Who is Al Borges? (Part III - HOKE IS A STRATEGY)

Submitted by Ron Utah on June 18th, 2013 at 5:25 PM

Ohmygod Ohmygod his tie is red his tie is red HOW CAN WE TRUST THIS MAN???!!!

I have to start Part III off with an apology: there will be FOUR parts in this series.  As I looked at the data left to review for Borges' play-calling and the cumulative data I planned to analyze in Part III, I realized it would make for a long, long post.  You people don't tend to like that.  Plus, this way, you'll have an extra distraction at work on Monday AND Tuesday.

In Part I, Borges' first years in coaching (going back to 1975) and his rise to OC at UCLA were summarized.  Part II examined Al's disastrous decision to return to Cal, his subsequent punishment as the OC at Indiana, and his triumphant and terrible years at Auburn.  Now, it's Brady Hoke's turn.

"Resigned" sounds so much better than "fired," but that's what happened to Al Borges before the 2007 season ended at Auburn.

Borges sat out the 2008 season.  It was the first time he had not been part of a coaching staff since 1974, and he had been an OC since 1985.  There is no doubt that Borges took the blame for Auburn's 2007 woes, and, while some of that is surely justified, Tuberville was part of the problem too--he got canned in 2008.  Nevertheless, Borges was the fall guy in '07, and was forced out even before the Tigers' appearance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

If you've read Parts I & II, you know Borges is a California guy.  So after a year away from the only job Borges had ever had--still living in East Alabama where his wife served as Associate Athletic Director for Marketing and Communications for Auburn--I'm sure he was thrilled to get Hoke's call, even if it was coming from San Diego State.

Interestingly, SDSU had been among the schools that had reported interest in hiring Borges in 2005, after his record-breaking season at Auburn.  I'm not sure Brady had to be very persuasive, but all Hoke had to sell as a Head Coach at that point was an undefeated regular season at Ball State.

On Christmas Eve, 2008, Borges joined Brady Hoke.  They haven't been apart since.

The 2009 season at San Diego State was less than spectacular.  Coming off of a 2-10 performance in 2008, the Aztecs didn't seem to have much talent, and had average attendace of 24,376 in a stadium that holds over 70 thousand.  Not good.

But they did have Ryan Lindley.  In 2008, the freshman had taken the starting job and had a respectable season for the unrespectable Aztecs.  Throwing for 2,663 yards and 16 TDs, it was a decent season and earned him a 117.17 rating.  The running game?  It averaged 3.09 yds/att and accumulated a pathetic 878 yards for the season.  Denard accounts for 878 yards in like six quarters.

2009 wasn't exactly a turnaround.  SDSU doubled their win total, but that got them to just 4-8.  And the offense certainly wasn't humming, averaging just 23.3 pts/gm (#85 nationally).  Here's the final tally:

  Plays % Yards % of Yds Yds/Play
Run 328 42% 940 23% 2.87
Pass 448 58% 3163 77% 7.06
Total 776   4103   5.29

The frightfully bad running game from 2008 was even scarier under Borges in 2009, but the passing game did take some big steps.  At 77% of offensive yardage, the '09 Aztec passing attack represents the most yardage-biased phase Borges has ever coached--a full 5% greater than his 2000 UCLA passing offense.  Lindley's rating improved to 123.45 on 3,054 yds, a 54.7% completion rate, 7.0 yds/att, 23 TDs, and 16 INTs.

The running game was atrocious.  Bradnon Sullivan's 558 yards led the team.  He averaged just 3.62 ypc.  Only Borges' 2000 UCLA running offense averaged fewer yds/play.

In 2010, Hoke did what had taken him five seasons at Ball State--he turned SDSU into a winner.  The Aztecs would ring-up a 9-4 record that was close to being even better--their four losses were by a combined 15 points.  The offense would put-up 35.0 pts/gm (#19) and never scored fewer than 21 points.  They hung 35 points on #2 TCU in Fort Worth, nearly beating the Horned Frogs, and coming closer than anyone else would during the regular season (Wisconsin came within two points at the Rose Bowl).  Here are the Aztecs numbers from 2010:

  Plays % Yards % of Yds Yds/Play
Run 439 51% 2101 35% 4.79
Pass 426 49% 3840 65% 9.01
Total 865   5941   6.87

Was Al Borges dumb in 2009 and smart in 2010?  No.  Al Borges had a better O-Line.  Al Borges also had a freshman named Ronnie Hillman--now a Denver Bronco--who ran for 1,532 yards and averaged 5.85 ypc.  His 262 carries were nearly 200 more than Walter Kazee, the sophomore who was the "other" RB in the offense and had 324 yards on just 67 carries.  Sullivan, a senior and the leading rusher from the previous season, had just 40 carries for 124 yards.  Only Borges' 2005 Auburn rushing attack--the Kenny Irons year, not the Cadillac/Ronnie Brown year--averaged more yards per play on the ground.

But as good as that running game was, the passing game was better.  Lindley pumped out 3,830 yards (#7 in the country) on 421 attempts (9.1 ypa) and threw for 28 TDs and 14 INTs.  To put that in persepective, it would be the best season in Michigan history for a QB by 509 yards and three TDs.  Lindley's rating sky-rocketed to a silly 149.43, good for #21 in the country and ahead of guys like Geno Smith, RGIII, and Matt Barkley (and one spot behind...Denard Robinson).

Which brings us to...

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Most of us are familiar with Borges' trials since his arrival in Ann Arbor.  He had never coached a spread offense before, and never had a QB rush for significant chunk of his teams' yards.  Rather than summarizing those seasons, here are the numbers from 2011:

  Plays % Yards % of Yds Yds/Play
Run 560 66% 2884 55% 5.15
Pass 284 34% 2377 45% 8.37
Total 844   5261   6.23

As a percentage of plays called, Borges had never run the ball more.  Perhaps even more significantly, the ground game accounted for 55% of the yards gained in 2011--the first time a Borges-led offense had more yards rushing than passing, and 7% more than the 48% from his stinky 2003 offense at Indiana.  It was also his first rushing attack to average over 5 yards per play, and was more than a quarter-of-a-yard better than his previous best.  The flipside is that Denard's passer rating would suffer, falling almost 10 points to 139.73.  We would score 33.3 pts/gm (#26), go 11-2, and win the BCS Sugar Bowl.  Yeah, you know that.  But it's fun to look at.

Of course, 2012 was...not as good.  But it certainly wasn't bad.  At 29.8 pts/gm (#57), the 2012 offense had three parts: 1) Denard 2) Nebraska 3) DG/Denard hybrid.  It makes for a strange statistical study, and I'm not sure how significant it is, but here you go:

  Plays % Yards % of Yds Yds/Play
Run 502 61% 2389 48% 4.76
Pass 318 39% 2591 52% 8.15
Total 820   4980   6.07

This is still Borges' third-best ground game (in ypp) and a pretty good passing game (rescued by DG).  Denard's passer rating dropped again, this time to 126.63--his worst since his freshman year.  What may surprise you is that Denard actually ran for more yards in 2012 than he did in 2011.  The unfortunate accompanying truth is that no RB rushed for more than 514 yards (Fitz) or 5 TDs (Fitz again).

Perhaps more useful to examine would be the final five games of 2012:

  Plays % Yards % of Yds Yds/Play
Run 184 59% 736 38% 4.00
Pass 128 41% 1219 62% 9.52
Total 312   1955   6.27

I was surprised to see how run-heavy we remained, although, as I noted, this was really still a fusion offense, utilizing spread concepts to continue getting Denard carries.  There is no doubt that the running game suffered without Denard as the QB, just as it is crystal clear that the air attack was far more effective.  Overall, in fact, the offense averaged more yards per play than it did in 2011 and, at 32.8, just 0.5 pts/gm fewer.

So what does all this mean?  That's for you to decide.  But in Episode Part IV - A NEW HOKE, I will put the data together and attempt to find patterns and tendencies while spending some time pointing out some important potential error sources.



June 17th, 2013 at 4:26 PM ^

This series is seriously awesome, but you need to go and check the years stated for several time-points in this edition.  

Specifically the '08 passing attack of Borges ('09 right?) and the mention of 2010 being the first year of more rushing yardage for Borges than passing yardage ('11 right?).


June 18th, 2013 at 9:18 PM ^

"Inconsistent" doesn't seem the right word so much as "irrelevant".  Don't get me wrong; OCs matter, but there's no apples-to-apples comparision to make anywhere because talent, injuries, schedule, the defense's performance and matchups are all factors that can really affect the offense.  It's equally likely in any given game or year that:

1) The OC was to blame for a crappy offense (e.g., Michigan vs. Iowa '11)

2) The OC deserves credit for an overperforming offense (Ohio '11)

3) The offense was bad but that's not on the OC (Notre Dame '12)

4) The offense was good but it had jack to do with the OC (UMass '12)

Borges' numbers by season are interesting but not insightful.  At best they're more a starting point for context than any fair assessment of his job performance, and to Ron Utah's credit that's more or less how they're used here.


June 19th, 2013 at 10:35 AM ^

The nerd in me is getting worked up over the phrases "a full 5% greater than his 2000 UCLA passing offense" and "the ground game accounted for 55% of the yards ... 7% more than the 48% from his stinky 2003 offense at Indiana."

Those should be 5 and 7 percentage points, not percent.

Minor quibbles aside, can't wait for part 4.


June 19th, 2013 at 3:28 PM ^

With all the conference shuffling I forget if SDSU has always been in the Mountain West.  However, when I heard Hoke might be a candidate I looked at SDSU's opponenents.  Overlooked is just how terrible they were.  I recall a number of SDSU opponents who were in tripple digits when rated for defense.  I take any success with a truckload of salt as an array of garden gnomes and flamingos would be capable of scoring a few TD's against some of those teams.

Ron Utah

June 19th, 2013 at 5:55 PM ^

SDSU has not always been in the Mountain West.  The moved to the MWC in 1999, leaving the WAC.

And you are right: the 2010 schedule was the 87th toughest (SOS) in the nation.  But remember that Hoke and Borges were also coaching MWC talent against the MWC talent.  And the offense was successful against the good competition too, like TCU.


June 19th, 2013 at 9:31 PM ^

" There is no doubt that the running game suffered without Denard as the QB, just as it is crystal clear that the air attack was far more effective"

This is where I think you might have gone wrong.  I think D Coordinators were smart enough to know that only Denard could muster yards between the tackles.  With him at tailback only opposing defenses clued in on him.  As a result Devin and the air game got better.  A film study might back this up, but mgouser Colin pointed to this very good article:


The better one dimension of your game, the more the opposing team figures it out.  For Devin to really have a breakout 150 rated season I'm staring directly at the O-line and some recruit named Green.



Ron Utah

June 20th, 2013 at 12:49 AM ^

Are you saying the passing game wasn't better with DG at QB?

And if so...are you serious?

Whether Denard was in the backfield at RB or not, DG was an effective passer (except in the 2nd half of the Ohio game).

As for your assertion that our offensive success depends on our O-line, we absolutely agree. Read Part IV.


June 20th, 2013 at 3:54 PM ^

I absolutely agree that the passing game was better with Gardner.  My argument is that Gardner was better, in some - perhaps even major - part, due to Denard's movement to tailback.

I've read Part IV, and mgouser Colin posted the link to the SmartFooball article I mentioned again.  I think the article has great relevance to the topics you brought up here.  Specifically, the question of Gardner's later season success, and the marriage of running and pass play calling.

I'm a great admirer of your writing in this series.  My response here was aimed to help identify, in some part, why we saw such an uptick in passing success with Gardner.

I'd be willing to bet that there is an inverse relationship to Denard's success on the ground and Devin's success through the air.  Problem is that there might not be enough evidence to adequately examine this hypothesis.


June 20th, 2013 at 5:30 PM ^

This is more and more the conclusion I've been coming to reading through the series.  Mike Martz had "The Greatest Show on Turf" until ...he lost a perrenial Pro Bowl RT (to the Browns, of all teams).  This is the biggest difference when the thing suddenly fell apart.  The Rams were never the same, apart from one season which is in retrospect an outlier.  The Lions o-line has been bad for years, San Fran was a debacle, and the Bears o-line is... well, look at Cutler's sack numbers.

Borges with Molk in 2011 - apart from game-planning problems - was solid.  Take away an all-American center from that line, and his offense struggles a bit.