Picture Pages: Predictability Comment Count

Brian October 23rd, 2012 at 11:50 AM


oh good this again

The great unresolved question we batted around Monday on the podcast was the perpetual great unresolved question of the last year and a half: "quien es mas falto, Denard o Borges?"

I'm not done with things yet but am I leaning Borges, except since Michigan went into a shell against a good defense and won the game instead of throwing five interceptions and losing it, by "blame" I might actually mean "credit." Michigan won, and outgained the other offense by about 50 yards, and was only about 50 yards short of the output spread genius Urban Meyer managed against the MSU D. In terms of the OH MY GOD TOTAL DEBACLES that have speckled the Borges/Denard partnership, this ranks much lower than having under 200 yards of offense before you're forced to chuck the ball all over the field. See: Iowa, ND 2011, etc.

That said, a quarter into the game, Spartan safeties have made tackles at the line of scrimmage twice, Chris Norman is regularly meeting lead blockers two yards in the backfield, and the only significant gains Michigan has acquired are on a Gallon throwback screen on which it looks like Norman busts hard and the ten-yard Kwiatkowski out. Here's an example of the first two phenomena:

This is a super-aggressive quarters defense that Indiana exploited against both MSU and Ohio State—which is attempting to run the same scheme—with various cover-4 beaters. Michigan elected for the shell, and won.

Even so, man. Michigan has spent weeks setting things up as they played Bye, Virtual Bye One, and Virtual Bye Two; Michigan State is coming off three consecutive hard-fought games. I'm not sure if Spartan Overpreparation is a real thing or not—I hope so. Otherwise we're putting all our chips on the idea that Borges really doesn't have the faintest clue how to run a spread offense and that things will get better once a Real Quarterback™ is in place*.

*[If you've ever made this assertion I hate you.]

An Example

Okay. So here's Michigan's end-around version of the veer that they've been putting on the field for a few weeks now. It looks different; it's really just the same thing as the veer, though.

[Please forgive the crappier than normal image quality—the BTN was taking wide shots, which is generally good for this sort of thing, but this week's torrent is bleah for whatever reason.]

Anyway: Gallon in the slot, Michigan in a Borges-standard three-wide pack. The alignment of Gallon hints at the end around motion, BTW. MSU is in their standard 4-3 even. The guys at the top of the screen are going to be the relevant ones. Gholston is the DE, Denicos Allen the LB.


As Gallon goes in motion, Allen—and only Allen—moves to the LOS outside of Gholston. Live this gave me a sense of disquiet. That's not sliding some linebackers over. That's an awfully specific thing to do.


A  couple of moments later, the snap has been made and Denard is in a quasi-mesh point with Gallon. I say "quasi" because the action here is so fast that it's hard to believe there's any real read component.

Anyway. Four MSU players are relevant here.


  1. The boundary corner blitzes. He is the contain guy if Gallon gets the ball.
  2. Allen is now the End Man On The Line Of Scrimmage—EMLOS(!). His goal is to get the two-for-one that allows Bullough to be the free hitter, or at least foul the hole and thus rob whoever gets to Bullough of his burst of impetus.
  3. Gholston is the main cutback defender. Once Allen is the primary hole he's got to prevent anything from cutting behind it.
  4. Bullough is the guy MSU would like to be the free hitter a la Demens. Bullough's ridiculously good at football and sheds blocks like whoah; having him as a free hitter is a luxury few teams have.

On the Michigan side of things, Lewan is adapting to the play as it develops and pulls out some of the old zone playbook. When Gholston dives inside of him he goes with it, using his momentum to take him past the point where he wants to go. Toussaint also reads the funny business going on and heads straight for Allen. Omameh is pulling; his eventual destination should be Bullough.

This is hard to see in the next still, so watch for it in the video: the legs you see poking out here like the Wicked Witch of the West with a house on her…


…are in fact the remnants of a killer cut block on Allen by Toussaint. But Allen has still gotten his two for one:


Omameh is literally hopping outside that block. A moment past this and the two players will be even, which means Denard can't follow him, which means he's not blocking anyone, which means two for one, which means Max Freaking Bullough is a free hitter.

Michigan's one saving grace on this play is the Lewan-Gholston matchup. Denard gets a cutback lane because Lewan has blasted Gholston to a point on the field even with the playside and backside DTs. Bullough is surprised by Denard's attack angle, as is Norman, and both have a tough time cutting back as fast as Denard can.


They're unblocked, though, and there are many of them. Denard can only squeeze out four yards…


…as Gholston lies pancaked underneath Lewan yards from the play.



On separate run-throughs check out:

  1. Toussaint chopping Allen
  2. Lewan dominating Gholston
  3. Denard picking through traffic
  4. Michigan getting four yards off of two great blocks.

Things And Stuff

UNLEASH THE EPIC RABBLING COMMENT THREAD. Guys, I'm totally sorry, but sheeeeeeeeeeeeit. This is happening all the damn time. The play above is MSU knowing what's coming as soon as Gallon goes in motion and having a plan to combat it. The plan works—pretty much, anyway—despite the playside defensive end ending up on his stomach eight yards away from the play.

Michigan's not getting anything of the sort in kind, and the first play on which Joe Reynolds makes an appearance features this defensive formation:


filed under "lol 100% run" in the MSU playbook

That wasn't a fakeout, man, those jakeryans came at the snap, leaving one corner anywhere near a simple curl/flat or smash combo with the twinned receivers.


This was a run. A –3 yard run. Yeah, sure, opposing defensive coordinators don't know about Michigan's substitution patterns. Probably just a coincidence.

That cannot happen. You cannot allow the opposing defense to align like that. Michigan allows it all the time.

Okay, okay, is going away from all run all the time a danger that makes Denard chuck interceptions? Possibly. I watched Denard make those curl/flat throws as a clueless sophomore, though, and you just can't let the above happen. I'm finding lots of wins for MSU based on their prep for this game, and few for Michigan. The throwback screen that worked was more Norman busting hard than anything schematic working.

I know they got some stuff later, so I'll probably be less peeved about this when the UFRs come out. I am pretty disappointed that M spent the first quarter running absolutely nothing new against Michigan State of all teams.

Lewan vs Gholston is no contest. It was no contest a year ago, it's no contest this year. He made a couple plays that didn't show up on the scoresheet when he was well-schooled on Michigan's sweep play and used his athleticism to shoot a gap—and Funchess took out Schofield in the process—but once he gets locked up, game over man. He did himself a disservice by not playing for a 3-4 team. He'd be a terror in ND's scheme. As a 4-3-even DE, he's the third-best player on his own defensive line.

Toussaint got a win here. This went a lot worse for him when he was trying to lead Denard into iso runs and Chris Norman was tearing ass at him. The lack of Rawls was pretty weird given the context.

Players don't really matter here except at the margins. Gholston got annihilated and Michigan got four yards. That was MSU's worst case scenario on this play.

Michigan's counterpunches to this sort of thing are not even really the Dileo completions. Dileo catches his first two balls on second and eleven and third and six; the last one was clearly not a play action situation, so all you've got to show for this is the single catch and run from the second quarter.

You should be able to punish the level of aggression shown by the MSU defense in some way. Michigan could not last year and could not this year—at least not in the structure of the offense. Last year, Roy Roundtree broke a tackle to turn a slant into a touchdown. This year, Denard juked and juked and juked to get his 44-yard run towards the end on a QB draw that had absolutely nothing to do with the base rushing offense.

The most alarming thing so far: Michigan's first pass on first down is three drives in. It has a play action mesh point of the sort MSU has been tearing after all game, and no MSU linebacker takes a step to the line of scrimmage. Why? The line sets up to pass block immediately, without anyone pulling. Michigan has not had a run play yet without a pulling lineman.


Denard doesn't have anyone open and ends up throwing his worst pass of the day, a near-INT that was so bad two MSU players had a better shot at it than any Michigan guys. Clearly he has not gotten through all his bad decision mojo, but I'm mystified that Michigan would not even try to draw those linebackers up by running plays that look like the ones they've already put on the field.



October 23rd, 2012 at 1:38 PM ^

Its the thousand-year-old question (well, really just two-year-old) . . . does the new coaching staff come in and play to the existing players strengths or install its own principles and stick to them no matter what.  I think Borges is trying to do both and doing well at both but not great.  I think its frustrating for the "3 yards and a pile of dust" crowd that grew up loving Schembechler and Carr and the spread offense crowd that loved the intracacies that were involved in Rodriguez's offense.  Borges is trying to incorporate both but not particularly excelling at either.  That doesn't mean he's not doing a great job with what he has, it just means that both sides are going to be overly critical at this juncture.  Maybe he'll do better with a true drop-back passer, maybe not.  He better.



October 23rd, 2012 at 2:24 PM ^

USC is maybe the only actual "pro-style" offense left in college football and they throw quick wide receiver screens all the time.  This is about attacking the entire width of the field and not allowing defenses to gain a numerical advantage against you without making them pay.  We're not lining up with two backs and three tight ends and trying to plow through people (in which case you may have a valid point).  We are lining up with multiple wide receivers and then not using them in a way that forces the defense to respect our alignment.

If Borges's "principles" for some reason involve making it way harder for your offense to have success by refusing to take free yards and letting the opposition overload against the things you do on a regular basis, then we are going to have a  hard time with any quarterback under any system label. 


October 23rd, 2012 at 1:09 PM ^

Two things nearly cost us the game: playcalling in the first half, and the fake punt.

Thank God MSU scored right off the bat in the second half.  I feel that forces Borges to open up the playbook a little.  It didn't help much, but we did get moving a little better on offense, pushing MSU's possessions back toward their side of the field.  Giving the enemy the ball on the 40-50 is not good for our health, Michigan Defense or not.


October 23rd, 2012 at 1:15 PM ^

Borges is not only Michigan's OC, but its QB coach.  Here are Denard's passing stats from his three years as a starter:

Season     Cmp       Att      Yards    Cmp%    YPA       TD/Int

2012           83         155     1264       53.5       8.16        9/9

2011          142        258      2173      55.0       8.42       20/15

2010          182         291     2570      62.5       8.83       18/11

That's a noticeable downward trend.  Something to bear in mind when we lament that next year's QB is inaccurate, can't seem to read a defense, and doesn't have the ability to audible.


October 23rd, 2012 at 1:36 PM ^

But I'd say there might be some aspects that have changed. For example, Under RR (I don't remember where the quote was from) the Defense existed to help the Offense practice.

Now we don't work on offense as much, but the d is better. Denard may not be, but the team is.


October 23rd, 2012 at 1:39 PM ^

No, the abscence of a wide open offense which threw up deceptive numbers that also allows our defense to rest is what is leading us to more wins.

So Denard's numbers are down.  WHO CARES?

No longer are teams able to switch to a prevent defense in the second half because they are murdering us, which allows for deceptive numbers to be put up by Denard. 

We are in every single game in the 2nd half (other than Alabama) and the play calling has reflected that.


October 23rd, 2012 at 1:49 PM ^

I do, I guess.  If those declining numbers are indicative of a coach's failure to develop Denard as a passer, then I definitely care.  Look no further than the loss to Notre Dame for a reason to care how Denard is developing (or not) as a passer.  (Especially since he passed us to a win against Notre Dame last year.)


October 23rd, 2012 at 2:00 PM ^

InterM you're killing me here buddy. 

Denard is a RUN first Pass 2nd Spread QB.  Nobody is turning Denard into a better passer.  Hoke could hire Jesus Christ to be the QB coach and he still wouldn't be able to give Denard the power to read a defense or make consistently accurate throws.   This is why Denard is projected to be a RB, WR or Return Specialist at the next level.

And for the record, those declining numbers you cite, are NOT indicative of Borge's ability to develop Denard as a passer.  

Give Borges a Senior Bellomy or a Sophomore Morris and just sit back and enjoy the outcome.  I think you're going to like it.


October 23rd, 2012 at 2:32 PM ^

Yeah... if by "passed us to a win" you mean had Junior Hemingway, Gallon, and Roundtree all catch 51-49 Jump Balls for a quarter.

Look, it was an awesome game, but football is a team sport, and the team sure is better the last two years than the previous two. And I love me some Denard, he's great. But the goal of this team is not solely to develop Denard, it's to win games.


October 23rd, 2012 at 5:26 PM ^

is that the two goals -- develop Denard and win games -- are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, I tend to believe that developing the QB generally helps to win games.  And as for the Notre Dame win, the simple fact is that Denard actually put up those "jump balls" so that Hemingway and Roundtree could catch them -- and yet he has failed at least twice this year (last week and against Notre Dame) to do the same.

Bill the Butcher

October 23rd, 2012 at 1:20 PM ^

I'd say last years numbers look similar to this years when competition to this point in the year is factored in.  Those are the two years Al is responsible for and I really see no change.  

The 2010 numbers don't look much different either unless you are looking at completion percentage, which we all know is a result of the world's greatest play the ZOMG BUBBLE SCREEEENZZZZZ.  

I'd say this is just tells us that Denard is who he is as a passer and we have to work within that framework to win games.

Bill the Butcher

October 23rd, 2012 at 2:22 PM ^

What would you propose Borges do to fix the problems we are having with Denard? 

Should he magic school bus himself down to a miniature size and hide in Denard's helmet reading defenses for him on the fly and tell him whether to keep or give, or which receiver to throw to? 

The coaches can do everything to try and rid a kid of bad habits and explain what they would like the player to do, but it eventually comes down to that player executing.  Normally, if a player fails numerous times to make the correct play, they will get benched.  We are in a unique situation in that Denard, for all his short comings as a passer, is a phenomenal running quarterback and our clear number one option at qb.  So we roll with it.  As I said above, he is who we think he is! (cue denny green video)


October 23rd, 2012 at 2:52 PM ^

People (and plenty of them) are proposing that we occasionally call plays that result in easy throws/completions that attack the perimeter of the defense, especially when teams are literally covering two receivers with one guy who is playing well off the line of scrimmage.  For an example of how this can work to perfection, watch how the Redskins attacked the Saints in week one of the NFL season with a rookie starter at QB en route to 40 points.

Instead of doing something like that, our offensive coordinator has decided to run play-action fakes that look nothing like the plays we run and fool zero linebackers before having Denard chuck it down the field.  If you're so confident in Denard's weakness as a passer, you should be the last person defending the current strategy being implemented by the team.  Chucking it downfield into increased traffic whenever you want to pass the ball seems like a pretty dumbass strategy if you don't think the QB can make quality throws and read defenses, no?

Having Denard get the snap and immediately throw the ball out to a wide receiver and see if he can pick up a few free yards a handful of times a game in order to exploit the defensive alignments we're seeing and/or open up the other things we want to do isn't some crazy ass strategy.  It doesn't require a massive shift in philosophy.  It doesn't make winning harder or turn your defense into pussies.  All it means is that you aren't playing with one hand tied behind your back on the offensive side of the ball.  The fact that there is any argument against what Brian is talking about is complete fucking idiocy.

Bill the Butcher

October 23rd, 2012 at 3:33 PM ^

My argument was not about what can be done with the offense to play to Denard's strengths.  I was not arguing with Brian's point at all.  I was asking what he would like to Borges to do in terms of DEVELOPING Denard as a passer.  The argument he originally made in the post I originally responded to stated Denard's stats from the past 3 years and he laid them out as an indictment of Borges' ability to develop a QB.  I suppose your over reaction is to my "ZOMG bubble screenz" quote.  Which was kind of a joke, but was also poking fun at the lemmings here who only speak to the bubble screen as if that one play will drastically change everything.  I agree that it may help, but what will help more is changing our route combos to make them more "Denard friendly".  I also used it as an explanation for his higher completion percentage, which frankly, is inarguable.   Brian, and posters like yourself realize that there are many other route combos (smash concept etc) which Denard can excel at in addition to the bubble, less knowledgable posters here, however, have latched on to the bubble as the be all end all.  That is where that comment stems from, not from a hatred of spread concepts or a defense of our current offensive philosophy. 

Your comments state that at this point we should be making the route combos much more simple and his reads elementary ala RR.  I haven't disagreed with this assertion anywhere.  I agree that Denard's ability as a passer hamstrings the current offense at times and we would be better served (for the present anyway, maybe not the future) by moving toward more spread concepts in our route combos.  What I don't agree with is that Denard's shortcomings as a passer being any indication of Borges' abilitiy or inability to coach up quarterbacks.  As I've said, we know where we are with Denard as a passer, I don't blame Borges for it and I don't blame Denard for it.  It is who he is as a player, and I know he is busting his ass to make plays, which you can never fault.  It just so happens that he is very limited in his abilities as a passer.  

Again, my post had nothing to do with our offensive philosophy it was more so debunking the cherry picked stats that were being used to claim failure by our offensive coordinator.  Gripe all you want, and with merit, about our play calling and playbook in general, but I just don't think we can garner anything about Borges' ability as a QB coach by looking at Denard's stats.  I'm not sure what part of my post got you so worked up but if you go back and read you will see that we actually agree on damn near everything. 


Bill the Butcher

October 23rd, 2012 at 3:31 PM ^

Sorry if my above reply was a bit scatter-brained, I couldn't for the life of me figure out why you were replying to me with your agrument for a change in offensive philosophy and I was about 3/4 of the way thru typing my post when I realized it must have been the bubble screen comment so I changed my reply a bit but didn't proof read it thoroughly.


October 23rd, 2012 at 1:23 PM ^

I'm all for running the ball way more than we pass and not taking risks in the passing game.  That isn't the problem with what Borges is doing.  In fact, he's making every pass play way riskier than it has to be by not attempting to fool the defense and not attacking the flats for easy yardage.

Giving Denard the option or occasionally calling a play to immediately throw the ball to a wide receiver at or behind the line of scrimmage (not a risky throw at all) makes this offense much harder to defend. 

In either of the top two plays if Denard throws a quick screen (after the fake to Gallon in the first one) the defense is put in a precarious position.  Going forward, they can't overpursue and you open up the play you wanted to run in the first place. 

Attacking the entire width of the field should just be a basic principle of offense at this point.   We don't really do it, except maybe through that little swing pass to Fitz that would be a big play if we could ever execute it properly.  In essence, we are running "the spread" without actually forcing opposing defenses to spread out and defend the entire field. 

As it stands, we're allowing defenses to cover two guys with one defender on a regular basis, not exploiting one on one matchups (say Devin Gardner with the ball in his hands against an isolated corner), and defenses can aggressively attack our running game and keep enough guys in the middle of the field to prevent the wide open TDs we saw in 2010 (and you'll see from all kinds of teams around the country, including Arizona this year, who don't have the threat of Denard's legs opening things up). 


October 23rd, 2012 at 1:24 PM ^

I think all we can really say is that Borges isn't the magician with the offense that Mattison is with the defense, but it's still too early to pass final judgement.  If after a couple of seasons where he's had his mitts on Devin, Bellomy, and Shane and we're still bitching about this type of stuff, then it's time to panic a little.


October 23rd, 2012 at 1:25 PM ^

After watching the every-down-of-offense replay, here's what I learned:

(1) Most of MSU's big defensive plays were caused by guys going COMPLETELY and preposterously unblocked (Barnum and Fitz seemed two biggest culprits; Mealer had a couple derps);

(2) to the extent Borges called quick slants and drags to exploit MSU's man defense in the middle of the field, those routes weren't Denard's first reads (and I don't really understand why);

(3) against man defense, my sense was the receivers did not get into their defenders enough before making their cuts (it seemed a lot of good play-calling led to nothing because the receivers dallied into defenders instead of aggressively geting separation);

(4) Borges should take some blame for selling out run and pass based on predicability caused by the team's first motion after the snap.

(5) Instead of losing obvious yards on the ground based on coverage at the LOS, Denard should have known to audible to an extended out route when MSU loaded the box with three deep (not sure if that's on Denard for not audibling or on Borges for not developing plays to audible);

(6) Fitz is pretty horrible at selling fake hand-offs; and

(7) Devin and Jeremy are NOT threats, which had a lot to do with M's inability to sustain momentum during drives.




October 23rd, 2012 at 1:38 PM ^

It's not really anything in this article that really that bothers me. It's that once again we had some drives and made some plays that put us in position for TDs yet again and again we had to settle for FGs. Red Zone especially 'goal to go' has been a big problem all year. When the field gets compressed guys just aren't making plays and Borges isn't keeping the good defenses off balance.


October 23rd, 2012 at 1:38 PM ^

On the Reynolds formation.....isnt it a do the ends justify the means type of personnel decision made during the week/earlier in the season as opposed to an RPS thing on Game Day? Or at least as much of, so its a two pronged decision.

Is the running game better with him out there? I honestly have never pondered it. Can Reynolds just not catch? The other WRs arent covering themselves with glory, if he's the clear option as a blocker........


October 23rd, 2012 at 1:45 PM ^

Personally, I think the most frustrating thing about playcalling generally is the apparent failure of coaches to take what the defense is giving them.  The bubble screen discussion is now a funny one but it has been super-frustrating to see receivers in screen shots like the one above and not see a throw ever go that way.  Maybe its Denard not recognizing it or maybe its not an option given, but it definitely gives rise to some heated exchanges in message boards.  Maybe its like some people say and the fans don't know sh-t or maybe it is that the coaches just don't want to call plays they don't like running.  I have no idea but its frustrating to see these kinds of things occur on a regular basis with no resolution.


October 23rd, 2012 at 2:05 PM ^

Great comments. I don't like reading what you said above about Denard and Borges, but "there is iron in your words of death for all Michigan fans to see." (Outlaw Josee Wales quote).

Vs. higher-caliber opponents, we're still very much of living and dying by Denard Robinson. 

I've never witnessed Denard audible at the line before. Audibling out of the shotgun  formation is really obvious, because there's a ton of walking around to get the signals out, etc. Borges doesn't allow this or perhaps feels Denard can't do it effectively. 


October 23rd, 2012 at 2:19 PM ^

to the Gallon jet-sweep is to fake the handout and have Gallon run a wheel route behind the LBs and safeties who are sucking up to stop the run. Like this play, but with play action instead of a keep:

I don't think we ever did it.

On the other hand, my feeling is that the conservative game plan was quite intentional, so I'm not too worried about how the offense played in this game.

El Jeffe

October 23rd, 2012 at 2:27 PM ^

Guys, I think we're getting better at these discussions. This was easily the most informative and least incendiary debate on this issue we've had. Kudos to Brian and the commenters for once again showing why MGoBlog is so fantastic.

Now then: not an original thought, I realize. But the thing that jumped out at me in play #2 was not how wide open Rey was in the slot at the snap (pic 1) but how even more hand-wavingly wide open he (would have been) before Denard even gets to the mesh point with Fitz (pic 2 below).

I tend to be more of a teeth-gnasher with Borges than a defender, so I recognize my bias, but if Rey takes two steps to the boundary (instead of to the LOS) and Denard hits him, holy Lord that's a lot of free yards, even if Gallon totally whiffs his block.

I recognize that I actually know nothing about football, but I simply don't understand what philosophy of football does not take these free yards when they are there.


October 23rd, 2012 at 2:57 PM ^

DeBorges doesn't have to turn in his West Coast offense membership card to throw in the odd bubble, or more fake-zone-read-handoff quick slants, and other plays that make defenses that way overcommit -- like MSU's the past two years -- pay dearly.


October 23rd, 2012 at 3:21 PM ^

Man its a good thing the guys who "know how to run a spread offense" never struggle against good defenses. Like how you rmember Denard making all those great throws, that trend certainly held against the better Ds we played that year


ETA: that includes not just RR, but holgerson and others, to some extent even chip kelly


October 23rd, 2012 at 3:39 PM ^

On the other hand, every time Michigan drops back to convert a 3rd and long, I look down to see receivers bunched or a slot coming in motion behind a tight formation, and I have utter confidence that somebody is going to come open and Denard will hit him. Borges truly is a master at creating a symphony of routes. The downside of such virtuosos is they never play to their audience. If we were truly watching the offensive equivalent of the Mars Volta Francis the Mute tour* then you'd have a beef. Rather you're seeing the result of Beethoven given charge of Motown Records and then complaining because he's not getting the most out of Diana Ross and the Supremes.

I use Motown because the Motown Sound is like a package offense: easy to copy but takes a long time to perfect all the synchronities that make it possible to evoke church soul in a rock n roll beat. Likewise, there's a reason the Rodriguez Zone Read always seems to come with a two-year adjustment period, and that's because after a few years the slot receivers will start to know without being told that the bubble is coming, and the linemen and RB will correctly read the keep or give the same time the QB does.

Borges does not come from this read and react until you can time it all perfectly school. He wants nine different instruments to be able to supply the beat, the melody, or the harmony and expects to wield them just so in perfect, pre-planned arrangements. His approach is not to line up then attack where you show weakness, but to force opponents to correctly guess a number 1 through 4 and get all four right. This has massively expanded the playbook since 2010, the corrollary being a lot fewer chances to package each play with a counter to the counter.

I agree that it would be awesome to have reads for the big things, like the example above with Twin WRs vs a single cornerback for half the field. I just don't know when he's going to have time to coach that while already handling the spread AND installing his symphonic 3rd down passing routes. Using that example, I'd say "geez, audible that to a smash!" but MSU should know damn well that the SLB/nickel blitz should turn into a short zone the second the QB yells fire.

Carr used to do this too often, but fake audibles can work just as well in forcing the defense out of a hateful alignment, and have the benefit of not requiring the players to learn two plays for every one they hope to us. Taking the free yards is great if the QB can see the alignment and communicate the changeup to his team without the defense adjusting to the adjustment, but I think that takes more practice than you're giving it credit.

* For those not up on post-punk/prog bands of the early and mid 2000s, think of a bunch of skinny kids with afros jerking themselves off with their guitars for 3 hours. When At the Drive In broke up the heart went one way and became a screamo thing barely differentiable from Thursday, while the head was completely detached from the earth.


October 23rd, 2012 at 5:27 PM ^

Arizona lost their starting QB (3rd round draft pick), leading rusher, and top three receivers from last year and have suffered a couple injuries on the offensive line this season.  They've scored 35 against Oregon State (held Wisconsin, Wazzu, and Utah to single digits, next highest total is 24 against BYU in which the Beavers also scored on defense).  They've scored 48 at Stanford (no one else has scored more than 20 against the Cardinal).  They just scored 52 against Washington (held Stanford to 13 and USC's offense to 17).  None of those were the "catch up" points that apparently don't count if your butt-hurt fanbase has already decided they don't like you.  They are in the top-20 in scoring offense and top-5 in total offense.

This isn't a system issue.  I was a bigger fan than anyone about hiring Al Borges but he is failing to do things that any coach in any offensive system should be doing to make teams pay for overloading what you are trying to do and not respecting your alignment.  USC and Alabama don't run the zone read but they are fully capable of throwing a quick screen or a short combination route to take advantage of a team covering two receivers with one DB playing well off the ball.  And if the other team doesn't stop it they will keep doing it.  We are not even attempting to do that and it is making everything else we do a lot harder. 

It also isn't an audible issue.  Calling a quick WR screen or a bubble in the huddle is way less risky or predictable than having Denard line up in the I, turn his back to the receiver and then whip around and throw immediately on the tunnel screen we run regularly.  It can also be coupled with the admonishment/instruction to tuck it and run if the play is covered. 




October 23rd, 2012 at 9:06 PM ^

It's the players that have guided us to all these wins, the talent left behind, and how deep and successful we could be with these players. But now when there are deficiencies, it's not the players fault at ll, but simple coaching.

Contrast this with Arizona, who apparently was left with no talent, but somehow is great on offense due to coaching. But I'm sure the 38, 49, 38, and 54 points they've given up reverts back to talent left behind, and not the "complete staff" put together on defense. Of those teams you mention, Stanford is 34th and Oregon St 38th in total defense. Michigan has played 1, 5, and 6 (and is 10).

Your answer for Michigan has been "maybe we were actually left with some decent talent." But that's not a consideration for Arizona, even though the NFL isn't even bothering to draft our offensive players, with next year's draft taking high one lineman if he goes, and another player who won't be playing the position he plays.

Could the coaches do some things better? Yes, always. But to see you ready to put it all on coaching after being so repetitive in how players win and lose, not coaches....


October 23rd, 2012 at 10:20 PM ^

Coaches don't make teams either of those things.  This team is still very good.  We are 5-2 and I think the worst case scenario is 9-3 and a birth in the conference title game at this point.  There isn't a team on the schedule outside of Alabama with better talent on both sides of the ball.

Knowing that to be true and thinking coaches make zero difference in the outcome of a season are two totally different things.  An $800K defensive coordinator quite possibly gets us an extra win in 2010 against a (then) 6-6 PSU or Iowa team.  Does that make a difference to anyone?  It certainly doesn't save Greg Robinson's job and Rodriguez still has a losing record overall and "can't compete" with the big boys.

Rodriguez was very lucky (or smart) to take a job with Scott, Carey, Buckner, Hill, etc. waiting in the wings.  What does it say to you that Arizona coming off a 4-8 season and losing all their offensive talent is in vastly superior shape to Michigan after Lloyd Carr's departure?  Or the fact that no one is crying like a bitch because the coach is a big meanie who makes people do exercises in the offseason?

I know you want to win an argument despite everything I predicted coming true, but again you are off base here.  Coaches can certainly be the difference in a game or two every year.  I have never said otherwise.  When you are a mediocre team (like Michigan was in 2010 and Arizona probably is this year) that doesn't really matter to me (whether we win 5, 6, 7, or 8 games is pretty meaningless at the end of the day, beating PSU in 2005 doesn't raise my shorts at all).  When you don't score a touchdown and turn the ball over 6 times against a team you've beaten three years in a row with many of the same offensive players and has no punch at all on offense themselves, that is probably one of those "the coach had a say so in the outcome" moments.  The difference between 9 and 10 wins is big.  The difference between 10, 11, or 12 is huge.  I think it is pretty clear that a just slightly less terrible plan against ND and MSU results in two comfortable victories.  Same goes for MSU and Iowa last year as well (and the same thing nearly cost us in the Sugar Bowl). 

No one is saying Borges sucks or he should be fired, but when there are demonstrable problems with the way we are attacking teams (essentially they are being allowed to cheat against what we do best and get away with it with impunity despite an easy solution) there is room for this kind of criticism.  Hopefully he dials something up in the coming weeks to prevent teams from doing this throughout the rest of the year.

Also, just to add a few bonus points for me, you know damn well I've been saying the same thing for longer than 18 months.  And those defensive ranking differences are totally accounted for by the fact that UA torched those teams.  Stanford's D is certainly no worse than ND's (who will hopefully get smoked by OU and USC) or MSU's. 


October 23rd, 2012 at 6:01 PM ^

1.  He is not a believer in the constraint-theory approach to play design.  This is a shame, because two or more plays which look exactly the same (down to the blocking schemes) but attack different areas of the field will be wildly successful against non-NFL defenders.  Getting safeties to hesitate before crashing the line was a big reason why RR routinely sprang Denard for yardage.  It does mean you tend to have your WR run routes first rather than block first, which means you don't get an advantage at the point of attack on edge plays.

2.  Audibling to the bubble/laser screen is not happening now; possibly not ever.  That is also a shame, because this kind of audible/read is a staple of the package approach to play design.  There's a reason that this kind of thing is sweeping college football - even the MSU/Alabama defenses of the world have trouble with this when executed correctly.

This is due to the very sensible approach to play design that he's espoused before:

Plays that the offense cannot execute won't be in the playbook.

If we can't run it right 90% in practice, it's not making it to the game.

As an illustration, let's look at the "crazy pills" picture above.  In order for Denard to throw to either of the two lower-screen wideouts, he has to either zip the ball in a window around a blitzing LB or precisely loop it over him.  (That's ignoring the possibility that the LB drops into the screen zone, too.)  Neither of those sound like something Denard is good at, especially against a D that will be coached over and over to get your hands up when the QB cocks to throw.  Add to that the confusion of audibling into this play and I can see why we might not be calling those plays - they're simply not something the coaches trust him to do.

This is probably 50% too many words to expand on Magnus' points above:  Denard is not a good passer or good at reading defenses/defenders, and we should not be calling plays that rely on him being good at those.  Audibling into screens is one of those things.

The points against Borges are that he believes in advantage-at-the-point-of-attack over constraint-theory, and thus far hasn't shown an inclination towards the packaged-plays approach.  If the second point is true in two years, it will likely be costing us games; the first is  likely to remain viable for a while.


October 23rd, 2012 at 11:06 PM ^

The MSU game was frustrating to watch at times.  Then again, it seems that since Dantonio has been coach, State sells out to win against Michigan.  Yes, they have a great defense, but it seems rather obvious that State is looking ahead and preparing all season for this one game. From both their defense and their offense, they played much better this game than their previous games, and if their offense didn't have the long drive they did, Michigan would have had at least one more offensive series and the score might have been a real donny brook, 15-3.