A Week In The Life of Al Borges (part 2) Comment Count

Heiko May 22nd, 2013 at 4:04 PM

[In part 1, Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges describes a typical game week and talks about the process of game preparation. In part 2, Borges talks about game day, calling plays, the infamous Ohio State game, and bubble screens. There is no part 3. =( ]

Okay it’s game day. I’m guessing the first thing you do is meet with all the coaches.

“Yeah. What we do is we’ll -- we don’t actually meet. We’ve already got that pretty much out of our system, although I’ve been at places where we did. I’ve been at places where the head coach wanted to meet on game day and talk about everything. But we’ve already hashed all that out. There’s no reason to bother with that at that point.

“But you know, we get up and have a little walk-through usually down at the church -- by the church across the street from the Campus Inn.”

I think I’ve seen you guys.

“Yeah. We’ll have a little walk-through, which is great. It gets the guys thinking about football. We started doing that about the middle of our first year. And then there’s a pre-game [meeting], depending on when the game is.

“Something that’s worthy of mention is that we go through a call-sheet rehearsal with all the interns and everybody that puts that together. You have to understand that I’m a bit of a technological moron. I don’t do --

[Borges gestures to his computer]

“-- All this stuff. I’m too old. I’m not real computer savvy and all that. I mean I can open a computer and find stuff for the most part if you want anything … I let the GAs kind of do that. But what we do is we go through sometimes as many as two or three games with those guys, and one with the quarterbacks where we’ll put a game on, and I’ll call the game practicing off -- say we’re playing Notre Dame and Notre Dame played USC. I’ll put the USC game on, put my call sheet in front of me, and whatever SC did, if they gained three yards [to get to] a second and seven, I will practice the call in that area that I would call in that situation. And maybe Notre Dame played Purdue, SC, and whoever. With those three games I’ll go through a whole call sheet of three games just practicing calling the plays. And we’ll do that on Friday so that, just like the players, I’ve rehearsed what I’m going to call and what I’m going to do. That Friday the quarterbacks will come in and I’ll do it with the quarterbacks.”

So they know what you’re thinking.

“See, what you’re trying to do with a game plan is you’re trying to present as few surprises as possible to them. The more surprises you get, the more likely you’ll have an error.”

I see. So you do the walk-through, pre-game stuff, and you’re super prepared. A couple hours before the game, you make it down to the Stadium and go up to the box. Then what?

“I watch the band.”


“I watch the band!”

Oh okay …

“I’m done! There’s nothing else to do. There’s no build-up to a crescendo. I just watch the band. Put the call sheet in front of me. Get everything in order. Have a little note sheet. My intern up there, he will pass me errors as the game progresses -- Stephen Weins. He’ll write things down, and every series he’ll give them to me, and then I’ll get Devin or whoever the quarterback is on the phone and go over the errors so that everything’s being addressed as it’s screwed up.”

Ah. I’m kind of interested in how communication works between the box and the field.

“That’s it.”

You’re on the phone with --

“I’m on the phone with Steno (?), who sends the play and everybody can hear the play. The group guy can hear the play so he can send the correct personnel in the game. And we document as we go.”

So you send the call down to the field and the offense lines up. But then the defense comes out in their formation. What if they show you something you weren’t expecting?

“Well, you have built-in … Certain plays you run and you don’t really care. You run and you don’t worry about what the defense is doing because they can handle pretty much anything. Other plays are what we call ‘must-audible’ situations, where the play is not conducive to what you’re seeing and your likelihood for success is not good. So the quarterback should get you out of the play. And then we have what we call ‘advantage’ audibles where the defense maybe lined up giving you something you didn’t anticipate and the quarterback will get you into an advantage situation. And then you have ‘check’ plays where you’ll have two plays called in the huddle: one versus a certain look, another versus another look.

"You know, you’ve got so many ways [to call] a play -- the game’s become very sophisticated that way where you can use a lot of on-the-line-of-scrimmage plays. We’re not a team that peeks to the sideline to get a lot of plays and stuff. The pro quarterback is programmed to do -- if he sees this, do that, and if he sees this, do that, and so on.”

How is Devin doing in that respect?

“Oh he’s good. Yeah. But he’s been in the system for a few years. Plus he played wide receiver, which didn’t hurt any. He’s seen it from both perspectives, which you don’t really have with most quarterbacks. They don’t really understand. So he does pretty good. The more the quarterback plays, the more he’s afforded the lattitude of changing the plays and doing whatever. The newer the quarterback, the less you get into a chess game on the line of scrimmage.”

Gotcha. I want to ask you about something you’ve said in the past, about how the success of your offense later in the game is often dependent on your success earlier in the game --

“Right -- turns."


"Your issues with play-calling are what I call ‘turns.’ How many turns do you get? How many chances do you get? How many first downs do you get so that you can call more plays? And this is where you become a victim of execution to a degree.

“There’s a lot of criticism, I know, from the Ohio State game, which the plan was very similar [to the Iowa game] and there was a lot of the lauding or praises for the Iowa game. A lot of the [Ohio State] plan was in the Iowa game. There was a lot of the same stuff. There was a little more nuance that we actually ended up running in the bowl game -- I’m telling you something I haven’t told anyone before -- but the second half of the Ohio State game we didn’t get to a lot of those calls because we failed on third-down-and-short situations several times. We failed, we turned the ball over a couple times. A lot of those calls don’t get out of your mouth. You see what I mean?

“I told you guys this in the press conference, and I remember saying this: everybody’s going to complain about the play-calling and who’s touching the ball, you know? Getting carries? If you’re not getting first downs, you’re not getting calls out. You don’t get that turn. You lost that turn, because something went wrong and you didn’t move the chains. You turn the ball over. And now everybody’s going to think you screwed it up, which, at the end of the day, maybe you did. It’s not all the players; it’s the coaches, too, now. We don’t always make the perfect call. But the bottom line is at the end of the day, if you don’t get a lot of chances to call plays, you’ll always be short. You won’t rush the ball very well. Nobody will rush for 100 yards. You won’t have a receiver catching over 100 yards. Your quarterback won’t have good numbers. You have to keep the chains moving so the play-caller can get more calls off. You’re in a constant situation where you’re trying to set plays up, but if you don’t get to those plays, you never get to the counterpunch.”

I see. So for your offense to be successful, you need the opportunity to run plays so you can set up other plays.


There were plays that you ran in the bowl game that you didn’t run against Ohio State because you weren’t able to set them up?


What would happen if -- let’s say there’s a run play that has pass component as the counter punch. If the run wasn’t successful, could you still call the pass?

“Doesn’t work that way. Because you have to understand the residual effect of football plays. This is very difficult for fans to understand. And I’m not being condescending, because it would be for me if I were [a fan].

"People sometimes don’t understand the value of a failed play. Sometimes the defense overdefends a play and gives you another play by doing so. So you may run a run in there and it doesn’t gain anything, and obviously people say, ‘Quit running the ball up the middle!’ How many times do you hear that? ‘Don’t run the ball up the middle!’ Well sometimes running up the ball up the middle will afford you the opportunity to pull the ball out and throw the ball down the field, because people are so aggressive with playing that play up the middle. I call it the residual effect of football plays. What’s the leftover effect of what we just did?

"If both plays don’t work, then you probably have a problem. Either the plan wasn’t good or your execution’s off. There’s only two ways plays fail. The plan isn’t good or your execution is lousy. Overdefended, underexecuted. That’s why plays fail. But you have to understand that a play, just because it fails, doesn’t mean it’s a bad play. It may give you something down the line. For example, if you ran the ball into the line of scrimmage and gained a half a yard. But the play-action pass off that play gained 35 yards. What’s the average of the two plays?”

… 17.75?

“Would you take that?”

I’d take that.

“Not a man in the world wouldn’t. And that’s why you have to understand, that’s how it works sometimes. It costs something at times to get to that 35-yard gain.”

How does having a head coach like Brady Hoke who goes for fourth downs and hates settling for field goals change the way you call plays?

“You just have to be prepared for those situations, you know? When he says, ‘I’m going for it on fourth-and-one,’ just make sure you have a play ready. Sometimes he’ll ask, ‘How do you feel about it?’ and he’ll get on the headset.

“Now the one thing that people don’t understand -- they think that because he doesn’t wear a headset he’s not communicative. That’s insane. You have to be on my end of it. Any time something’s crucial, he does have a headset on and he is communicative. Two-minute drills, fourth-and-one. He makes sure that all that stuff’s in. I’ve never been up there not knowing what to do based on his decision right away.”

Do you like his aggressiveness?

“Oh yeah. Hell yes. Sends a great message to everybody. The offense, the defense, to the whole team. We’re not playing this thing to tie to game. We’re playing this thing to win the game, which means … sometimes Babe Ruth struck out, right? A lot. More than anybody I think, for a while. You’re going to swing and miss at times, but if you don’t swing hard, you ain’t gonna hit a home run. You have to go out there and you have to play.”

And it probably helps knowing that on third down, you have two chances to convert.

“Yeah, and he’ll keep you informed when he’s going to do that generally. He’ll say, ‘You have two to do that.’ Again, he does a great job of communicating. He’ll say, ‘Al, you have two plays to make this first down.’ Unless something blows up, he’ll stick to that. Like if you get sacked for a seven-yard loss, he’ll say, ‘All bets are off. We’re kicking a field goal now.’

“He’s awesome because coach Hoke never loses his composure. While other coaches are screaming in skulls or yelling at the officials or yelling at their own team or they’re doing whatever, he’s always composed. He’s doing whatever gives you a chance -- we’ve come back in a lot of games since I’ve been here. Several games we’ve been behind. And [the fact that we win] is generally the head coach. The head coach sends that message more than anybody. He doesn’t lose it, so nobody loses it.” 

What do you do at halftime?

“Just go down and look at what they’ve done defensively, you know? Take all the data that I’ve been given from in the box and from the guys downstairs and then put together a new script of plays. Maybe it’s not 15-17 plays. Maybe eight or nine plays. But put together a new script of plays that we think were overdefended or underdefended and start the second half and put some plays in that maybe we didn’t run in the first half, maybe we didn’t get a chance to call it.”

Okay. Time is almost up, so let’s talk some philosophy. What do you think is the most efficient way to move the ball?

“Oh. Through balance. It’s the ability to run and pass with balance. Because that’s what the defense doesn’t want to see. Most of the time, why we fail offensively is our inability to do one or the other. Run or a pass. When you’re the most effective in playcalling … I can go like this, Heiko.”

[Borges pulls out the Ohio State call sheet. Without looking, he points to a random play.]

“Read 64 --”

(I am not sure what this means.)

“-- And it works. You want to know why? Because we threw a pass out of read 64 and now they have to defend [the pass] and pray you [pass]. It doesn’t make any difference. When they’re forced to defend both dimensions, the safeties have to play softer, which allows you to run. You understand?”


“If they’re playing too aggressively on the run, the outside becomes more vulnerable. It’s hard to defend everything unless you’re imposing.”

So you call the formation and the play, but the quarterback ultimately decides run or pass?

“Right, but not with every play. It just depends on the play. Certain times, yes, exactly. And the decision within the passing game, too. Once you’ve called a pass play, the decision-making’s huge. It’s not forcing the ball into coverage knowing that certain times they take certain throws away. And you have to have a contingency plan for every single play. I learned this from Bill Walsh. This is the first thing I learned in pass offense. When everything’s not perfect, what’s your contingency plan? Who’s the next guy? And then who’s the next guy after that? And then if nobody’s open, what’s the quarterback do? You have to have a plan after that that’s not helter-skelter. You can’t go out there willy-nilly and say ‘This didn’t work, let’s turn this into backyard football.’ There has to be structure within your improv.”

Speaking of Bill Walsh, what’s the endpoint in the evolution of the Michigan offense?

“What do you mean?”

Well, you and Brady have talked about changing the look of the offense for the last three years. Obviously you’re not there yet, but is there an endpoint to the evolution, and what does that offense look like?

“Oh, it won’t stop evolving. We can’t stop evolving. If you look at the way college football changes over the years -- I mean, what it looks like now doesn’t look the like it did in 1986. Players are getting faster and stronger … What defenses are doing with their coverages and zone blitzing is a lot more sophisticated. If you look at what Michigan was doing back in 1940 with [Tom] Harmon carrying the ball, even the uniforms weren’t the same. You can’t stop evolving. That’s why we do so much time studying what other people are doing. Now, we may not use all of it, but we have to keep up.”

Do you see Michigan as having a niche in college football as far as offense goes?

“Hmm. I don’t know about that … What I can tell you is that we are always going to be balanced. We are going to run and pass with balance, and we’re going to do it in a way that helps our defense, even if that’s not the direction a lot of teams are going.”

What do you mean exactly?

“Well, I’m not going to get into that discussion too much, but so many guys want to run 80 plays a game these days and then they wonder, ‘Gee, why isn’t the defense playing well?’ If I thought we would be more successful going 100 miles an hour all the time, I’d do it.”

Could you do it if you wanted to?

“Oh definitely. We have what we call Nascar, and we could run it all day if I thought it would give us the best chance of winning. But it doesn’t. Over the last three years I’ve done a lot of research, and it shows that you play better as a team when you play to all three phases of the game. Offense, defense, and special teams. It’s a team sport. I’d be more than happy if the offense doesn’t put up a ton of points as long as at the end of the day, we win, because I hate -- I HATE being in that meeting room after a loss. It’s the worst feeling.”

All right. Well thanks so much for your time. Do you mind if I take a photo of you?

“No, go right ahead.”

How about next to your white board. Okay, act like I just asked you about bubble screens.

“Heh. You had to turn this into a [farfergnugen] circus, didn’t you.”

Sorry ... What is your deal with bubble screens anyway?

“I don’t have a problem with them! I just don’t like calling them as much as -- what most people don’t understand is that the bubble screen is an [alternative] to a run play. Here, let me show you.”

[Borges begins scribbling madly on his white board. He has the offense in I-formation and the defense with the defensive back over the slot rolled up in the box as a run defender.]

“The bubble screen is a play designed to take advantage of the fact that this guy --”

[Borges points to the defensive back.]

“Has moved up and inside to defend the run. When you see this, most guys want to throw a weak-[butt] bubble screen and run around it. I would rather --”

[Borges draws an emphatic arrow from the running back to the defensive back.]

“Run right into it and knock the [poop] out of this guy.”

I see.

“So it’s not that I’m against calling a bubble screen. I just wouldn’t want to do it and sacrifice five running plays a game. Once or twice? maybe.”

For the record, I don’t actually count the number of bubble screens you call.

“You can do whatever the [heck] you want.”



May 22nd, 2013 at 4:23 PM ^

You never have to call a bubble screen again and I'll be happy, Al. Just knock the shit out of the CB.


Heiko, you're fantastic.


May 23rd, 2013 at 7:34 AM ^

I think that's his problem.  It kills him that he didn't have a tailback on his entire roster that could thump even a mediocre CB.  The "north-south" guys were getting stopped by DBs and the scramblers couldn't even juke a DE.  Hell, the roster across the board more resembles a bunch of overcoached, lovable underdogs than ThisIsMichiganFergadsakes the last two years.  Our best center was drafted in the seventh, our best receiver in the seventh, our QB wasn't even drafted as a QB and probably none of the tailbacks will be drafted at all.  So it kills Al Borges that he can't run plays simply because he lacks the talent for it.  It's classy that he chalks success up to playcalling and execution, but never once says his boys aren't good enough.

That said, there's a fine line between trust and stubbornness.  If you know your tailback can't win that battle, OK, it made your job that much tougher, but don't you owe it to your team to swallow your pride and call that bubble screen?

El Jeffe

May 22nd, 2013 at 4:25 PM ^

Whatever small piece of my mind that wasn't blown after part I is now irretrievably blown after part II.

Heiko is the man that The Man only dreams about being.


May 22nd, 2013 at 4:28 PM ^

Absolutely great content. Well done scoring this interview stuff like this gives so much insight to the behind the scenes stuff that you just don't get with other coverage.


May 22nd, 2013 at 4:30 PM ^

Where he goes wrong is assuming that most fans don't understand the importance of setting the table.  The general concept of running to pass and passing to run is pretty easy to grasp.  The finesse is when to play to your strengths (Devin at QB and Denard at RB for OSU) and when to play away from your strengths to keep a team honest.  If you play away from your strengths too much, then you're being counterproductive.  And if you're handicapping yourself by trying to keep a defense honest with a guy who can't throw, well...

All in all I like Borges, but I still think that second half of Ohio State could have gone much better...


May 22nd, 2013 at 4:50 PM ^

doubt he was over-thinking himself in the second half.  But, hopefully by learning from it he's now set up the residual effect--many more wins in the years to come.  Glad our coaches are super smart and humble.  

My takeaway is that this piece is great for recruiting.  I would suit up for this guy.

Thanks, Heiko, for making recovery from dental surgery a little more enjoyable this afternoon.    Of course the bubble screen interlude made me laugh, well ok drool.  So glad you are a Michigan man.  


May 23rd, 2013 at 8:30 AM ^

What I read from all this isn't that he over-thinks, especially when he gave OSU's defense such an easy read (Denard = run, Devin = pass).  It's that he fears mistakes more than anything the defense does.  If the defense plays well, you're stopped at 0-2 yards.  If the offense makes a mistake, at best you lose five yards; at worst you give them a free TD.  Makes sense, on a logical level.

Remember, Denard was week-to-week since Nebraska.  Well, they said that, tho it's obvious they prepped Devin.  However, they were probably really hoping Denard would be back for OSU.  It was Denard's last regular season game and last crack at OSU, so as long as he could run around and hold a football (check and check) it was really hard to keep him off the field.  While I was screaming for Borges to use Denard as the tailback and keep Devin in as the full-time QB, I'm thinking Borges prepped Denard as a QB, only to find out on game day that he wasn't ready to throw.  Remember (from Part I), Borges finishes his gameplan on Monday.  By Friday the team has absorbed it.  He won't re-write all that on game day.  This is both a strength and a weakness.  It's good because it allows him to coach up the talent he's had to work with -- the base offense is better than it'd be if he didn't give them so much time to prepare.  The downside, which is unfortunately much more visible, is that when he's forced to deal with a surprise, everyone can see it.  He can't change.  It's not ideal for coaches to make last-minute changes, but when they do that all the time, teams learn to adjust and it has distinct advantages.  Borges' doesn't do that at all, so if he ever did call upon his team to scrap the gameplan, they haven't developed the ability to cope with it and Borges knows it.  I would've gone with Denard as RB anyway -- I still think he was too stubborn -- but I'm doing my best to understand what he was thinking.

He's actually rather Japanese.  He thinks and anticipates and prepares for all kinds of scenarios, then streamlines it all into an extremely efficient process that allows the players to absorb WAY more than they could otherwise.  However, all that preparation and rigidity make him vulnerable to surprises and bad at improvising.  This isn't to say one way is superior to another, but it's probably why the mistakes he makes are easier to notice than the stuff he does well.  When Borges is on, he doesn't look smart so much as he makes the players look good because he's made it easy for them.  When he's off, everyone can see he'd been outsmarted.  The defense will show 8 in the box and he'll run right into it not because he thinks it's smart, but because the preparation it takes to squeeze 30ppg out of an offense so underpowered that a 5'10" slotback is The Threat (bless Dileo and his gecko hands but does anyone think he's NFL-caliber talent?) takes away the flexibility needed to call an audible.  Borges would NEVER say this because I'm sure he thinks the world of Denard, but it's pretty clear he didn't trust him very much and doesn't like improv at all.  Unfortunately, improv is pretty much what Denard did best as a QB.


May 23rd, 2013 at 11:54 AM ^

That I think some are missing is the difference between a gameplan and adjustments.  He alludes to some guys who like to throw in plays the day of the game, but there aren't too many who are switching up the game plan the day of the game.  That's not the same as making adjustments during the game and switching to something else in the gameplan because Plan A isn't working. Every great once in a while you'll hear where someone threw everything out and just scribbled something up because nothing was working, but that's an act of desperation, and you only hear about it WHEN it works, because most of the time you just continue failing.

As someone mentioned, Rich Rod instituted new plays during the week by taking out other plays. He was good at making minor adjustments to the same play to give the same play a different look, but he wasn't altering his game plan on game day. And eventually even those have a shelf life. All those minor adjustments worked great when you were playing a team that couldn't handle it, but they are not infinite, and you eventually run out of them and it comes down to execution and talent.  There were many a game even with Rich's prolific offense that we had a hard time scoring points, especially in the second half. The problem wasn't that he didn't have an infinite number of counters; the problems lied elsewhere.

beat ohio

May 22nd, 2013 at 7:27 PM ^

I honestly don't think he's wrong about that. If you're not following football theory very closely, reading sites like this one or smartfootball or footballstudyhall pretty regularly, there's no reason you would have a more nuanced view. Some people (I Imagine you're among them) do stuff like that, or have coached before, or done something to give them that experience. I'd wager (pure hypothesis, obviously) that for the majority of fans, that's simply not the case


May 22nd, 2013 at 7:29 PM ^

Agree 100%. My problem with this interview is that he said two things that, to me at least, don't match up.

First, he complained about not being able to get into his playbook when the team doesn't execute. If you don't get enough "turns," you can't fully execute your offense, and it ends up functioning, and looking, worse. This is fair enough, and I don't think there's an educated fan on this board that doesn't understand and agree with this. 

But then he also said that he finds merit with running the ball up the gut when it gets you no yardage, as it sets up the rest of your offense (average of 0 and 34 is 17, etc). Again, easy enough to understand as a core concept, and very true.

But a 3rd and 4 from your own 40, to use an example from the OSU game, is no time to set up the rest of your offense. If you want more "turns," and more opportunity to dig into your playbook, you need those 4 yards. When most educated fans say "stop running it up the gut!" it's not in response to a first down play that doesn't get any yards. That keeps the defense honest and we understand that. It's in response to those 3rd down plays that kill the offense. Borges seems to use the "setting the table" concept as an excuse for plays like that, where in reality it's not a good excuse at all. For the offense to function at its best it needs as many turns as it can get, and for that to happen we can't be running it up the gut on 3rd and 4 when we know it's likely not going anywhere. Setting the table is no excuse there.


May 22nd, 2013 at 8:08 PM ^

That he thought run up the middle on third and 4 would work. Maybe Ohio had a tendency to leave the middle open to runs in that situation from prior game film. Maybe he thought he had set up that run from an earlier call in the game. Maybe it was the right call, and Ohio did play it the way he expected, but there was poor execution.

I agree that it didn't work. But I don't think his points were necessarily inconsistent.


May 22nd, 2013 at 10:45 PM ^

Problem was he lined Denard up at QB so many times in that 2nd half when everyone knew he couldn't physically throw a football. They stacked the box and knew it was going to be a run.

The Denard "sandwich" TD, while awesome, was the worst thing that could've happened for an OC like Borges. He fell in love with the idea that Denard could break one at any time.

Shit, OSU Defenders were quoted after the game saying that whenever Denard was lined up at QB it was going to be a run and they'd stack the box.

At least during the Iowa game, he had Denard and Devin out there together. Against OSU that never happened. Honestly, the worst offensive coaching I can remember. Will never forgive him for it.

Zone Left

May 23rd, 2013 at 12:51 AM ^

I agree, but would take it a step further. There may have been no way we win the OSU game, but we had the counters set up after running Denard like 80 times. If he pulled up just once and threw a duck to Funchess with the hope he wins a jump ball, fine, but he didn't.

I'm never going to be okay with the game plan from that game.


May 23rd, 2013 at 2:48 AM ^

Yeah, this had me confused as well. It makes sense to hear Borges describe it (and man, I absolutely love the guy's personality), but is it really necessary to run a play that most likely will be unsuccessful in order to set up a successful counter? I know that when I've read about RR's philosophy (take it easy folks, I'm not pining for the RR days) his approach would be to continuously counter from one play that's expected to be successful to the next. Isn't it better to get 10 yards on the first play and 35 on the next rather than .5 then 35 (more is better, right)? 

I'd be curious to hear how someone who knows more about football than I do would view these different strategies (i.e., you need to fail in order to succeed vs. why not just maximize success on every play). The latter strategy seems even more important on big plays, like a 3rd and 4, and especially when you're looking to get more "turns."

Addendum: I'm also confused about the not so subtle criticism of high scoring offense. Yeah, I see some benefit to clock control and allowing your D to rest, but isn't it better to move the chains consistently and score points when you can? The way I read the interview it seems like Borges is condoning plays that are likely to amount to zero yards just to set up future plays, and that sounds a lot like DeBordian logic. 


May 22nd, 2013 at 4:39 PM ^

Kudos to Heiko for sure. What strikes me is just how cerebral Borges seems. I couldn't have told you that the OSU game and the Iowa game had the same gameplan. I was at the Iowa game. It was awesome [Aside, Borges called them "Ohio State". Alert Brady]

His philosophy reminds me a lot of Greg Maddux, in that he uses one play to set up the next one. Maddux would do this with pitches better than anyone. Sure, we hated seeing Vincent Smith get 0 yards up the middle out of the I, but if we ran the throwback screen every time out of the I it would never have worked (it always worked! at least in part because we occasionally ran him up the middle).

This was an absolutely great interview Heiko. I learned a lot and really like the way that Borges thinks.

Blue Durham

May 23rd, 2013 at 1:51 PM ^

The problem I have with his point of averaging half a yard and 35 yards, getting into the playbook with added turns, and how it pertains to Ohio State.

From my observation, plays that gain half a yard just do not set up other plays off it. It is plays that are somewhat successful (say off-tackle runs that gain 6-8 yards) that set up others (play action).

Regarding Borges point about his preference for a balanced offense. It is reasonable to conclude that he prefers it because it is the offense that will most likely lead to success. But balanced offenses work because the defense is unsure if the play called is going to be a run or a pass. Just how does this square with his play calling with Denard in the Ohio State game when EVERYONE in the stadium knew when he was under center the play was going to be a run?


May 23rd, 2013 at 3:47 PM ^

"The problem" with Borges' example was it was an example.

I do think it is funny that Borges said lots of fans wouldn't get this and then you criticize him because you don't get it. 

Get it?

But just to help you with visualizing this particular example think back to the ND 2011 game and all those long TD passes out of the I preceded by all of those horrible, unsuccessful running plays.

With regards to Denard; he couldn't throw. Borges certainly would have preferred that he be able to throw but that wasn't in the cards.

Knowing that, are you really advocating for Denard to not be in the field?

As I recall, Denard was mainly on the field in the first half. When the offense was good. Not so much in the second half when it sucked.

Here again, I can only imagine the out cry if "the most dynamic player to ever wear the maize and blue was sidelined against the biggest rival."

You tell me. Did you want Denard on the field or not?

And don't say you wanted him at RB because this isn't a computer game. He was the QB.


May 22nd, 2013 at 4:40 PM ^

Heiko, hard to believe you cleared the high bar you set for yourself early this week.

I have a new fondness for Borges.  I appreciate his educating the fans -- rather than making excuses for the game he called.  How many coaches would treat a sports journalist -- and by extension, the fans -- with as much respect.

Outstanding work! 



The Wolf

May 22nd, 2013 at 9:23 PM ^

I think this is the most important point. As awesome as this entire series has been - and it has been awesome - I think it really does show the respect this (football) staff has for MGoBlog (and its readers). The degree of specificity and insight he was willing to provide is still astonishing to me. It really helps us readers get a better grasp on Borges' thought process and motivation(s).


May 22nd, 2013 at 4:40 PM ^

Wow, this is just amazing that you got the interview. 

After reading these a few times, I have to say that there a few things that scare me about the future of the offense.  Does he really think that the defense can't be good if the offense plays up tempo?  He doesn't like bubble screens because he would rather an RB truck a DB than throw to the outside where there's no one to tackle him?  He mentioned out-executing in the last interivew as why things don't work.  A run that doesn't gain yards is OK if you can get 35 yards off play action.  But why do the bad run 4 times on critical 3rd and 4th downs?  Why no other different types of plays.  I dunno.  I suppose I'll still withhold final judgement, but that kind of stuff just screams "dinosaur offense" to me.  I just don't think we can Alabama people because, even as good recruiting as we're doing, we still don't have that kind of talent (and this assumes we also have the same level of coaching as Saban's staff, which is also probably not likely all the way through the coaching staff).


May 22nd, 2013 at 5:08 PM ^

If you don't like the "out-executing" talk from Borges, then you must've absolutely loathed the Rich Rod era and his offensive philosophy. When Coach Rod was here, some high school coaching friends of mine were invited to attend practices and had the opportunity to talk with him and Coaches Smith & Magee and their belief was that execution is far and away the single most important component to making an offense work. Most would be stunned to find out that we usually only went into gamday with 20 to 25 different plays, max, in the gameplan when Coach Rod was here. He had a very small playbook and that was by design. Practice a very limited number of plays and get to the point that you can execute them flawlessly in a game. If Magge or Smith wanted to add plays, the first thing out of Coach Rod's mouth was "Okay. What plays are we taking out of the gameplan to replace them with?"


May 22nd, 2013 at 5:51 PM ^

There isn't anything inherently wrong in the idea of out-executing the other team.  Check out this article on Peyton Manning:


His teams win based on simplicity and execution.  I do really think that the overly complicated West Coast offenses like Gruden's have reached their pinnicle.

Personally, I think that Borges and Hoke are establishing a great middle line between each approach.


May 22nd, 2013 at 6:07 PM ^

Maybe I should clarify the 'out-execution' thing. In the Borges (as we've seen it) offense, each player has to win one-on-one match ups. Your center needs to move a 320 lbs nose tackle. Your guards have to effectively pull. Your WRs need to beat their DBs. Your QB needs pinpoint passing. In the RR offense (for example), you couldn't block that NT? Then don't and just option him. Set up QB isos to get receivers who have no DB on them. Pulling was less emphasized so the complicated steps involved in pulling didn't mean death to an interior run game when you have someone who can't do it well. Now Im not saying the spread us the answer, but Borges seemingly is taking the attitude that if your center can't move that NT (out execute him) then we're just screwed. While RR's, and all offenses, require execution, other OC's can change the structure if the offense to adjust when someone just can't do it well. Bama and USC under Carroll are the only teams I can think of that we're able to win all these one on one match-ups and run that offense a really high level.


May 22nd, 2013 at 6:52 PM ^

I don't think AB is saying that if the center can't move the NT we're screwed (or any of the other individual match-ups you mentioned).  If we play a team with a dominant NT or a great DB or some other bad match up for us, we just game plan around it.  

You seem to suggest that if we had guys who couldn't do certain things well, we'd keep them in and run the play anyway.  Pulling isn't exactly rocket science though, and we should  have a couple guys who can do it effectively.  

"Out-executing" can still have deception to it.  Alabama might not run the option, but it's not like the defense always knows where they're going.  You run multiple plays from the same formation or you audible at the line.   You mix it up.  You don't need to have Alabama talent to run their offense effectively, but we'll be pretty close here soon so that might not even matter.