Who is Al Borges? (Part IV - A NEW HOKE)

Submitted by Ron Utah on June 18th, 2013 at 4:53 PM

Yes I used this pic even tho someone might whine about politicz

Part I.  Part II.  Part III.

Al Borges has been a football coach since 1975.  That's 38 years.  He's been an offensive coordinator since 1985.  That's 28 years.  He's been an OC at the D1-A level since 1995.  That's 18 years.  So there is a lot of data.

But before we get to the fun part (the data...yes, I'm a nerd), it's important to look at some of the factors that may have skewed the data.  I freely admit that I have not considered all of the potential bias sources, but here are a few:

Head Coach

Perhaps the most influential factor on an OC's performance is the Head Coach.  Borges has worked for six HC's since coming to D1-A football--three of the them have been winners, and three have been not as good.

Borges' first season as an OC at the D1-A level was at Oregon with Mike Bellotti.  Bellotti is a 63% career winner and an offensively-minded HC.  In fact, he's sort of the godfather of Oregon's rise, and is considered an innovator and a an offensive genius.  Since Bellotti took the helm at Oregon at 1995 (and subsequently Chip Kelly), the Ducks have gone to a bowl game 16 out of 18 years.  They had only been to four bowl games in the previous 31 years.  It's worth noting that the 1995 season was the most pass-heavy (as a % of plays called) in Borges' career.  Bellotti averaged 8.3 wins per season as the Oregon HC, and won 9 games with Al as his OC.  Bellotti averaged 7.2 wins/season over his career.

Bob Toledo has been coaching for a long, long time.  His first college season was at UC Riverside in 1974.  He is an ex-QB and an offensively-minded HC.  He's averaged 5.2 wins/season over his career, and his best two years were at UCLA in 1997 and 1998, when Borges was his OC.  He averaged 7 wins/season at UCLA, and averaged 7 wins/season with Al.  He is now the OC at San Diego State.

This is Tom Holmoe.  You didn't need to know that.

Tom Holmoe played safety at BYU and professionally.  He is a defensively-minded HC and had success as a DB coach at the pro level.  He was not a good coach.  He averaged  2.4 wins/season at Cal (his only college HC job) and won one game with Borges in 2001, his last season.  He has been the Athletic Director at BYU since 2005.

Gerry DiNardo was the last in a string of three losing HC's.  At Vanderbilt, LSU, and Indiana, DiNardo averaged 4.9 wins/season.  In three years at Indiana, he averaged 2.7 wins/season, winning five games in two years with Borges as his OC.

Tommy Tuberville is a bit of an enigma.  He played safety at Southern Arkansas in college and is known to be a very defensively-focused HC.  There have been reports of him fighting with his OC's in the past, and he generally prefers a more conservative offense, as he believes defense wins games.  In 2003, when he was on the hot seat, he fired his OC and hired Al Borges.  In 2007, when Auburn tried to organize a coup (not kidding) to fire Tuberville, he had Borges resign and hired a new OC.  It seems this guy likes to pass the buck.  He has been successful, averaging 7.6 wins/season as a HC, and averaged 8.5 wins/season at Auburn.  With Borges running his offense, he averaged 10.5 wins/season.  They were his best years at Auburn.  FWIW and based on my limited observations, the Auburn faithful still seem to have a lot of love for Borges.

And, of course, there's Brady Hoke (54% career winner as HC).  I'm not going to compare average wins/season here, since Ball State and SDSU don't really compare to Michigan.  But Brady is a defensively-minded HC who appears to give Borges a lot of autonomy--learning about Al's story, I have to wonder if that's one of the big reasons he agreed to coach for Brady, having been burned at Auburn by what appears to have been a meddling HC.

Offensive Line

It's darn near impossible to know how good the O-lines have been that Borges has coached.  There are very few stats for the O-line, and they are hard to find before the last 6 years or so.  What does appear to be clear from Al's record is that his teams with strong O-lines seem to perform well regardless of who is playing QB, RB, WR, or TE.  More sacks have generally corollated with fewer wins.  His two years at Michigan certainly correlate with that, but it's just an observation.


Defenses can skew stats in all kinds of ways.  A great defense will probably give you more plays as an offense, but will also encourage more conservative play-calling and a run-heavy offense, since less risk is required to win.  Bad defenses can force mistakes and risk-taking by an offense, and would certainly tend to force an OC into a more pass-heavy offense.


It's the HC's job to make sure a team is getting the talent it needs to win.  That said, coordinators and the coaching staff obviously have a responsibility to identify and recruit talent.  Since we really only have recruiting data since 2001, Borges' performance relative to his talent is hard to determine (since the '01 class really didn't start having a significant impact until '04, his first year at Auburn).  The recruiting data has improved exponentially in the last few years, and the first years were not as reliable.

That said, Borges does not appear to be a strong recruiter.  His greatest success at Auburn came with players he inherited, as it did at Oregon, UCLA and SDSU.  Again, it's hard to know who's to blame, but I would be very concerned if Borges was our recruiting coordinator.  His track record doesn't seem to be strong there.

The counterpoint to that argument is his early success at lower levels of football.  At Portland State, his best offensive seasons were his last two, when he was coaching a team composed entirely of "his" players.

The Data

BOOM!  Chart.

  Plays % Yards % Yds YPP
Run 7,801 56% 30,928 40% 3.96
Pass 6,189 44% 47,054 60% 7.6
Total 13,990   77,982   5.57

Al Borges has called almost 14,000 plays at the D1-A level.  His cumulative averages suggest that he very much believes in a balanced offense.  He has averaged 28.0 ppg and 7.3 wins against an average SOS (strength of schedule) of 33.8 (roughly equivalent to the 34th toughest schedule in the country; U-M's 2012 SOS was 33).

If you remove the dismal years at Cal and Indiana, his averages jump to 30.1 ppg and 8.4 wins/season.  That is a lot of success at major programs.  Here is what his play chart looks like without the three years at Cal and Indiana:

  Plays % Yards % Yds YPP
Run 6,437 56% 26,302 40% 4.09
Pass 4,981 44% 39,522 60% 7.93
Total 11,418   65,824   5.76

Interestingly, his play-call bias is identical, and so is his yardage bias.  Relatively, his passing offense is much more efficient than his rushing offense: his 4.09 ypp on the ground would have ranked 78th in the country in 2012*, while his 7.93 ypp in the passing game would have been good for 25th.  The 5.76 ypp total average would have ranked 54th--one slot above the #55 ranking he would earn for ppg.

*Please note that using 2012 as a benchmark is not a valid comparison given how much the game has changed over time, but it does provide a decent benchmark for relative strength 

This data clearly communicates what we already know: Borges uses the run to set-up the pass, and even uses the pass to set-up the pass, calling on the running game and short passing routes to get defenses off balance before throwing deep.  It is a very traditional, pro-style play-call bias and it relies more on execution than scheme to defeat an opponent.


This is Devin Gardner.  He is good at football.

Borges has doubled as the QB coach at every stop where he's been OC except for...San Diego State.  So how has Borges done with the QB's he's coached?  Here's a chart:

Player Cmp Att Pct Yds Y/A TD Int Rate Pvs yr Delta
Tony Graziani 231 426 54.2 2604 6.1 13 10 110.9   n/a
Cade McNown 176 336 52.4 2424 7.2 12 16 115.2 110.9 4.3
Cade McNown 189 312 60.6 3116 10 24 6 166 115.2 50.8
Cade McNown 188 323 58.2 3130 9.7 23 10 156.9 166 -9.1
Cory Paus 95 197 48.2 1336 6.8 7 9 107.8   n/a
Cory Paus 126 226 55.8 2007 8.9 16 9 145.7 107.8 37.9
Kyle Boller 133 271 49.1 1741 6.4 12 10 110.3 104.5 5.8
Gibran Hamdan 152 293 51.9 2115 7.2 9 14 113.1   n/a
Matt Lovecchio 155 291 53.3 1778 6.1 3 9 101.8   n/a
Jason Campbell 188 270 69.6 2700 10 20 7 172.9 132.6 40.3
Brandon Cox 177 306 57.8 2324 7.6 15 8 132.6   n/a
Brandon Cox 163 271 60.1 2198 8.1 14 9 138.7 132.6 6.1
Brandon Cox 188 316 59.5 2080 6.6 9 13 116 138.7 -22.7
Ryan Lindley 239 437 54.7 3054 7 23 16 123.4 117 6.4
Ryan Lindley 243 421 57.7 3830 9.1 28 14 149.4 123.4 26
Denard Robinson 142 258 55 2173 8.4 20 15 139.7 149.6 -9.9
Denard Robinson 89 167 53.3 1319 7.9 9 9 126.6 139.7 -13.1
Avg. 169.1 301.2 56.0 2349 7.83 15.1 10.8 131.0   10.23

The average rating for his QBs is 131.0.  Take out the Cal/Indiana years and that average jumps to 135.8.  Perhaps more telling, the average change in rating (delta) for a QB from his previous year is 10.2.  That number jumps to 14.6 when you take Denard out of the equation.  To put that in perspective, a 14.6 rating increase would move a QB up about 25 spots on the ranking chart.

Obviously, he's had some rough years.  Aside from Denard, whose rating dropped for two consecutive seasons under Borges, Brandon Cox and Cade McNown each saw their rating drop.  Cox was part of the 2007 Auburn offense that got Borges fired resigned, and McNown saw his rating drop from astronomical to very, very good--good enough to have him finish 3rd in Heisman voting.

Another fun fact: only Jason Campbell's undefeated season at Auburn in 2004 and Cade McNown's junior year at UCLA had higher ratings than DG's five games as a starter in 2012.  Just sayin'.

Rushing and Receiving

Gallon's head appears to be about two feet higher than this poor DB's

In 17 seasons as an OC, Borges has had nine RB's with over 1,000 rushing yards, and four more with over 900.  Ronnie Hillman's 1,532 yard season in 2010 leads the way, as does his 5.8 ypc.  Second place for ypc goes to Fitz Toussaint in 2011 at 5.6.  His teams have been over 1,500 rushing yards 11 times, and over 2,000 yards on six occasions.  It is also interesting to note that some of his best rushers--Hillman, Toussaint, Irons, Foster--had regressive seasons as starting RBs, which suggests that the blocking means as much or more than the running in a Borges offense.

Being a receiver in a Borges offense means learning to share.  No receiver (this term includes all pass-catchers, including backs and TEs) has ever caught 70 passes in Borges' offense, and there have been only 5 seasons with 60-plus catches (all WRs).  Two of those came in 2010, when Vincent Brown and Demarco Sampson caught 69 and 67 balls, respectively, at SDSU.

But a lack of catches does NOT equal a lack of yards.  Borges has coached six receivers to 1,000-plus yards, and 26 to 500-plus yards.  This means a high yds/rec, which correlates with the "big play" goal of his passing game.  Borges has coached 15 players (with at least 20 catches) that have averaged over 17 yards/rec.  Gallon averaged 16.9 last year.

So...Who is Al Borges?

Al Borges has had some amazing success and some pretty terrible failures as an OC.  While his play-call bias has varied from year-to-year, it does seem clear he strives for balance while attempting to use the best weapons at his disposal.  Here is an interesting chart:

Since a higher SOS means an easier schedule, this chart should show a steady incline in wins and ppg.  But Borges has had nine wins or more in 9 of his 17 seasons as an OC, and five of those years had a SOS ranked 33 or tougher, and three of those seasons had a top-15 SOS.  He has had success against top competition, and he has failed against lousy competition.  His performance seems to depend much more heavily on the talent and execution of his team than that of his opponent.

In the five seasons Borges posted double-digit wins, his teams averaged at least 4.0 ypp on the ground and 7.99 ypp through the air.  The key actually seems to be more based on the passing game, which averaged 9.2 ypp in those five years.  Again, this suggests that Borges' success is largely dependent upon his team to create big plays through air that have been set-up by the running and short passing games.

What all this means is that I would expect our 2013 offense to be around a 55/45 run/pass mix, with about 60% of the yards coming through the air.  Based on his history of using freshman RBs and even if Fitz is healthy, I would expect Green to have a prominent role in the offense (100+ carries), primarily on first and second down.  This makes it less likely that we'll have a 1,000 yard rusher.

Gallon should have a good year with big plays, but I doubt he'll maintain the torrid pace he was on at the end of last year.  60 catches and 1,000 yards (16.7 ypr) seems to fit Borges' patterns.  It is also likely that a second pass-catcher--probably Amara Darboh--will have at least 30 catches, and Funchess could have similar numbers.  For all of the talk of backfield passing in the West Coast Offense, only five primary backs have had over 20 catches for Borges, and only two of those had more than 22.

As for DG, I would anticipate that he is an improved QB, even if the rating doesn't show it.  He was in rarified air last year 161.66, but I do believe a rating of 150-plus (top 25 in the country) is probable.  Borges has only had four seasons of QB ratings above 149, and those seasons averaged 10.5 wins.

Success is likely to depend on a strong O-line and successful downfield passing.  The running game needs to be reliable, but not spectacular.  Stronger success corollaries seem to be completion percentage, yards per attempt, and the TD/INT ratio.


I have tried to keep my bias out of this diary as much as possible.  FWIW, my opinion is that Borges is a very capable, if not spectacular, OC.  His success seems much more dependent on his team than his opposition, which bodes well for the future given our successful recruiting as of late.  I believe his weaknesses include recruiting, spread concepts (duh), and imaginative running plays.  I believe his strengths include play action passes, fundamental attacking concepts (how to identify and exploit a defense's weaknesses), and the downfield passing game.  This research has given me neither comfort nor concern about our upcoming season.  I still believe the O-line play will be the key to our offense's success, as I believe DG will be an effective QB if given time and Borges has run the ball effectively with decent blocking, regardless of who is in his backfield.

In the future, I would expect our first-year starting QBs to struggle, and our success to pattern the effectiveness of our O-line.  RBs and WRs will rarely have spectacular years under Borges, but the overall offense should be strong and diverse.



June 18th, 2013 at 5:36 PM ^

Great series! He's called almost 14,000 plays… boggles the mind. Here's the line that sticks with me:

"It is a very traditional, pro-style play-call bias and it relies more on execution than scheme to defeat an opponent."

That made me think of what he told Heiko about why he doesn't like the bubble screen: let the running back run over the slot defender instead. That wouldn't be my choice when the slot receiver is open for an easy 8 yards, but I'll defer to a guy who's called 14,000 more plays than I have.


June 18th, 2013 at 11:49 PM ^

Thank you. Nevermind this minor fact-quibble, what you posted over the last week or so was an EXCELLENT series. It was well-written, informative and interesting, which is not easy to do when your subject matter is so numerically intensive.

Looking forward to Part V: Al Borges, Champion next off-season.

Gimme 2!!


June 18th, 2013 at 6:26 PM ^

do a sequel, it would be interesting to see if you can isolate Al's success adjusting intra-game to opponents.   I think this is the biggest criticism I have seen/heard about Al during his Michigan tenure (particularly when juxtaposed with Mattison's obvious strengths in that area).


June 18th, 2013 at 10:33 PM ^

Hoke and Mattison seem to be recruiting superstars while Borges is never mentioned. In fact I think Funk is mentioned more in recruiting than Borges. I wonder why he is a weak recruiter (personality, reluctance). Obviously, Hoke knew this when he brought Al with him.

I appreciate this being brought up, since I have wondered about it over the last couple of years. Maybe this can be a question for the staff (for the new articles where they all address a burning Michigan question), since they all know Borges better than we do and may have some insight into what holds him back in that area.


June 19th, 2013 at 11:47 AM ^

Just because they are offensive recruits, it doesn't mean that they are being recruited by Borges himself. All the talk about Michigan's recruiting tends to focus on coaches who aren't Borges. I can't remember the last time I've seen Borges' name come up in a recruiting context, unlike Hoke, Mattison, and some assistants.


June 19th, 2013 at 11:49 AM ^

That Borges may have nothing to do with those 4-star and 5-star recruits except lay out plans for what he wants to do.  There's nothing wrong with a single coach being a weak recruiter as long as he's honest about it and the HC has means of dealing with it.  I'd be much more concerned if Borges had a terrible track record in recruiting and Hoke marched him out to find his own offensive line anyway.  If this happened:

Hoke:  I'd like you to come with to Ann Arbor and be the OC for Michigan.

Borges:  Sure, but don't make me recruit.  I'm bad at that and you know it.

Hoke:  Don't worry about it; we'll cover each other's weaknesses and have you stick to what you're good at.  Leave the recruiting to the rest of us; we'll get you the maulers you need.

. . . then I'd have absolutely no problems with it.


June 22nd, 2013 at 2:10 AM ^

I don't think what he's saying is mutually exclusive to a recruit getting a chance to spend time with Borges and learn how he would be used. A lot of recruiting is the constant contact, time spent in person visiting the athlete on their turf, etc. Borges can be a weak recruiter and still spend enough on-campus time with recruits so they can get to know each other. It could be that's not enough, but recent results say otherwise.

Ron Utah

June 19th, 2013 at 5:59 PM ^

I'm not sure we can call him a weak recruiter.  We obviously don't have all the facts.  But at UCLA and Auburn, where Borges was around long enough to make an impact, the recruiting on the offensive side of the ball did not seem to improve much, if at all.

I can't say this is on Borges.  But there also doesn't appear to be any evidence that he is a strong recruiter.


June 19th, 2013 at 1:50 AM ^

can't wait to read Mattison's entry. I'll accept parts I~III rather than IV because I'm generous.

This has been one of the better things I've read oMGoBlog.


June 19th, 2013 at 6:37 AM ^

I like that this staff is put together to maximize each coaches strengths. Yea Borges isn't a spectacular recruiter but do we need him to be with Hoke and Mattison around? Borges is allowed run his offense without the HC meddling in his plans. I do think Borges breakout season will come this year due to the fact we have a hungry and athletic OLine with bookend all American/Conference tackles. One last point is I think Hoke is getting kinda predictable that he will call a fake punt/kick in a big game. I think it will eventually catch up to us but its worked so far, so he must be seeing something exploitable everytime.


June 19th, 2013 at 8:47 AM ^

"It is a very traditional, pro-style play-call bias and it relies more on execution than scheme to defeat an opponent."

Alas, I was hoping RichRod was going to cure this problem. *sigh*


June 19th, 2013 at 9:45 AM ^

I don't think this is a bad thing, provided you have the talent. Tressel was hugely successful at OSU with this kind of mentality. (Then again, I remember Matt Hinton writing a piece describing Tressel's lack of success in the post season as a function of his no longer being able to simply out-execute inferior opposing talent.) And well, RichRod wasn't successful (offense, sure, but the D and ST were disasters). As for talent, Hoke and company are defintiely worked hard on building that up.

I don't know that I'm all that excited for Borges' offense and remain fairly skeptical that we'll get 2004 Auburn and not 2007 Auburn, but the general philosophy of winning off of execution rather than scheme is not somehow inherently bad.


June 19th, 2013 at 9:48 AM ^

Excellent read. Thank you for putting all this together!

Take what I'm about to say with a huge grain of salt, given that I did none of the research you did and this is just gut reaction to watching Michigan play the past two seasons, but:

fundamental attacking concepts (how to identify and exploit a defense's weaknesses)

What? I bet I'm not alone in feeling like Borges' poor game planning has cost Michigan at least a couple of games the past couple of seasons. And I'm not sure that I can remember a game in which the offense bailed out the defense (speaks a lot to Mattison, yes, but also speaks to the fact that the opposite has had to happen more than once).


June 19th, 2013 at 12:04 PM ^

but for a different reason.  I'm not overly critical of the offense, or the play calling (with quibbles here and there, 3rd&1 vs. Ohio the only real screaming exception).

I'm most curious about the method Borges has for calling plays.  Seth did a piece a while back that posited a fixed (or even random) strategy of playcalling, or something to that effect (apologies Seth if I'm mis-quoting).  I thought that seemed correct.  Borges reviews the tape, builds his plan, and calls his plays really irrespective of what the defense is doing.  Primary evidence for this - for me at least - is the Sparty game, where we ran into stacked fronts repeatedly all game.  This means that 1) Borges in fact does call plays regardless of what the defense does, and 2) that's so well known in the coaching community that DC's are aware of it, so much so that they don't mind walking an obvious safety (or two) down, because they know he won't come out of it.  If it's a pass, he must expect execution to find the open man regardless of the D (if Cover 2, this guy will be open; if Cover 3, this other guy will be open).  If run, he expects the line calls to account for everyone even in a stacked front, and the RB to juke any free hitter.

That Sparty game especially, we didn't seem to attack the weaknesses of the defense, and in fact (as Brian pointed out) we didn't really seem to even try.  He just called his plays.


June 19th, 2013 at 12:17 PM ^

He would never admit this publicly but I think that really means he didn't trust Denard.  He gave Denard very simple reads that were easy for DCs to exploit and gave him no freedom to call audibles at the line.  I don't want to take away a single thing Denard did for Michigan, but it's apparent to me that he was never going to be the QB Borges wanted.  To his credit Borges stood behind Denard out of a sense of mutual loyalty, but it was always going to feel like a car mechanic doing orthopedic surgery.

Borges is an execution-first guy.  He acknowledges that you ideally attack the defense's weaknesses, but he believes that if your offense can't execute, then there's nothing to exploit.  He'd rather call a run play into a stacked box for two yards and punt than draw up a play on the sideline that exploits the defense perfectly, only to see it fall apart for a 10-yard loss or, god forbid, an interception.

Mind you, I don't agree with it because we were throwing picks and losing yards anyway.  But Denard's main constraint was his arm punts that pushed back the secondary, and the trash tornado took that option away so I'm really not sure what you'd want Denard to audible into even if he had the leeway.  Michigan State stacked the box because the weather took away the passing game.  I'm much more critical of Borges' fascination with I-form Vincent Smith, which almost never got more than 3 yards.  It never worked in any game situation and he kept doing it.

If there's a silver lining, it's that Devin's progression seems to be going along much faster because he's physically a lot closer to something Borges is used to working with and a relentless student of the game.  I think you'll see Devin calling more audibles.


June 19th, 2013 at 12:55 PM ^

Oh no, I'm being pretty general here.  Again, I'm not agreeing with philosophy, just trying to explain it.  I've been negged like crazy on this site for calling Borges as about as unpredictable as a smoke signal.  I'm just doing my best to be fair.

The way I'd play a game is Sun Tzu style and sell my play action not based on the defense's fear of the run game (which may or may not be there) but full-blown deception.  I'd pull a guard to the strong side on a pass play just to mess up the linebackers' reads.  Borges doesn't do this, and MSU takes full advantage.  Brian is right here.  I'm saying the reason why Borges doesn't do it is because the way he sees it, if you pull a weakside guard on a pass play you're basically clearing a path to the QB's blind side for a sack.  He's an execution-first guy.  I say if you make the pass play look exactly like the run play, the MLB will pass on the obvious invitation because according to his read (i.e., the pulling guard) his assignment is the cutback lane that will never be used because it's a goddamn pass.  Borges says, well, if your blocking is solid, why the hell would you need to expose the QB to such danger in the first place?  Just have the guard stay there and block the MLB -- who cares if he sees it coming?  I say. . . etc., etc.

I'm not saying one's right or wrong -- I don't like Borges' style, personally, but I'm doing my best to respect it.


June 19th, 2013 at 3:47 PM ^

"His performance seems to depend much more heavily on the talent and execution of his team than that of his opponent."                            ^Isn't that generally the difference between success and failure. If you have better talent and out execute your opponent, you will generall win. The better the talent, the better the execution, the better the Ws and Ls. 


June 19th, 2013 at 4:03 PM ^


But Denard's main constraint was his arm punts that pushed back the secondary, and the trash tornado took that option away so I'm really not sure what you'd want Denard to audible into even if he had the leeway. Michigan State stacked the box because the weather took away the passing game.


I didn't assert any of that.  The 2011 game was not my barometer of Borges' style of playcalling.  Not only due to weather, but being on the road.  The 2012 game was the primary premise on which I base my conclusion of his style - fixed playcalling with little regard for the specific defense being run at that moment.  But what the hell do I know, so I'm questioning the OP's assertion that attacking defenses is a strength of his.  I'd like more debate on whether or not my conclusion - and it's not an original one - is sound.


June 19th, 2013 at 7:50 PM ^

Yeah, you're right; I was stuck in 2011.  I don't know what Borges was thinking during the '12 game, and I mean that literally.  I'm mystified.  It's not one of those "OK yeah I don't agree with what he's doing but at least I understand it", he said he went into it with a conservative gameplan. . . why?  He never said.  And he hasn't really done anything like that in the two seasons he's been Michigan's OC.  Although we won the game, I want to think of it as an outlier because I'm nervous of an OC that plans for a low-scoring game before kick-off.  I really doubt he was that prophetic.


June 19th, 2013 at 12:05 PM ^

"I'm not sure that I can remember a game in which the offense bailed out the defense"

vs. Ohio, 2011.  The defense gave up three big plays after giving up close to none all season, Mattison's secondary got repeatedly burned by DeVier Poser with only Braxton Miller's inaccuracy preventing it from getting very ugly, and Ohio scored more points against Michigan's defense than any other opponent that season.  Greg Mattison himself was disgusted with that game and made no excuses; the secondary was also vocally pissed at how they performed.

The reason we won is because Borges' offense ALSO scored more points against Ohio's defense than any other that season.  The two teams combined for 74 points and 9 TDs.

I've been disappointed at Borges myself at times, including Ohio '12, but credit where credit's due.  In his first season as Michigan OC using a scheme he'd never coached in prior years he absolutely shredded a quality defense on a day the team badly needed it.


June 19th, 2013 at 12:15 PM ^

Touche. Weird that I forgot about that game, given that it's the only one I've attended since graduating.

But I'd still probably stand by my original point, one game notwithstanding. Glancing over the losses the past couple of years, it tends to be the offense sputtering (e.g., 2011 Iowa, 2011 MSU, 2012 OSU) rather than the defense getting blown out. Even some of the wins have come despite the offense (e.g., Sugar Bowl, 2012 MSU).


June 19th, 2013 at 12:31 PM ^

Yeah, but Denard threw a lot of picks and our talent last year -- goddammit I love those guys but I have to say it -- was awful.  The offense sure looked bad when it was held to 14 points by Alabama, but it wasn't until Alabama's ninth opponent that another offense did any better.  He also shredded SC; the defense gave up that game as well.

The word that came to mind when Heiko did his exclusive on Borges is that he's "Japanese".  The guy excels at preparing, executing and getting his resources to overperform by engineering a very well-oiled machine for which almost every sort of problem is anticipated in advance.  The problem is that when something goes wrong that's NOT expected, it's difficult to undo all that preparation so he's very slow to make adjustments and change what needs to change.  His lack of effective mid-game adjustments is rather glaring, but to be fair, the results of his pre-game planning make the players look way better than they are.  How else the heck do you average 184 yd/game rushing with that interior O-line?

Basically, to him, the battle's already decided at the opening kickoff; either his game plan will work or it won't.  On the plus side that allows him to squeeze 30ppg out of an offense where the most highly drafted player that season wasn't even drafted for the position he played, and he'll give you an undefeated season if he gets the talent he wants.  But if something goes wrong -- like said player getting injured while his backup plays WR -- hoo boy does it get ugly fast.

Ron Utah

June 19th, 2013 at 6:12 PM ^

To answer your question, Borges has demonstrated that when he has talent, he can put points up against even the best defenses.  Even at Michigan, he's been able to move the ball against some very good defenses.

But what I really meant is that Borges knows how to set-up and exploit an opposing defense. Just because his teams don't always do this successfully doesn't mean he's not good at the concepts.  Note that this doesn't mean I think he's brilliant at matchup advantages, but rather big-picture offensive principles.

Games in which our offense bailed us out (or contributed at least as much as the defense):


  • Notre Dame
  • Northwestern
  • Ohio


  • Air Force
  • Northwestern

And while we all remember the disastrous second half against Ohio last year, it's important to remember that the first half was amazing.  South Carolina's loss falls on the defense.


June 19th, 2013 at 9:06 PM ^

Haha, of course you disagree with me, the whole premise of my post was that I disagreed with you.

UTL was a crazy game, that I'm not sure you can credit anyone for, maybe Cthulhu. The "Gallon cloaking device" play, for instance, was clearly more a massive defensive breakdown by ND than anything Michigan did. That game was like 50% dumb luck and 50% whose defensive breakdowns were less terrible.

I'm not sure why 2011 NW is on that list. They had a bad defense and the game wasn't close (42-24). Similarly with Air Force, it's not like their defense was particularly good (ranked 72nd points against nationally), and Michigan's score against them (31) isn't that far off their points against season average (29).

The 2012 NW may be more in line with what you're suggesting, as far as offense bailing out the defense, but even that game the defense held NW to their season average (31 against Michigan, 31.7 season average). And even that game's offense included a late TD that was basically a hail mary tapped to Roundtree (who made an amazing catch) by a NW DB.

Borges clearly has had to deal with a roster that doesn't fit what he wants to do, so it remains to be seen what he'll accomplish at Michigan with "his" players. I'm just far from sold on him.

Ron Utah

June 20th, 2013 at 1:23 AM ^

I'm not "sold" on Borges either.  Not sure if you think this series was an endorsement, but it surely wasn't meant to be.  He has NOT proven that he is a consistent winner, and that's what Michigan deserves at OC.

Effective play-calling and offense isn't easy.  There are lots of floundering spread offenses, just as there are plenty of failing pro-style attacks.  Some coaches are better at in-game adjustments than Borges--there is no doubt about that.

My point is that Borges understands the principles of the game, and puts together a gameplan that usually puts his team in a position to be successful.  The guy coached an undefeated team and two consecutive #1 SEC offenses, as well as to teams that averaged 40 pts/game against top-15 schedules.  That is really, really hard to do.

Even if ND was "luck," Borges still called the plays that worked.  You can't bash a guy when things don't work and then say it's luck when they do.  If he hadn't called a wheel route on Gallon's catch...would we have won?

Did you watch the 2011 NW game?  We were down by ten at halftime, and the offense scored 28 second-half points to win the game.  The defense allowed 24 points to a very average NW team.  The offense was MUCH better that game.  Hard to argue Borges didn't make some good adjustments there.

Against Air Force, our defense couldn't stop them.  It's that simple.  We FINALLY made a few plays at the end of the game, but if you have to score 30+ points to win, your offense is doing the heavy lifting.

As for 2012 NW, you're really just grasping at straws here.  I don't see how holding a team to their season average of 31 points in scoring is good defense.  That's terrible, especially by Michigan standards.  And again, the offense had to score 38 points to win the game...that's heavy lifting.

And you didn't address the South Carolina game, which was clearly a very good offensive performance against top competition.

You, like many others on this board, seem to think that it's easy to call good plays and move the ball in college football.  It's not.  Borges also, as you pointed out, has been using someone else's above-average players and a foreign system to produce offense.  Let's not forget that we had mabye the smartest offensive mind in the country coaching our team a few years ago and he couldn't score against top competition.  In fact, Borges averaged more ppg in his second season than RR did.  Calling and executing successful plays in college football isn't easy.

Here's the bottom line: we don't know if Borges is the right guy yet.  But I would suggest it's completely unfair to say he's not the right guy.  In five games running a system that is closer to what he wants, using a QB who had spend the whole season training as a WR, with a bad interior O-line and sub-standard WRs, his offense played 9 halves (out of 10) of very, very good football.  The only half where the offense wasn't effective was on the road in Columbus--a place where even some of the best OCs have failed miserably.  And, to be quite frank, a few key players did NOT show-up for that game (Lewan had his worst game in years).

After looking at 26 seasons of data, I believe anyone who is convinced either way--that Borges is the right guy or that he's not--has made-up their mind too soon.

That said, Brady Hoke sure seems to think he's the right guy.  That certainly counts for something.


June 20th, 2013 at 6:48 AM ^

The South Carolina game was absolutely well called and executed offensive game that was blown by terrible secondary play by UM. That's totally true.

The 2011 NW game was a microcosm of every NW game under Fitz. Good first half, total implosion in the second. Given that they do that against all their opponents, I really don't think you can say, "see they came back from a 10 point defecit at the half! That's totally Borges!" I also don't think saying that holding an opponent to their season average means the defense was bad, by definition they were average.

In order to keep these replies ballooning to massive length, I'll just say this: saying that his job isn't "easy" is meaningless. Easy or not, it's his job and he's expected to do it well. And what I gathered from your series isn't that you're endorsing him, but that his career has had high highs and terrible lows. UM is just as liable to have a good OC as an aboslutely terrible one in Borges (recent recruiting suggests more the former than the latter, thankfully), and he seems to inspire both concern and excitement around here because of that. In two seasons, I'm not sold on him for a few reasons (I never said he's not the guy, I'm reserving judgment given the personnel he inherited), but I was just saying that after two seasons at Michigan game planning for opposing defenses doesn't seem to be a strength.

Ron Utah

June 20th, 2013 at 3:26 PM ^

Regarding NW '11: How is it average when our defense only allowed 19.8 pts/gm?  You're saying average for the country.  So an average performance for the country (Middle Tennessee is right in the middle on scoring defense) is the same as an average performance for Michigan?  Can't agree, man.  And scoring 28 second-half points is a pretty damn good half against ANY team.  Using your own argument, NW only allowed 27.7 pts/gm in 2011...Borges blew that out of the water.  You're grasping at straws on this one.  The offense had a great day, the defense didn't.

I think we mostly agree.  The interviews with Heiko reveal that Borges puts together a script and gameplan on MONDAY.  He doesn't deviate from it much because he doesn't like to give his players surprises on gameday.

This is not a theory unique to Borges.  He's not an improvisor, and I wouldn't list in-game scheme changes as a strong point.  But I think his record demonstrates that he does know how to PLAN for a game and attack a defense.  He has a complex audible system (as noted in the Heiko interview) that should help with adjustments, but he mostly comes from the west coast school of thought that says you plan your game, then you execute the plan.  You don't deviate too much, because your plan is built around attacking different defenses, no matter what they throw at you.  This is VERY different from the RR school, which basically reacts to the defense on every play.

Like you pointed out, this methodology has led to great success and terrible failure; it seems clear that when he has players capable of execution, it works.  That seems like a good plan to me.  That's not the same as being good at in-game adjustments, which, as I said, I don't believe is a strength.

Michigan has also had great success on opening drives under Borges, another stat that evidences his ability to design a strong gameplan.


June 21st, 2013 at 7:38 AM ^

I think we're reaching some degree of concensus on Borges, even if we don't agree on the degree to which NW 2011 represents a Borges O bailing out a Mattison D. I think I can safely say this:

Borges makes a game plan well in advance, and sticks pretty rigidly to that (for better or worse). Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Where we differ seem to be in our views of his hit-to-miss ratio. You say it's high enough to be a strength, I don't.

And we have gotten kind of off topic from my original point, which was never that Borges can't put together a good offense (clearly he can), but whether or not he excels at putting together a game plan speficially tailored to attacking opposing defense's weaknesses. There's a difference between "as long as the team executes X, it doesn't matter what the defense does" and "the defense is good at X and bad at Y, so our game plan is going to revolve around attacking Y and avoiding X." A lot of the discuss around Borges' philosophy seems to suggest that he favors the former over the latter, which is at odds with the idea that he's particularly good at exploiting opponents' weaknesses.

Ron Utah

June 21st, 2013 at 1:26 PM ^

Maybe the best way to say it is that I believe Borges is good as "set-up" plays.  He knows how to script a game and use plays to set defenses up for other plays.

Now, you may not agree with that, but that concept seems pretty evident in the efficiency and high YPA of his passing games.

This is not, on the whole, about identifying player-by-player specific weaknesses on a defense, but rather a conceptual understanding of how to use attacking principles to break down a defense.  This is why I noted the strength was breaking down a "defense's" weaknesses, not necessarily specific to his opponent.


June 19th, 2013 at 10:20 AM ^

But I think to sum up Borges and really just the west coast or pro style offense all you really need to know is, with a quality QB and RB, the system works.  If you don't have studs in those two positions, it's a very difficult system to run.


June 19th, 2013 at 11:15 AM ^

I'm guessing this was mentioned, but I didn't find it on a quick check. The running plays contain the sack numbers? Adding those and INTs back into the YPP average would be interesting. You can do INTs if you're so inclined. Places like Advanced NFL Stats and Prof Football Reference use -45 yds per INT. That's on average what they lose you/gain the opposition. That brings Al's YPP down to 6.2 or so.

Chris Brown did a whole thing about run/pass balance that I think is dead on:


Basically, I think you can weed out the bad play callers based on this principle. The best ones will be slightly run heavy because running down the clock is a legitimate strategy, but in general the YPC and YPP should be about equal. I'd bet that if those numbers were again adjusted for sacks it'd be clear that Borges was more or less theoretically optimal per CB.


June 19th, 2013 at 4:35 PM ^

I do wish we used passes to RB's out of the backfield more often.  Especially since Funchess poses such a problem for LB's, it seems like running swing passes or 2-yard dumps up over the line would give D's yet another significant threat to worry about.  If the RB is most often staying in on protection on pass plays, flaring him out every now and then seems even more effective (but something less drastic than the throwback screen).

snarling wolverine

June 20th, 2013 at 7:54 PM ^

Being a receiver in a Borges offense means learning to share. No receiver (this term includes all pass-catchers, including backs and TEs) has ever caught 70 passes in Borges' offense,

That's going to end this year. Gallon will get 70+ for sure if he stays healthy.


June 25th, 2013 at 3:03 PM ^


In retrospect, Al Borges:
1975 - Football Coach
1985 - Offensive Coordinator
1995 - OC at the D1-A level
2005 - OC of the Year
2015 - National Championship????? 

Blue in Yarmouth

July 4th, 2013 at 12:55 PM ^

I really thoroughly enjoyed this series. I read all but will only comment here to say that I very much appreciate the time and effort you put into this and that it does make me feel a little better about our offense going forward. Thanks again my friend!