating pretty much the same as they would for a silent count.  Which has nothing to do with inexperince and everything to do with coaching.  Hell we teach our freshmen in high school to do it, and they're very good at it.

3)  What exactly does experience get you?  Personally I think that is one thing that people look into way to much.  Is it important yes.  If it was the deciding factor why are the RB's with the most experince looking up at a couple of guys with very little on the depth chart?  Our WR have a lot of playing time under their belts I will give you that but, they have very little experience running these types of routes and combinations.  Therefore most of their experience is moot because if they can't run the right routes in the right situations then they won't be playing. 

4)  I will give you this one for the most part, but realize that he will have a harder time running from undercenter than he did from 7 yards in the backfield.  There is a reason that most of those world class athletes are playing back in the spread and not the pro offense. 

5)  Again, I agree for the most apart.  It won't be doom and gloom but there will be growing pains and probably when we can least afford them.  Overall, it really comes down to defense.  I don't think we will lose because of the offense this year, but I really don't see them winning to many for us either, but that depends on how much Hoke kept in the bag during the spring game too. 


April 21st, 2011 at 4:37 PM ^

powerman. Borges is bending more than RR did. Two questions, then: does Borges maximize Denard's abilities (is he clever/flexible enough?) And does all this get you wins?

And--again--could Borges run a lot of spread if he WANTED to? Would he know how? Where would that get him the following year? (RR faced the same question.) 

We all knew that a transition back was going to cost a year or so. . . 


April 21st, 2011 at 5:02 PM ^

Chances are, Borges could coach the spread if he wanted to, and I have a feeling he will if his POWAH football doesn't do the trick with the personnel he's got. The spread isn't a very complicated system. What IS important is that the coaches and players need to change gears for specific positions. Receivers, (particularly in the slot and at TE) RBs and QBs operate differently in the spread than in power, and that may be harder. They will have been coached for a year in a new system. Just switching back to a spread (or even a few wrinkles from it) may be a bridge too far.


April 21st, 2011 at 4:41 PM ^

I get it. Brain's a pessimist. Everything is terrible and horrible. Check.

If you say that 2011 is like 2008 and offense because the players were recruited for a different system, that would be a factual but not very illuminated observation.

If you say that 2011 is like 2008 on offense because Michigan has no offensive line and the starters are mostly very young or crappy or even both--then that is ridiculous.

The 2008 and offense was the worst in Michigan history. It went backwards on almost half of the plays. It was incapable of scoring on ANYONE. That will not happen this season.

It is reasonable to say the 2011 offense may not be as good as good as the 2010 offense. It is completely absurd and alarmist to liken it to the 2008 offense.

Fuzzy Dunlop

April 21st, 2011 at 4:47 PM ^

Thanks for the great post, Craig.  Unfortunately, I think you erred in using the phrase "I don’t see 2011 as much different than 2008," because, as you can see, invoking the year that must not be named results in a shitshow, and people elevate that single (partial) sentence over everything else that you wrote.

I don't think you're actually saying that our offense next year will be as bad as 2008, just using it as an example of struggles that can result with a change in system.  Anyone suggesting our offense could potentially even approach the ineptitude of 2008 is forgetting just how bad that offense was -- it makes last year's defense seem like the '85 Bears. 


April 21st, 2011 at 4:49 PM ^

Rather than bitching about negativity...

I'd like to point out a technical error.  On the power play, it's impossible for the running back to run the ball through the "A gap" (between C and G).  Each one of those diagrams shows the ball headed for the C gap (between T and TE).

That is, unless Borges uses some strange terminology.


April 21st, 2011 at 4:52 PM ^

......and the defense knows what's coming after practicing against the offense for between 10 and 15 days. That's a big factor too.

Our offense was fine last year: very very good against junk teams, with potential to be devastating all around with more consistency. To be devastating, you have to be devastating or threatening, throughout a game against a good defense. In three years it never happened except in desperation garbage time when the game was already basically lost.

We should be setting our sights higher than the offense the last three years.  A productive efficient offense against teams that matter and helps bring us wins. Not saying Hoke/Borges will accomplish this, but that is a better measuring stick than gaudy yardage totals.

On Denard, keeping him upright and in the game is all we can hope for. From there, he'll do the rest.  Any system that can't accomplish that regularly is misusing our top weapon. Running him on lead draws that many times wiped him out too often.  



April 21st, 2011 at 5:03 PM ^

Carr wasn’t a believer in zone blocking but was willing to be convinced

I thought this of Carr, but I used to get the sense that he needed to be convinced in the offseason. He'd cantankerously make the same mistake again and again during the season then it would suddently be gone.

He was an avowed intellectual, so "willing to be convinced," is more believable of him than, say, Rodriguez. But that's a rare trait to have, especially among football coaches (and bloggers).


April 22nd, 2011 at 8:50 PM ^

Good point. Plussed for good point.

I think in my head it was more things like "punt on 3rd and 3 from opponent's 30 in the 4th quarter up by less than a TD when your offense is really good because the gods said punt."

Also: going 3-4 against a spread. In 2000 we brought out multiple fronts because in '98 and '99 we couldn't stop running QBs. But the way he used it was to go 3-4 on long yardage, and then 4-3 when it's a shorter down. Then Purdue picked the 4-3 look apart and we lost and not knowing much more than that I disliked Whitley even I could tell a 3-man front was simply better against the spread. But then come NW it's the same damn strategy and the 4-3 got shredded. The following year was the first time we saw that 3-3-5-ish nickel package (with Curry outside and LeSeuer at the 5) 100% against spreads and except when LeSeuer did something boneheaded it worked pretty well.

Similar thing with having the WLB go from sitting in coverage and whiffing on running QBs for a year before he became a regular blitzer instead.

Or sitting Roy Manning in favor of McClintock/Sarantos/Diggs for several years and then coming back the following year hyping freshman Chris Graham and lamenting the loss of Manning and Reid because they were quick and we're gonna be quick at LB.


April 23rd, 2011 at 1:09 AM ^

I got nothin' for that. I know it comes off like I think Lloyd did no wrong, but he wasn't perfect. I'd have liked to see more aggression on both sides of the ball. And one of the stats I think actually plays out in reality is the advantages to going for it (again, taking situation into consideration).

And yeah, it may have took too long, but they did learn how to handle a passing spread. They started taking apart Purdue after that, regularly. (Northwestern was different in that they did a lot more running spread, but with the tailback, rather than a QB...almost high school style). And they were always pathetic against mobile QBs (but that even goes back before Lloyd...Kordell...Ricky Fogge....ugh), but never really figured it out. To their defense, no one had really figured it out till they were mostly done, and Brian has done a lot of good analysis on how defenses are now countering it....if still not completely successfully.


April 21st, 2011 at 5:31 PM ^

There's a lot of uncertainty and instability that comes with a wholesale coaching change.  We experienced that in 2008 and are experiencing it again now.  In the long run you need consistency within the program to be successful.  I truly believed Rich Rod could have led Michigan to success and I have an equal belief in Brady Hoke.  If patience is required then so be it.

Maize and Blue…

April 21st, 2011 at 7:00 PM ^

With almost every starter back I'm not going to be patient.  We went to the NFL and got Mattison to take care of the D.  All Hoke and Borges have to do is not screw up the O.  This isn't like when RR took over with little. ND will be a tell tale because the schedule is set for a big season.  Favorable schedule, Iowa down, we beat Ill., Purdue and ND last year and return almost everyone.  No PSU or Wisky.  Nebraska has a killer schedule and doesn't miss out on any of the big boys.  MSU a stretch of OSU (-no Tategate or Tressel), us, Wisky, and Nebraska plus ND on the road.  In other words, I expect to be going to Indy.

Next year's schedule has Bama (almost a road game), and ND, OSU, and Nebraska on the road.  Hoke and company better get it done this year.


April 21st, 2011 at 11:55 PM ^

The Bama and ND games don't mean a whole lot in 2012 in the big picture (if you consider the "big picture" to be playing in the BT Championship game).  If Michigan can take care of business in the Big Ten (no Wisky or PSU) and split with OSU and Nebraska, they have a reasonable chance to be playing for a BCS bowl in 2012.....regardless of Bama or ND.


April 22nd, 2011 at 11:50 AM ^

Yes, let's go back to the days when we'd win the Big Ten, but get no national respect because we'd lost to ND and/or some other non-conference team during the regular season or in a bowl game.  Aren't you tired of hearing how weak the Big Ten is nationally?  I know I am.


Sorry, but I want to beat Alabama.  Even more so because I work with several Alabama alumni.


April 21st, 2011 at 5:48 PM ^

I feel like 08 was a debacle of an offense moreso because we had no experienced linemen than the scheme change.  Our guys were getting blown back against Miam of Ohio in 2008.  It would have been bad in 08 with the change, but not even close to as bad had we actually retained an O-lineman.


April 21st, 2011 at 6:07 PM ^

The offense has had 15 practices.  I'm pretty sure they will get better with more practice.  I know that's obvious but it seems some people are just overlooking this fact.


April 21st, 2011 at 6:30 PM ^

There's talent here. Even if it's ugly, by mistake these guys will stumble into a big play here and there.

No way we will match the production of last year, but I think we could eliminate a number of turnovers and still be in good shape.

What I'd love to see is some 4-wide sets (Stonum/Hemingway outside, Dileo/Tree slot) with Hopkins in the backfield. OSU was really successful in 05/06 with that set and Pittman/Wells in the backfield. Not saying Hopkins is either of those, but it's an idea to spread defenses out and hit the middle with a bigger back... and then, of course, using Hopkins as a lead blocker for Denard.

Let's see what happens. I think this staff will cobble something together that can be somewhat effective in the fall. Definitely not time to freak out.


April 21st, 2011 at 11:26 PM ^

There is talent here -- yes, there is. 

There was talent when RR tsook over as well.  Different talent, for sure.  Talent more suited for what Brady Hoke did as SDSU.  Pretty sure Hoke and Borges could have figured out how to use Mallett, Threet, Minor, and as much as I hate to say it the pizza eating oline including some guy that went to a school in Ohio, to say nothing of Adrian Arrington, Donavon Warren (who left early b/c Rodriguez) and on and on.  

I do think this staff will use the current talent much better than RR used his talent. 



April 23rd, 2011 at 3:25 PM ^

I don't get your point at all... what you're talking about is irrelevant. I don't care which coach can do what with whom unless we're talking about 2011.

What we have returning in 2011 is 59 trillion times more talent than what we were left with in 2008. I'm not concerned with who stayed or who left... the fact is, Arrington, Manningham, Mallett etc fled, and left us with Threet/Sheridan and Greg Mathews as our number 1 wideout. DIdn't matter what system we ran with that crew, it was going to be obscenely ugly.

Even if the current roster contains some square pegs, there's enough talent there that, as I said before, they will stumble into enough plays to win games. If you think Denard will end up with similar stats to THreet/Sheridan, I think you're crazy. No, I doubt they'll be prolific, but the staff will allow Denard to run all over the place if that's the only thing that's working... Give it time, people, we'll be fine. maybe not top 5 offense fine, but it's going to be the defensive improvement that defines next year.


April 21st, 2011 at 6:58 PM ^

If 2011 is like 2008, Brady Hoke should be fired after one year.  He'll  most certainly never have 10 returning starters from an offfense that averaged 200 yards a game passing and running again.  If he squanders it that badly, he has no business coaching Michigan. 


April 21st, 2011 at 7:02 PM ^

It seems to me that we are jumping the gun a little here.  It is a little premature to start throwing in the towel or counting them out before they get started over an average or less than average spring.  It’s only been a couple of weeks.  Let’s give them some time.

Couple of main points that are different from 2008 to this year:

1.  We have experience and talent returning at almost every position.  In 2008, we graduated one of the best offensive tackles, QB, RB, and a defense that lost 2 exceptional LB's, and 2 DB's.  The talent just wasn't there at some very key positions to run the spread most notably the QB position. 

2.  The support for the coaching staff and the belief in them is much higher than in 2008.  The amount of hurdles that lay in front of Rich Rod were very significant and took away from this program

3.  I believe the one major benefit in moving the offense to a pro-style has to deal with long sustained drives.  With the spread we had to make first downs.  The offense was so fast that if we didn’t, the defense would be back out on the field with very little rest (as was the case in 2008).  With the pro-style, we can expect better clock management, with hopefully longer sustained drives.


April 21st, 2011 at 7:12 PM ^

"Borges, unlike Mattison, obsessed over last year’s tape"

For some reason, the above statement makes me think the offense will be fine. I mean, why be obsessed over watching last year's tape if you are not planning to use at least some portions of that offense? To me what we saw in the spring game is just a practice on the new concepts, as in, why practice what they already know? Also, what Borges said about not wanting to show all of the offense makes a lot of sense to me.

Or I am in just plain denial...



April 21st, 2011 at 7:35 PM ^

Run the Denard Robin-spread between the 20's where there's lots of open field to work with.. 

Run PowerBall in the Red Zone where the spread tended to bog down last year.


April 21st, 2011 at 7:35 PM ^

Run the Denard Robin-spread between the 20's where there's lots of open field to work with.. 

Run PowerBall in the Red Zone where the spread tended to bog down last year.


April 21st, 2011 at 7:38 PM ^

Anyone...including the author of this blog...who is freaking out about 'square peg in round hole' ... after 15 spring practices...with some key personel out.... simply does not understand football...does not understand the relevance of timing and tempo.

That person can 'scheme' all they want with little diagrams of how plays are drawn up in theory...but they are missing the point....that execution of those drawn up plays simply will not be smooth after 15 practices at any level...HS, College...Pro etc.   

IN addition... for all QBs...the more they play in an offense...the more that they get comfortable with a) plays b) calls c) presnap reads d) reads e) footwork and technique and f) TIMING.....

anyone who is freaking after 15 practices... really needs to check themselves... then again, perhaps having actually played the game of organized football would make all the difference in the world in the formulation of such opinions.  


April 21st, 2011 at 7:45 PM ^

One other thing.... anyone....including the author of this blog....who does not understand that there would be a transition from any offense to any other...after 15 practices... simply does not understand football.  In addition, to continuously beat that "point" in to the ground implies that that author doesnt not agree that a change should have been made in principal and that things would be much better with the previous regime still intact....

and then here we go again down that same....old....tired....path.......of.......debate.........again............

Instead of acceptings things how they are... we get to read more spin and conjucture.  bleh.

15 practices


April 21st, 2011 at 9:17 PM ^

nobody knows exactly what he's going to do at Michigan.

If I'm Borges, the first play I run every game is a classic Rich Rod spread play.  Then I make sure I run a fair number of them throughout the game.

Even if it's just for show, it immediately puts the defense on its heels and gives opposing coaches in the next games something additional to have to prepare for.

Kind of like when Bo lined up in the Wishbone in 1986 after Oklahoma had so much success with it in '85.  Eventually teams figured out that his heart wasn't into it and that it was just for show, but not until he got almost a full season's worth of making other coaches sweat out preparing for it.



April 21st, 2011 at 10:27 PM ^

Borges hasn't finished designing his offense yet.  We only saw a few of the more basic plays he wants to run, and preparation will continue throughout the offseason and season.  I would assume that a major component of his game-planning involves putting together a system designed primarily to beat MSU and OSU, given that we've already deployed the countdown clocks.

That story about Bo deploying the Wishbone in '86 is pretty awesome too.


April 21st, 2011 at 10:02 PM ^

with his conclusion that we're looking at another 2008.  The offense in 2008 was devoid of experienced starters, running a system none of them had ever run.  All of these kids run a form of these plays from Midget to College.  The personnel in 2008 was never going to be able to execute the spread at the one key position, QB. 


The difference between 2011 and 2008 is that Denard can do one thing exceptionally well.  In 2008, none of the QBs could complete a 10 yard hitch without at least one hop on most tries.  There was not a stable of running backs with plenty of game experience, and the OL was not a rag tag group with little experince playing as a unit.  I understand the palpatations after watching the spring game, but these coaches have proven there not going to force square pegs into round holes.  Denard has a lot of work to do, but the problems I saw were mechanical, not some lack of ability.  If they can get him to calm down, be methodical in his drops and throw the ball on time, then you'll see his efficiency rise. 

I've rewatched the game broadcast (it's a poor source) and it was very apparent that they were going very vanilla and playing things out for the fans versus working on their normal reps.  We saw one pass towards a TE all game despite hearing all about TEs in this offense; their WR's routes we drawn up in the dirt, and they kept things pretty stale.  The only one that showed us anything was Mattison with his 30 front defenses and some edge blitzes. 


I understand there is a lot of work to do before September, but I think our offense can be productive and efficient with the players we have.  Our situation today is night and day different than 2008 when our scholarship QB was a transfer student who had never seen game action in college football backed up by a guy who was a walk-on coach's son.  Don't worry, it won't be as prolific as 2010, but it will be a more complete team than any we've had in the last 3 years.