Golden Hammer

Submitted by Brian on September 24th, 2012 at 12:38 PM

9/22/2012 – Michigan 6, Notre Dame 13 – 2-2



Lloyd Carr coached every game like he had a fantastic running game and great defense. He usually had an okay running game and a good defense, so this caught up to him from time to time. When Jim Tressel arrived and showed the men of manball what manball really was, Michigan's downward spiral began. In time, Tresselball would come to signify the exact same thing Lloydball did except without the oh and we lose the most important game of the year every time.

I grew to hate Lloydball.

The moment I threw in the towel is crystal clear in my memory, and by this point probably many longtime readers: punting from the opponent 34 against Ohio State in 2005. It was fourth and four. The clock read 4:18. Michigan had a two point lead. They'd recently had a nine point lead, but OSU ripped off a five-play touchdown drive in under a minute to change that. Michigan's defense had faced four do-or-die drives* already that year and failed on all of them. Faced with third and eleven, Michigan threw a screen to Antonio Bass for seven yards. They punted out of a field goal formation, which was so obvious to Tressel that they put a guy back there to field it. He would have had a shot at a touchdown if the punt hadn't exited the field at the twelve.

Just minutes before—literally in the same quarter—Lloyd had taken his frenzied quarterback's advice and gone for a QB sneak on fourth and one on his own 40. This caused everyone in the stadium to pick a partner with whom to share an incredulous look. This was not the way things went. The fourth down was successful; one bomb to Manningham later Michigan had staked itself to a two-score lead. That only made the knife cut deeper when in the moment of truth Carr reverted to form.


Michigan punted once Saturday.


I'm not sure if it's football in general that has shifted or if it's just Brady Hoke, but when Michigan had a fourth and two around the same area on Saturday, eyebrows were only slightly cocked when Michigan went for it. While Michigan was down 10-0, this was still the third quarter.

Lloyd wouldn't have even thought about it if his defense had given up 139 yards to that point. But he wouldn't have been down 10-0 in the first place. He would have squinted at his quarterback, wondered where the six-six artillery piece had gotten to, shrugged, and told his offensive coordinator to thud out a ten-point win based on Michigan's superior ground game. Only he would have had that faith, because he always had that faith.

But it was true. Take out a knee and ND averaged 3.2 yards a carry. Take out three sacks and a bad snap for Michigan and they averaged 5.1. That's a cavernous gap, one that a dinosaur coach would have driven through to a boring, field-goal-heavy victory.

Instead, we got several more entries in our database of what happens when Denard Robinson gets unblocked rushers in his face.

Is it good? No. Does it make any sense at all to run play action from under center on passing downs? No. Is it ever going to stop? No.

Well, maybe. 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.

Over the bye week, Michigan will refocus on what they're good at. This will get them through some games. They'll get comfortable with this, think they can install more stuff, and we'll get another Iowa, one they might pull out since the defense might be good and the Big Ten is definitely bad. And Denard will soldier through it, taking barbs from people who don't realize he could be in his first of two years at Oregon now, doing what he was born to.

He's not. He's doing this. This is "this": Al Borges has been Michigan's offensive coordinator for 17 games now. Five were against non-BCS opponents. A sixth was against Alabama and will be set aside. Of the remaining eleven, five were out-and-out debacles: both Notre Dame games, MSU, Iowa, and the Sugar Bowl. That Junior Hemingway rescued two of those doesn't change the fact that in about half of Michigan's games against real competition, the combination of Borges and Denard can't put up 200 yards until bombed out of the gameplan by events on the field.

You can blame Denard if you want. Sure, that happened in 2010, when Denard was a true sophomore and the second-leading rusher was Vincent Smith. I'm more concerned about the guy who isn't gone after this year, the offensive coordinator who vows to never work with a quarterbacks coach again and can't stand it when anyone dares to scream "RUN THE GODDAMN BALL" at him over and over and over and over and over, except whatever the press conference version of that is. Asking about bubble screens and stuff.

One day Borges will have a shining golden hammer of a quarterback, six-four, carved from marble, jawline for days. This man will coolly survey the field after faking a handoff to a two-hundred-thirty-pound bowling ball with knives sticking out of it. No one will run up in his face, because they are afraid the bowling ball has it. He will throw it to another six-foot-four man, this one long and graceful, built for escaping packs of hunters. This will be a good day. Nails are so dead.

Until then, here's to running, punting, and humility.

[Wisconsin: 52 yard, 11 play, four minute TD drive to win. Minnesota: eight play, 75-yard FG drive to win. Penn State: 13 play, 81-yard drive to wi—OH MY GOD MANNINGHAM. Iowa: 9 play, 74-yard FG drive to tie; Ferentz played for OT once in FG range, because he is Ferentz.]


Eric Upchurch

All the INTs:

Bullets Yes More Bullets In The Head Please

Sanity check. I know I may not be entirely reliable on this matter, but stuff coming through my twitter feed from the folks I respect most as college football observers helped me think this was not just a mania. Smart Football:

Nice call Borges. Denard struggling? Let's run some kind naked waggle pass from under center where we let Denard throw vs unblocked DEnd


An Al Borges cooking show would be great if you like seeing someone throw everything into a blender even if it makes no sense at all.

Blaming it on "execution" is horseshit, plain and simple. When the offensive coordinator flat-out refuses to take free yards on the outside and has not once used the devastating play action on which Denard is moving towards the line scrimmage before throwing, it is on his shoulders for not using the tools he has in the way they are most effective.

A third of the way through the ND game, Michigan had run Robinson three times. Instead Michigan threw the ball all the time against a rampant DL. The first INT was a running back in the redzone. On the second, Michigan rolled the pocket and told a redshirt freshman fullback to block Prince Shembo. On the third an unblocked Te'o roars straight up the pocket.  On the fourth he ran a waggle on second and seven, which got an unblocked Tuitt in Denard's face after having thrown INTs on back to back passes.

This is a consistent theme. They go into games doing something other than making their running QB a runner, and then are surprised when it goes poorly. They have the guy turn his back to the line of scrimmage and are surprised when 1) opposing defenses prioritize getting a guy out on him and 2) he reacts poorly. The exception was last year's OSU game, during which Denard threw all of 17 times.

Robinson failed, sure, but he was put in a position to do so by a guy who puts three tight ends on the field on second and goal from the twelve yard line and fools no one with the subsequent play action. Coaches have to execute too. Borges's gameplan was a disaster, again.

Come on Denard. Let's ask Peyton Manning to be Pat White stuff aside, at some point you've got to just eat the ball, or not throw it at a guy so covered you're trying to throw it through the chest of not one but two opponents. That first Te'o interception was probably the worst throw of Denard's career; if one of the two guys underneath it didn't get it a safety in coverage on the corner had a shot at a PBU.

I bet a dollar that someone else was open on that play.

The fumble was the real killer, though. Michigan has just taken their first drive of the half 71 yards and Denard has just made it first and ten at the ND 11, boom ball out drive over everyone thinks of 2010 when Michigan put up scads of yards and usually had ten points to show for it. Down two scores and suddenly running all the time, Michigan really needed that drive to pay off.

Blame Gardner? Some people on the twitter and then Ace suggested that the slant INT was on Gardner instead of Robinson. I don't think that's the case. It looked to me like he ran a fine route and was open and Robinson just missed.

Gardner does have to catch that bomb on the last drive.

When to go for high risk trick plays. When there is a payoff commensurate with the risk. The Gardner pass is fine. You've got a play that is potentially 70-some yards  if everything goes well. The Smith pass gives you at most ten and is less likely to get a guy wide open just because there's far less space. Last year's Smith TD pass was 30 yards out, which gives the WR room to break past the safeties and the RB room to throw it long. Doing that in a constricted space is asking for it when Manti Te'o is raging his way into a running back's face.

The only time I can recall Michigan running a trick play like that inside the red zone was during the 2007 Illinois game when both teams were actively conspiring to lose. With Henne shuttling in and out of the game and Mallett insane, trying the Arrington end-around pass after a muffed punt was a defensible decision. At the end of an 11-play, 78-yard drive maybe not so much.

What is this huddling business again? There's a case that you shouldn't be doing it at all; not only is huddling a useless anachronism but going away from it locks defensive personnel on the field and gives you easier looks as the opponent struggles to keep up. See Oregon, of course.

But even if you're intent on huddling the time to do so has passed when you're down two scores with 6:46 left. There's something to be said for the idea that an offense should be using tempo as much as possible so that in situations like that they are naturals at it. It's a lot easier to slow down than speed up.

Anyway, I had bad flashbacks to that Iowa game as Michigan took 3:19 and used a timeout on their last drive.

OTOH, didn't mind the end of the first half playcalling since in that situation you're worried about giving ND a possession they can use and you've just thrown interceptions on three straight plays. Why throw a Hail Mary with 16 seconds left, though? And what was Roundtree even doing there?



Defense! Woo defense! Also filed under "if you told me before the game…" with "Michigan would punt once": "Notre Dame would have under 200 yards of offense with three minutes to go." Before Floyd stumbled on that third down bomb to Eifert, Michigan had held two ND QBs to 5.6 YPA and two interceptions, with the only completion over twenty yards another tough fade on the sideline.

From way up in the stands I had a great view of the routes developing and nobody was open basically all day. Combine that with Quinton Washington problems like "is not tackling when he bursts into the backfield on three consecutive plays" and you have a soothing balm to apply as you look forward to the rest of the season. I'm actually eager to get to the UFRing just so I can see how the guys on D did. Live I saw Ryan make plays, Campbell make plays, Washington make plays, and that allowed the linebackers to flow freely, with the 3.1 YPC results mentioned above. Kenny Demens looks a lot better when he's not trying to fight off two different blockers on  the same play.

If Washington can translate those plays against UMass and Mattison hype into an impact day on the interior line against a real opponent, Michigan's biggest question that isn't "how will Denard fail to be Peyton Manning this time" is a lot closer to resolution.

Potential caveat: ND's interior OL may not be very good. They got annihilated by Purdue (Riddick: 53 yards on 15 carries, five sacks on Golson, two by Kawann Short) and ND didn't do much against MSU that wasn't deception (counter draw) or Wood getting cutbacks similar to the one he busted for ND's only big run of the day.

Caveat caveat: "only big run of the day." The shot above is Michigan corralling the play I started calling "That Goddamned Counter Draw" after DeAndra Cobb staked MSU to the lead they'd give up during Braylonfest. I call it TGDCD because Michigan has never stopped the thing (except once, I think). They did it up there.

Speaking of…

brady-hoke-epic-double-pointBrady Hoke Epic Double Point of the Week. I have no idea yet, but it's obviously someone on defense. There is a weird lack of stats for such a dominating performance, with no sacks and just two TFLs, one for Kovacs, another split by Morgan and Washington.

For now, Jake Ryan gets the nod for most impactful-seeming impactfulness, but I reserve the right to switch this to Kovacs or Washington pending review.


2: Denard Robinson (Air Force, UMass)
1: Jeremy Gallon(Alabama), Jake Ryan(ND)

Freshman linebackers. They're basically co-starters at this point. I'm still nervous about them but if the D continues to perform like that in the Big Ten season, expectations for that crew will be enormous next year with four-ish returning starters, all of whom will still be around in 2014.

Demens did rotate in during the second half. He was in on six tackles, Morgan seven. Ross had one and Bolden did not register. IIRC Demens was the preferred option on passing downs, which makes sense since zone drops are often a struggle with young linebackers.

Norfleet. Please do not jump like that again. The air up there is dangerously low on oxygen and people are trying to kill you. Stay low, where you are under the radar and can execute deep infiltration missions.

ND future. I wouldn't get too worried about a full-on return to glory. If that interior OL is what it seems to be and they're flipping between Rees and Golson against the rest of their schedule, they'll drop some games. They'll still probably get that BCS bid so they can get stomped on by someone a lot better.

Funchess. Didn't really have much impact; I'll pick up the Mandich thing the next time he takes a significant step towards it. Did feature in this picture:


This is my ball. Do not take my ball.


Inside The Boxscore:

In the week preceding this game, some random internet poster guy asked what was the worst performance you’ve seen by a QB. I ran screaming from that post, but couldn’t escape the images of Demetrious Brown throwing seven interceptions – SEVEN INTERCEPTIONS!!! - in a game against MSU many years ago.



When I was 16 and learning how to drive, my Dad, trying his best to impart some constructive criticism without being overly harsh, said, “ST3, your driving lacks a certain smoothness.” I think it’s wonderful how Devin Gardner has moved over to WR to help the team, but at this point in his career, I think his route running lacks a certain smoothness.

Hoke For Tomorrow:

The results of this game and a record of 2-2 are not indicative of the abilities of this team, and it would do every Michigan fan good to forget about what has happened and to concentrate instead on what can be accomplished in the BIG.  I rest easier after seeing the O and D-lines gel and play very well.  Denard will bounce back.

The rest of the BIG continues to look shaky, to say the least, and Michigan should be licking their chops against the likes of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and I dare say Michigan St at this point.  Ohio has obvious problems as well, letting UAB run wild on them. Michigan should have distinct talent advantages against Northwestern and Purdue.




I'll skip all the articles about how Michigan turned the ball over a lot, since I think you probably know. More photos from Maize and Blue Nation. Sad Panda at MVictors. MVictors on the press box atmosphere:

It’s well known that the media is prohibited from cheering in the press box but it’s not just a collection of writers upstairs at Notre Dame.  After Denard connected with Gardner on a third down conversion in the first half some dude belted out, “DAMN IT!”.    When Denard took off on a run later in the game, I heard, “GET ‘EM!”.   And so on.   I’m actually glad this happened because it created some much needed lighter moments on the glass.

Maybe it was the guy in seat 652:


Also, that Webb tweet that looked like it was from my account? Not on purpose:

Speaking of tweets, after another turnover (I think Denard’s fumble?) this came from Sam Webb’s feed.   It was retweeted 28 times instantly:


The beauty – it wasn’t a case of Sam grinding the keyboard in frustration.  It was a legit accident as his phone went sideways and spit out Matrix code.  Love it.

…unless the phone is also a Michigan fan.

The Daily has a great article about Denard's family in the stands:

The group sat in the family and friends section of Notre Dame Stadium. Steve wore his best friend’s varsity jacket. The two girls wore “Shoelace” and another Robinson-themed shirt.

This section is different. Here, the hits sound louder. The mistakes sting more.

From here, you can reach out and touch the bass drums in the Michigan band. When a Notre Dame wide receiver was open on the goal line, the parents shouted and pointed, so Thomas Gordon bumped over and covered.

Robinson’s supporters sat in the fifth row, tucked in between friends and family of freshman linebacker James Ross III and the family of fifth-year senior J.T. Floyd.

Robinson’s parents come to games “very rarely, very rarely,” J.T.’s father, James, said. Normally the Robinson clan gathers in Robinson’s grandmother’s house in Deerfield Beach, Fla. around a television.

“Every Saturday,” Durrel said. “Everybody (goes). I can’t even tell you who don’t go.”

Daily's Luke Pasch on the thing. Both the HSR and Maize and Brew Nation are on the "oh, God, Denard had to apologize to everyone" angle. TWIS preview.

Would you like frustrating losses scored? Of course you would.


Blue boy johnson

September 24th, 2012 at 3:03 PM ^

Brian you should put Dez Morgan on your candidates list for best players on Saturday. I think it was the best game of his career. He was aggressive, decisive, and effective. That boy was hitting people.

I think you will probably change your opinion on Q, he had a nice game, and really helped set up the linebackers.

Denard will be fine next game. Hard lesson learned, but he didn't come close to throwing an INT in the second half, took a sack when nothing was available, and threw the ball well when asked.

Denard's fumble was part, he doesn't secure the ball well, part, refusal to carry the ball in his right hand, and part, ND d-lineman making a nice play, reaching out to knock the ball out of Denard's hands as Denard was racing by.

Give ND credit, they do have a nice D and nice D's are nice to have.

Going forward, M is in real good shape for rest of year if....

O line plays like they did in the second half against ND. No reason they can't. I bet they got their collective asses reamed at half time for their poor first half. They were a completely different O-line in the second half.

If... the D continues to improve like they did Saturday. This D is evolving just like last years D . In a nutshell... They are starting to play fast and aggressive in unison. It was fun to watch.


September 24th, 2012 at 3:07 PM ^

It may simply be that Denard Robinson is not a great, all-around quarterback. Mostly it looks like he lacks the mental, ice-in-the-veins calmness to make good decisions when they're most difficult to make.

So be it. He's still the best option Michigan has this season and for every game in which he struggles because he's too amped up or making bad decisions, he'll win at least one with his ability to break plays open or make big passes when he needs to.

I'm not happy with the "Denard is bad" crew in the same way i'm not happy with the "Borges sucks for not designing the Denardfense and riding it to glory". Both are overly simplistic and generally wrong. This was a good game plan, the one Brian said they needed to execute before it became all Borges's fault for implementing it.




September 24th, 2012 at 4:58 PM ^


How many times have we seen Denard evade the pass rush and then dump the ball into the stands? Heck, how many times have we seen Denard evade the rush, period? You'd think he'd be great at it, but he just gets this deer in the headlights look and then chucks it to the last receiver he sees before even trying to evade the rush.

The things that Brian mentions are mostly valid, but every coordinator is going to have some quirks. At the end of the day, you look at the final result -- Michigan moved the ball, but failed to put points on the board due to 6 turnovers, 1 of which was due to a dumb playcall, the other 5 were errors by the QB. Considering the mediocre personnel Michigan has on offense, I have a hard time blaming this loss on Borges.  


September 24th, 2012 at 3:24 PM ^

Denard has to learn to throw the ball away if there's nothing he can do.  Taking a sack cost us a field goal in the first quarter and made us have to settle for our first field goal in the 3rd quarter. 

Play calling aside, Denard's interceptions have been VERY costly this year.  His 8 interceptions have led to our opponents getting a combined 38 points (14 for Bama, 7 for Air Force, 7 for UMass and 10 for Notre Dame).

We can take comfort in the fact that the Big Ten is a dumpster fire this year but Denard still has to stop throwing the ball to the wrong team. 


September 24th, 2012 at 3:42 PM ^

... but fundamentally disagree with the "why u no junk your career for Denard!?" complaint.

We'd all like to see Denard run wild - he's one of the most exciting players I've ever seen (he's not number one largely because I was privileged enough to see Anthony Carter play live) - but I think we're letting our frustration with the loss and the lack of run-wild prevail over the facts.

Before the game, what were we worried about on offense?  Whether our O-line could hold up against a resurgent ND defense that was stout up front with one of the best LBs in college football behind it.  Whether Denard would be accurate enough and get enough time to take advantage of an inexperienced ND secondary.

The game plan that covers for those potential weaknesses is to suck up the LB with run action and throw the ball away from them.  Those were, by and large, the plays that were called:  Denard biffed them.

This is another thing that seems to get overlooked a lot - Denard has improved his mechanics, but has not improved his decision-making.  He is reluctant to trust his legs and instincts when the play is a called pass, and is not very good at reading the defense.  This makes using "packaged" plays or similar option-packages less attractive - they all depend on reading a defense (or at least a defender) to pick the right option.  Both college coaches Denard has had - RR and Hoke/Borges - have run a bunch of option plays, watched him in practice, and then phased them out.  This tells me there's something he's not picking up, and that - not some fetish about terminology - is why we're not running check-down bubble screens and tons of zone-read options.  The coaches don't think Denard can do that.

Where I share frustration is with the play-action from I-formation without the actual runs, and with the lack of QB Oh Noes as a staple of the offense.  It's a simple play to block, Denard knows it well, and it should work against everyone but Alabama.  I am less frustrated with the Lazer screen thing because we've actually seen some this year - not as options to be taken when the defense gives it to you by alignment, but as a called play, and that's better than nothing.

What I fundamentally disagree with is the notion that Al Borges should be installing (or should have from day one) an offense tailored to Denard.  It's not what he knows, and throwing away what you know how to do best to try to do something you've never done and have little experience with seems like a really bad idea.  Hoke picked Borges because he knows him and trusts his experience; invalidating that experience likely takes away most of his effectiveness.

It would be an especially bad idea to throw away Borges experience to install something that Denard simply isn't good at - like a heavy option-based offense.



September 24th, 2012 at 3:47 PM ^

Whatever, ND still sucks. I'd rather have this conversation pre-B1G about outplaying the opponent decently and losing than getting massively outplayed and squeaking out a win. At least if we're already out of the MNC hunt, then this bodes much better for the B1G season.


September 24th, 2012 at 4:07 PM ^

Not to get all gushy, but I think this review is my favorite since I started reading a few yrs ago.

I kept asking myself where the screens were as ND aggressively pursued us and wondered where a lot of things that always worked were hiding.

Hopefully forcing Denard to use this system will make him a better WR at the next level. Maybe he will be able to understand the offense or the Qb's position a little better.

I could see the steelers drafting him next yr as they love WR converted from old Qb's. Ie Hines war and Antoine randel-el.

I have hope for his future as well as the defense and the offense future this yr as long as the borges gets resolved. It really was a crappy game plan, and I hope Brady or some one brings him on board.

Fear not brethren we have a lot to look forward to and much to be proud of.


September 24th, 2012 at 4:15 PM ^

QB is a turnover machine both INT and fumbles for his whole career, across two coordinators.  He lays a massive 5 turnover egg, and yet it's his coordinator's fault.


You think blaming the execution is horseshit?  All you did for 3 fucking years when the team turned it over all the time is blame execution.  Now it's not execution at all, it's all coaching?  Come on.  Your favorite player shit the bed.  It happens. 



September 24th, 2012 at 5:12 PM ^

Wow, way to bring absolutely no analysis to the party.  Where did Brian say anything about it being "all" execution vs. playcalling in any circumstance?  He blamed Denard for bad throws but also laid blame on the coach who is running the wrong offense for the personnel he has.  Same as Brian said when RR was trying to run the option with busted shoulder Threet.

Denard actually had his best season, a Heisman-trophy caliber one, under RR.  And that was a first-year starter.  Would he have kept throwing INTs?  Yep, and he would also have continued to rush for thousands of yards and complete 63% of his passes.  But we've all watched this team for the past year, and the reason they won last year was because that defense was unstoppable at times; the offense was crap against good opponents until, wait for it, Borges let Denard run around in the shotgun.  And yeah, Denard still made mistakes and he was bailed out unlike this year.  But saying Denard had a bad game should not invalidate any criticisms to be leveled against a guy who is paid lots of money (as well as his boss) from implementing an ineffective offensive gameplan.


September 24th, 2012 at 7:55 PM ^

execution and playcalling when he announced that blaming execution was "bullshit."  Despite what posters around here think, Denard HAS NEVER HAD A HEISMAN WORTHY SEASON.  Not in 2010, not last year.  This is the case precisely because he turns the ball over way too much.  Running Denard from shotgun is not a pancea.  Even the almight 2010 RR offense had games where it completely imploded- e.g. OSU 2010.  


One game does not a good or bad offense make, althought apparently here in the land of objective statistical analysis 5 games does.  I can think of way more than 5 games from RR's first two years in which the offense shit the bed, but that offense ended up pretty good





September 24th, 2012 at 10:48 PM ^

Of course, right after he called blaming execution bullshit he linked to a video of Denard throwing that horrible INT and said "That first Te'o interception was probably the worst throw of Denard's career; if one of the two guys underneath it didn't get it a safety in coverage on the corner had a shot at a PBU."  I may be crazy, but that sure sounds like blaming Denard.

But regardless, the pushback against everyone blaming Denard is that EVERYONE deserves blame for a game like Saturday.  Denard threw some poor passes and should have eaten some sacks, but in no world does it make sense that you put Denard in PA under center when everyone knows they aren't running, then letting a free-running MLB jump in his grill .1 seconds are receiving the ball.  And after Denard threw one INT, you don't then have him throw again on the next down.  And barring that, you don't then ask him to throw AGAIN.  Run the damn ball; its the one part of the gameplan that seemed to be working the couple of times it was tried in the first half.

As for your claim that Denard did not have a Heisman-worthy season in 2010, apparently finishing 6th overall as a first-year starter doesn't count as enough for you.  Michael Hart's 2005 season was the last tiem a UM player broke the top-6, and he finished with fewer votes than Denard.  And while I love Hart, that season was not nearly as impressive as what Denard did.

Nobody thought Denard would win the Heisman this year especially after the Alabama game, but to denigrate one of the few bright spots these past couple of years because he screwed up a couple of times in a game is just annoying and highlights the worst parts of this fanbase.  Put Denard on any of those early-2000 Carr teams and given him even a modicum of freedom and he goes down as one of the best QBs in UM history.  


September 25th, 2012 at 1:04 AM ^

it isn't.  If Brian's inconsistent then, whatever.  If he is blaming Denard, then I guess he is blaming Denard and not blaming Denard. 


You're right about everyone deserving some blame, I don't think Borges gameplan was without falws.



Finishing 6th overall is not Heisman worthy.  That seems just facially obvious to me.  I don't think Mike Hart ever had a Heisman worthy season, and that also seems obvious. Neither  he nor Denard were finalists.   The fact that 6 voters  out of thousands thought Denard deserved it doens't strike me as good evidence to think he deserved a Heisman.  I don't think CJ Spiller had a Heisman worthy season the year before, even though he had over 4 times as many 1st place votes as Denard.  Shonn Green wasn' t a Heisman worthy back and he finished 6th in 2008.  Do you think Colt Brennan had a Heisman worthy season in (not 2007 but) 2006!?


Even one seems to forget that Denard has had bad games in the past, without Al Borges.  It's not like he was a low-turnover player until last season.   Nor has he ever been a top 3 QB.  The fact that he isn't some unstoppable Cam Newton/RGIII/Tim Tebow monster might not be the OC's fault, maybe Denard just is not THAT GOOD.    Brian's position is, atypically, classic fan blather---" it's not that the player has unfixable faults, it's just that coaches failed to fix them!"



September 24th, 2012 at 4:27 PM ^

I feel like Borges calls plays at times almost to prove his worth, that pushing this offense to the way it should be justifies why he is on the staff as opposed to running the offense that works right now.  And Denard definitely is at fault for some of these plays, but I always hold the grown man paid to take advantage of the skillsets of his team over the kid who, regardless of how good we all want him to be, is still 22 and has played in this offense for 17 games. 

The most important thing going forward will be to get a short passing game going.  I doubt Borges will ever give a second chance to the Oh Noes offense, but something with slants and little digs is infinitely better than play actions that nobody is buying.

Smash Lampjaw

September 24th, 2012 at 4:42 PM ^

I was amazed how JC would throw the ball away at the drop of a hat. He preferred losing the game to hurting his passing stats, and I am not sure Coach Charlie disagreed with him. Whatever his flaws, Denard does what he does because he wants the team to win. I hope he learns in his final year that throwing it away (or bolting!) sometimes helps the team more than attempting impossible passing feats.


September 24th, 2012 at 5:06 PM ^


Mechanically, how did Gibbons err during the missed FG attempt exactly? He put plenty of leg into it but the ball seemed to contact too far up on his foot and roll off to the right. I admit to not paying much attention to our kicking over the years (Zoltan being the exception because - wow.) and so wonder if Gibbons has always struck the ball that high up. At the time, I had thought the miss was a bad omen given the history of Michigan field goal attempts at ND stadium. Curious.

Bill the Butcher

September 24th, 2012 at 5:46 PM ^

I used to kick so I may be able to offer some insight here.  I haven't seen the replay so I can't say this with certainty, but usually when a kick is pushed wide it is because the kicker "didn't bring his hips" all the way through the ball at the time of impact.  Its a slight mechanical issue akin to a golf swing.  It wasn't horrible, it was a slight miss and my guess is that he was focusing on getting enough power on his kick rather than having perfect mechanics and he just pushed it right.



September 24th, 2012 at 5:43 PM ^

There are times when throwing an interception because you have pressure on you is indeed falling into your "comfort zone" however there are also times when you learn from previous experience and you take the sack. Not everything can be described as Al Borges' problem. Throwing five interceptions in one game is not Al Borges' problem. Throwing three interceptions on 3 consecutive passes is not excusable for any experienced senior quarterback whether you're 5 foot eight and a speedy little guy or you're 6 foot four and a chiseled passor. The bottom line is, Borges' game plan worked. One punt! For the drives were we didn't turn it over we move the ball without any resistance. This game was lost because of turnovers it's that simple. And yes the quarterback does have to own up to that. The square peg round hole argument only holds water if the game plan doesn't work because the quarterback is not able to execute that type of game plan.

Denard has one central flaw: he always tries to make something out of nothing. He's able to do this with his feet, to the joy of his disciples. But unless bailed out by a super leaping Hemingway in double coverage, he fails with his arm.

Ii for one am happy to return to the statuesque quarterback days of old and developing big backs that punch through the defense over and over and over....

coastal blue

September 24th, 2012 at 6:13 PM ^

Having watched the five picks (I was fairly drunk on Saturday and couldn't remember the details behind them) again, I've come to this conclusion:

Int #1: Totally on Borges. Sorry, but just a dumb call. We aren't the Mighty Ducks, we don't need the flying V. That was 3/7 points erased. The second worst playcall since Hoke took over, trailing only the 4th and 1 last year at MSU. 

Int #2: Denard's fault, no questions asked. He's had some bad picks in his time here, but that one was just inexplicable. Even on the replay, I don't see anything he could have possibly seen to think that he had a chance at a completion.

Int #3: This is another play where I get Brian's criticism. The play-action makes no sense because you know Notre Dame isn't scared of Vincent Smith. Its still not a great throw from Denard, but you can see what he sees. Potentially a bad route run by Devin Gardner, as he didn't seem to be going full-speed. Bad play, bad throw, bad route, lots of blame to go around. 

Int #4: I believe Fitz was in the game, so the play-action makes a little more sense. Still, watching the replay, no one on Notre Dame is at all fooled. It buys no time. Once again, a bad throw by Denard and in an alternate universe, that ball falls harmlessly to the ground and we might only be down 3 at the half. Not a great play call considering that the play-action hadn't really worked all game, but still, Denard needs to throw that ball away, take the sack or try to make it outside with his feet. Mostly Denard's fault, but at that point in the game, not the best call by Borges either. 

Int #5: End of the half, didn't really matter, just kind of amazing that we had five straight pass attempts that went for picks. 

As I said earlier: This is not just Denard and its not just Borges. Brian is probably a little overboard with his criticism, but he does have some good points as well. The play-action seems thrown into the gameplan simply because Borges wants it to be there. Its to no one's benefit but the opponent.  I hope, like Iowa last year, that a bad loss like this rallies the team rather than sends them into a spiral. But for that to occur, we need one of our running backs to step up like Fitz did last year, someone to get through to Denard that a sack isn't the worst play in the game and Borges needs to realize that some of his set-ups don't give his quarterback much chance at success. 


September 24th, 2012 at 6:34 PM ^

Borges is fine. They practice this stuff too many times to count every day. What's good for  his job and the team is to call things Denard can run effectively against a given defense on each play.

He has no incentive to be stupid by making the quarterback do something he can't do. When the lights are on, sometimes the quarterback simply doesn't do it like he did it in practice. Maybe it's pressure? Maybe his improved mechanics disappear in game situations? Maybe he is easily fooled by certain wrinkles?

If he did those plays  in practice the way he did it Saturday, it wouldn't get called. If a determination was made he couldn't execute the things needed to win that day's game, you'd have a different guy under center. 

It's a hard thing to admit, but sometimes the obvious but uncomfortable truth is: Denard at his best gives Michigan it's best chance to win, but that isn't what a better quarterback (not currently on the roster) could give Michigan. So we accept the results.

There just isn't any evidence that what they are doing with him isn't what is best for the football team. Bloated 2010 stats  against Bowling Green is weak. There is way more evidence that how he is doing it is the problem.  Hurling him into the line on lead draws play after play works here and there but it isn't sustainable against good teams. 2010 proved that.

If they are passing the rock with these plays, you can bet he's better at these in practice then all the alternatives we see suggested here and on other fan sites.

We ran into these same issues in 2010 when the team could only muster 7 wins against all lousy teams and defenses. The big boys shut him down until the games were blow outs. 

Doing it Borges way (based on what he sees can actually Denard do), got that number up to 11 wins including some actual quality wins.  


Franz Schubert

September 24th, 2012 at 6:48 PM ^

How long will it take for Borges to realize that Denard is SEVERELY limited in the passing game and Mentally? How many complete failures will it take before he understands that the few really nice passes that Denard makes from time to time are not sustainable over the course of a game? This QB is blessed with an amazing gift to run the football and is capable of a functional short passing game. Put Denard in the Shotgun and run the football and devise a gameplan that has short quick hitting pass routes that he is capable of completing CONSISTENTLY. Oh and tell Denard to take off running at the first sign of pressure.


September 24th, 2012 at 7:06 PM ^

Denard can be hot and cold passing the ball. Against ND he was cold and did not throw well at all. MSU will probably rush Robinson hard like I hope Borges can mitigate Robinson throwing down field 20 plus yards. I just hope our OL gets nasty and blows the spartan's D line right off the line!

Denard will win us a lot more games than he will lose! I'm confident the team will improve through the B1G season and we'll be battling for the division and conference championship!


September 24th, 2012 at 8:03 PM ^

I can't stand hearing ESPN say that Notre Dame is for real after this win. Aside from turnovers (and thats a big aside), they got pretty well dominated at home

Unless I'm mistaken

  • Notre Dame only had 3 pts not off of turnovers
  • The rushed for less than 4 YPC
  • They had less than 250 yds of offense
  • Our offense moved the ball far better than theirs did
  • Our defense played better than theirs did

Sure, they made some good defensive plays to force bad throws but all-in-all, they didn't actually look very good


September 24th, 2012 at 8:12 PM ^

Based on that halfback pass the game plan was to rout the opponent like Minnesota last year. In front of Touchdown Jesus. Though against Minnesota, Denard had already scored three touchdowns.

The only fault on Borges was being too eager with that thing.  He should have had points on the board first.  As far as the interceptions, an OC should be able to rely on his senior quarterback. The last chance of the game was DR's fumble. Mattison and the defense were stout throughout, and ND basically looked horrible.

The last time ND went undefeated against the B1G?  2002.

On the bright side the defense looked good and the offense will probably not repeat that performance again this year.  The B1G beckons.


September 24th, 2012 at 10:14 PM ^

OK I'm clearly late to the commenting game having worked a long (14 hour) day but I read this and couldn't say nothing.  Clearly you weren't thrilled Brian with Denard's play but when I write this post my post goes "Arrgggh Denard" for the amount of space you dedicated to Borges, and vice versa.  Here's why:

-The INTs are largely on Denard no matter how you draw up those plays.  None were tight windows where a DB simply made a great play - all were either poor throws or bad decisions.  Denard's first INT, there wasn't really anyone open and the line did a poor job blocking for Denard, so it's partially on the O line, but Denard is a senior QB.  He needs to know by now you either throw it out of bounds, or eat the football - you don't throw it directly to two ND players.  2nd INT - not sure who this is on but seems like O line again - V Smith didn't seem to have time to chip the blitzing LB.  Question of who is supposed to call out the coverage, is it Denard or Mealer?  In any case - what are you coached to do when you have an unblocked blitzer in your face, for whatever reason?  Eat the football, or throw it away, not up for grabs.  3rd INT - a guy is sort of in Denard's face and what does he do?  Throw it up for grabs.  What should he do?  Eat the football or throw it away.  4th INT - whatever, who cares.  But I think the point is clear - it's a simple coaching point, and a senior QB should have it down pat: you have a guy in your face and no hot read / easy throw, you either eat the football or throw it away.  Simple as that.  Did Borges put Denard in some bad spots?  Sure, he definitely could have coached a better game.  But Denard massively amplified any schematic disadvantage by completely ignoring the most basic of coaching points.  Even if you assume unblocked blitzers are the direct cause of the INTs, and completely acquit Denard, in 2/3 cases these looked like a breakdown in O line protection and had little to do with the called play (3rd one on the play action rollout seemed like play call issue).  Also - you have to concede that Denard fumbles fairly regularly, that was obviously on him.

-What would you advocate we do differently?  My assumption is you would have us run the football with Denard early and often.  But tell me - did you, as I did, believe we were going up against the 2nd best front 7 we would face all year?  My expectation was we would not be able to run on the defense, but as it became clear we could, it seemed like Borges went to the run more and more throughout the game.  I think he saw we could run and adjusted the game plan accordingly - I don't blame him for assuming running Denard would be tough going at first given how keyed Kelly and Te'O were on stopping him.  Logically this tells you to come out throwing.  I agree though - running play action from under center when never running from under center, that is retarded.  But I fully think Borges put us in enough good spots to potentially win this game against a very good defense, we (mostly Denard) just didn't take advantage. 

-I think we should also remember that Borges and Hoke are trying to keep Denard healthy.  It doesn't help us to have him as dinged up as he was for all of 2010, I would think a large part of not running him / throwing is trying to keep him healthy.  Do you really want to see how Bellomy fares against the meat of the B1G schedule at this point?

Again, Borges could have been better in this game, maybe a lot better, and in the other five you cite where he crapped the bed (actually I excise the Sugar Bowl... you can't judge a man without his Rimington winner, imagine how bad this offense would be if Lewan went down all of a sudden, God forbid).  But I maintain he put the team in enough spots to win.  Guys were open, runs were working, and the team couldn't capitalize. 


September 24th, 2012 at 10:18 PM ^

The "Disagree with Brian" crowd is out downvoting in full force.  I hate to sound like a non-commitial ass, but I fall somewhere in the middle.


A small background.  Like many of you, I played football for many years, but I also had the privilege to coach at the high school level for 10 years.  I coached wide receivers, defensive backs, and called offensive plays at various levels.  I don't say this to say that I know more, just to give you where my perspective comes from.


I'll touch on various things that I have not seen discussed in the 264 posts that I've read here.

The ND Game

1) The HB pitch play - it is a well designed play that had no business being called at that point in time.  Besides the fact that we were moving the ball successfully without gimmicks, and that the toss sweep from under center is not a play that we run, the HB pass is a play that should be called from no closer than the 15 yard line.  Why? The closer to the goalline you are, the smaller the field becomes, and the more accurate the pass has to be--from a running back.  However, if the play was executed properly, it still would have worked.  The fault lies with Devin Funchess. He was the point man in the bunch trips set and his job was to seal the edge. At the snap the DE inside Funchess slanted inside and Funchess chased him.  Teo shot the gap where Funchess was...and you know what happened from there.  Funchess SHOULD have let the DE go and stayed on the line of scrimmage.  Had he done that, Teo would have never pressured Smith.

2) The 2nd Denard INT - This is where I disagree with Brian...We ran the play with a single WR (Gardner to the right).  Pre-snap ND is in a 2-deep safety look, however they rotate their secondary to our strong side (our offensive left), resulting in a single high safety.  Most importantly, the CB over Gardner set up 3-4 yards inside Gardner.  However, if you watch closely, Denard does not seem to notice this important adjustment.  Rather, he seemed to have his mind made up that he was throwing to Gardner.  As you know, Teo blitzed the A gap and pressured Denard.  Now, here is where I disagree with Brian.  Gardner ran a skinny post route, but failed to adjust his route for the CB's alignment pre snap.  His break out of his route was sloppy and rounded.  What I am not sure of is how Hecklinski coaches the receivers to come out of the break...accelerate or gear down to make the throw easier. Either way, Gardner's reaction to the ball is woefully slow--almost like he did not expect the ball to come his way.  Bottom line, the throw was inaccurate but Gardner should have--at least--gotten a hand on the ball to prevent the INT.

3) Elliot Mealer is our 2nd best offensive lineman.  It's pretty impressive considering that there was a lot of talk about Burzynski beating him out for LG in fall camp. What a great story..

4) Our defense is better than we thought--but not as good as they played against ND.  Brian Kelly was possessed by the spirit of Mike DeBord in the second half and it made us look better than we are.  However, if we can play run defense like that against Sparty, they will have real trouble moving the ball against us.

General Thoughts

1) Anyone who thinks Gardner is a good WR as of now is not watching closely enough.  The long pass that he dropped on the final drive should have been an easy catch.  After his break out of the post-corner route he ran, he is supposed to turn over his left shoulder.  He turned over his right shoulder instead, so when Denard threw the ball to the outside, he had to awkwardly adjust and he turned what should have been a basket catch into a circus attempt.  The fact that he has been effective is a credit to his elite athleticism.

2) Borges' passing game is very well designed.  It consistently gets receivers open downfield and he has route concepts designed to beat both man and zone coverages.  That is not the problem.  He has been running this offense for a very long time.  The trouble that you have as a play caller is when a play that you love (and all coaches have them), that WR's always run open on isnt working because of execution - ie) QB play. It is very, very difficult to stop calling these plays.  This is what I believe is part of the problem.

3) Denard's accuracy decreases as the indecision increases.  He "panics", his mechanics break down, and in many cases, disaster ensues. The more developed and complex the plays/route combos are, the more fire we play with, IMO.

4) The problem starts before the play even starts.  I have not seen one person mention this, which surprises me.  Watch Denard's head closely.  He looks to be concentrating on the center & any motion by his own WR's.  He is not scanning the defense to check alignments, diagnose coverages, and start the decision making process.  Combine complex, slow developing route combinatins with a QB who isn't scanning the defense pre--snap...and you have a recipe for problems.

5) I hate that we huddle so often.  I understand that a big reason we do it is to protect our defense by reducing the number of plays, but we do not audible out of plays, and due to this you see many -2 RPS on the UFR's more often than you see +2 RPS.  The fact that we were hudding down by 2 scores with 6 minutes left in the game is inexcuseable at this level.  High school coaches are scorched for doing it, why should BCS schools be given a free pass?


So are we doomed to failure? 

Do we need to pin our hopes on Borges completely changing his play calling or Denard somehow developing Brady-like pocket presence--neither of which I would place money on??

No.  I think there is a way to meet in the middle, however I don't think that it is likely to happen.  That is to go back to what a piece of what RR huddle, call the play early in the play clock, and let the coaches upstairs determine if the play call is a good one.  This gives Denard time to read the defense, Borges time ensure a play that has a good chance to succeed against the defense, but you can still run the play clock down to give your D time to rest. 

In the meantime, expect to see MOAR blitzing.  Borges & Co. need to come up with a way to counter this or we are going to have serious issues.  So unless we can line up with 3 TE's like Stanford and run the ball against a pseudo goalline defense, the easiest way is to hit more bubble screens and quick crossing routes--both of which were wide open vs. ND. He need to limit Denard's opportunities to unleash the dragon to 3-5 times per game and get the ball in Gallon's hands with an opportunity to make something happen.

I have more...but this is more than enough for a post reply.


September 24th, 2012 at 11:15 PM ^

I think you have got it correct in terms of our offense. My problem is that I don't have Borges' direct line to relay the information. Not that he would listen to me but I do wish he would give consideration to your points. For Team 133, I think you nailed them. The big 'if' is continuity/transition to Team 134, and so perhaps we sacrifice this year, worst a 8-4 regular season, for better days to come.


September 24th, 2012 at 11:19 PM ^

to question the Borges game-planning/play calling gaffs, but suggesting we are somehow inept because we huddle is absurd. Huddling and clock gobbling is a big factor in our defensive turn around the last two seasons. Even if the play calling has been suspect, huddling is good. Denard hamstringing.... Bad.


September 24th, 2012 at 11:28 PM ^

at the end of each half. It seemed like we couldn't decide whether to try to score points at the end of the first half until after allowing 30 seconds to run off for nothing. The last possession Michigan had was also poor clock managing, given that we knew we needed 2 scores to tie/win yet we let 4 minutes out of 7 left run off the clock.

During the rest of the game, clock management wasn't really an issue, though this game can be used as an illustration of how useless time of possession is.


September 24th, 2012 at 11:35 PM ^


It's a bit rich to question time management given our past performance and the actual and historical score margin versus ND. Arguably, it was the final play calling, coaching assumptions, and QB foot management that made it look that way. ND gobbled more time late than it appeared at the moment. Mostly, we turned over the ball, is all, and they won.  0.02


September 25th, 2012 at 12:05 AM ^

I'm sure everyone understands that when you are losing by 2 possessions with 6 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter, your objective is to score quickly and extend the game.  Wasting time in the huddle while the clock runs is counterproductive to this goal.


September 25th, 2012 at 3:03 AM ^

Perhaps you are not wasting time with a huddle given 6 minutes remaining if the offensive unit cohesion has been disrupted by several perceived mistakes on the part of key leaders on said unit. Eye contact and physical contact may imbue confidence when otherwise that confidence may have been shaken. QB and receivers on the same page for sure with huddle. With 6 minutes left, and considering past performance, you have adequate time within which to work as in prior years. Make the right big gains, score, defend since your defense has stepped up, and then use the 1 minute or less to strike and win. Huddling didn't spell this game outcome, turnovers did. Period.


September 25th, 2012 at 12:02 AM ^

Did you miss this part of my reply?


" That is to go back to what a piece of what RR huddle, call the play early in the play clock, and let the coaches upstairs determine if the play call is a good one. This gives Denard time to read the defense, Borges time ensure a play that has a good chance to succeed against the defense, but you can still run the play clock down to give your D time to rest. "


I clearly stated that you can run a no huddle WITHOUT running up tempo.  You snap the ball at the same time you generally would, you simply give the coaches in the booth more time to call an audible and more time for Denard to read the defense. 

Ed Shuttlesworth

September 25th, 2012 at 12:59 PM ^

I don't know that I've ever seen anyone as in the tank for anyone as Brian is for Denard.  Denard executed competently in the passing game last Saturday?  Wha ... huh!?!?!?!?

Denard has never been that great a decision maker, and has never been accurate and has never been consistent.  There's nothing he's doing now that's a surprise to anyone who has watched the last three years objectively.   

The fundamental problem with Denard is that he was born 30 years too late.  The solution to that isn't a new OC, it's Hot Tub Time Machine.


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