Space Coyote: "Play calling put players in a position to succeed."

Submitted by stephenrjking on October 17th, 2013 at 1:22 PM…

Space Coyote brings a provocative play by play counter-assessment of Al's playcalls, and concludes with support of Al's overall game.

Personally, I think he's partially right: Al Borges used a lot more variety and counter work than people give him credit for, and given the weaknesses and strengths of the team, produced a gameplan that was good enough put Michigan up by ten in the fourth quarter.

When you have no OL and a QB that turns it over, your options are limited, and he worked with those options.

Where I hold Borges responsible? He's the offensive coordinator. He bears some responsibility for the line being bad in the first place. More significantly, he is the QB coach, and I don't have a lot of faith in him in that capacity. I wonder how much of Devin's TO trouble is coaching related.



October 17th, 2013 at 3:57 PM ^

Schofield's performance this year is Exhibit A for why I want Funk gone. He really does not seem to be improving at all, and I don't understand why. From a novice's perspective, he seems to have all the physical attributes necessary to be a great Tackle; however, he's making a lot of fundamental mistakes that he should not be making as a multi-year starter. 


October 17th, 2013 at 2:14 PM ^

you would rather run 3 time for 1 yards than take a chance at throwing (not taking into account huge space allowed by corners and the defense stacking 8-10 in the box) with some nonzero chance that is probably less than a couple percentage points of a pick 6. so if you were OC we would be punting on every first down as it is apperent if we did run 3 staright time we gain 1-4 yards. holy cow, I hope i never actually have to count on somebody this risk adverse 

Space Coyote

October 17th, 2013 at 2:13 PM ^

However, a counter argument is: if we run on first down and get stuffed, and that sucks up the defense, and then we get 11 yards on the pass, the outcome is still a first down. Maybe it's not optimal (optimal is being able to run the ball) but it still works.

I'm certainly not saying it's the same game I would have called, but I think given Borges's theory and scheme and playbook, the things he did made sense the vast, vast majority of the time when taken in context and without the help of hindsight.

Indiana Blue

October 17th, 2013 at 11:12 PM ^

if you honestly believe Borges' theory and scheme and playbook makes sense the vast majority of the time ... you do not have the ability to be objective, because in this game he failed to make very simple adjustments.  One first down from the PSU 27 with 3:10 to go wins the game. 

Please tell me you were in the stands for the Penn State game and that you witnessed this game live.  TV does not show your the entire field and without that your insight is lacking first hand knowledge of the events as they happened.  


October 18th, 2013 at 1:06 PM ^

Brian made the trip for this one, but 90% of the time at road games he's just watching on tv. Should we just discount everything written in the blog? Of course not. Likewise the vast majority of posters werren't there either, on both sides of the argument. And frankly unless you've got great seats a lot of the time the view in the stadium is far worse.


October 17th, 2013 at 1:49 PM ^

Things were great in the second half, once they stopped their fanatical devotion to running into a stacked wall. In fact, Devin's second half numbers are really good passing and as the 'lead' ball carrier the last 2 road games. They should probably just start with that strategy. The First OT wasnt about play calling, per se, but the strategy of being OK with going backwards to set up a FG. Gibbons isnt even a career 50% kicker from that distance, so playing for a FG there while eschewing your best plays that can move you forward is a little short sighted. But is that even Borges final call? Hoke should have a larger say in OT strategy if he doesnt already.


October 17th, 2013 at 1:52 PM ^

Great breakdown by Space Coyote.  One of the advantages that SC brings over the UFRs is the emphasis on the rationale behind the play call in the context of the game, rather than the mechanics of the play itself.  UFRs do some of that but it seems SC has a better grasp on the big picture.  Both are essential to understanding what is going on and I'm appreciative of the work.



October 17th, 2013 at 2:04 PM ^

I bristled when I began reading this post, but you contextualize nicely at the end: SC and Brian are doing different things with their analyses. Brian's analysis is designed to chart the performance of the players with a small consideration of the effectiveness of the playcall, in the form of RPS. SC is trying to analyze the playcall exclusively, based not on what happened but what result the OC could reasonably expect/hope for.


October 17th, 2013 at 2:17 PM ^

I am not in anyway trying to bash Brian. I spend a large majority of my life on this site which is Brian's creation. And his front page material is original and beats the hell out of fluff crap that ESPN,Mlive, Detnews, Freep, etc put out.

With that said there are many times where I disagree with what a certain lineman was supposed to do on a given play. Obviously neither me, Brian, SC, or anyone else know for 100% fact what the assigment was without being there in the meetings, film, practice, etc. But all I am saying is don't put too much value in some of the grades as someone could be getting dinged for negative grades when something wasn't their fault and someone could be getting a plus grade while they were they one that blew the play.  And I tend to almost always agree with SC with assigments in the system Borges runs.

But again I have a ton of respect for what Brian does and I still f5'ing all morning waiting for his UFR to pop regardless if I disagree with some of his conclusions.



October 17th, 2013 at 2:06 PM ^

Let me clarify:  I really appreciate SC's post and his overall contributions to the blog.  I am frustrated, though, that Michigan's offensive system lacks the ability to check into even a simple hitch.  OSU would be able to do it at PSU with no problem, because they would get to the line in enough time and b/c they have their audibles worked out...I'm not particularly intersted in the playcalling as an isolated issue.  I don't care if they set up at the LOS on each play planning to kneel on the ball as long as they audible into something else.   


October 17th, 2013 at 1:59 PM ^

When I watch Oregon or Baylor play I cannot predict whether they are going to run or pass. It does not matter the down. I also see the QBs on these teams change the play at the line a lot.

Can the same be said for Michigan?


October 17th, 2013 at 2:12 PM ^

I haven't been focusing on the minutiae of Oregon's process this year with regards to whether or not they have significantly changed anything, so this may be a year out of date, but:

Oregon under Chip Kelly never laid the responsibility of changing the play on the quarterback. The offense got the cue to change plays from the sidelines, and the QB helped get everybody into the right position once the call was made.

And, as you will learn if you watch fishduck's excellent videos analyzing the offense, the Oregon offense actually is often quite predictable. And that is intentional, because Chip Kelly, like Al Borges, would use predictable primary plays to set up unpredictable counters. A good example of this is the inside/outside zone read, whose direction can be predicted very easily simply by noting which side and which depth the RB uses when they line up next to the QB.

With many newer offenses, it is not uncommon for teams to drive down the entire field at an up-tempo pace while running the same packaged play over and over, daring the defense to stop it.

As it happens, I love the up-tempo, package play, check-sideline offenses. That's not what Michigan does, for better or for worse, but that doesn't mean that Michigan does not use some of the same concepts to move the field.


October 17th, 2013 at 4:44 PM ^

Oregon's offense is not predictable. They use a lot of the same formations but they run multiple plays out of the same looks. That is how they set up plays. Much like happened under RR with the "Oh no's" to Roundtree. The defense bites on a play that has worked previously,  and the QB throws over the top.


What exactly has Borges been setting up other than punts and TO's?


October 17th, 2013 at 2:19 PM ^

to run a "hurry up, basketball on grass" offense like Briles and Helfrich do.

That might lead to a situation where the offense leads the nation in total yards and scoring. It also might provide sufficient time on the play clock for Michigan's quarterback to audible off to dive plays against 8 and 9 in the box.

I'm sure Michigan will do "just fine" offensively, or at least enough to get out of the games with a W.  I'm very interested to see how they do against Indiana this Saturday.






October 17th, 2013 at 2:43 PM ^

"I know every play before they run it."  Every fan of every team says that about their own team. Always have.

If one really feels that way they're welcome to hop in the open thread during the game and post every prediction that "you know is coming" BEFORE the play is actually run. 

Some plays are predictible. Knowing all of them before they run it is just hyperbole. 


October 17th, 2013 at 3:16 PM ^

There are perfectly valid reasons to bash the coaches. I blame he loss 100% on the head man, and I am probably his staunchest supporter. It's his job to win games, its his job to not take the Delay penalty, its his job to coach.

But few people want to use those valid reasons. As Stephen pointes out, Oregon tips is plays like crazy! RR did too. I shocked my brother by calling play and direction on every play during one drive of the Delaware St game. The RBs gave away inside/outside based on their alignment relative to the QB. The lineman gave away run/pass in their stance. Even Denard would tip it with the way he scanned the field. He literally never looked outside the tackle box on a run. Still, we moved the ball and got points. And, occasionally, even though I guessed the play, the zone read can be a give or a keep, so I couldn't account for that, and neither could the defense.

Borges can hold up a sign that says RUN or PASS, but even that doesn't kill the play. What routes are we running? Which run play are we running? In the end, even the play Brian has decided is the stupidest ever could have been a success if blocked properly. Look at his stills; playside, we've got a blocker for a defender. The Sam is frozen by the boot action, and the backside end doesn't make a play on the runner. Kalis got rocked and Houma made a bad decision. That's it! Even the worst play ever, which was likely run with 10 men, SHOULD have worked.


October 17th, 2013 at 3:19 PM ^

Funny, the one person who boldly predicted he one play that I remember during the live blog was someone who guaranteed we were about to call the most obvious draw in history. His words. We're still waiting on that draw.

Please, please, please can we stop this thing? Lets talk about real things, like firing/not firing our coaches!


October 17th, 2013 at 2:02 PM ^

24-9 during a transitional phase

BCS bowl game win.

Ended the losing streak to Ohio and Sparty

Also beat Nebraska and other good teams from BIG

2-1 vs ND

Restored the character of the program.

Based on this I'm willing to give a pass on the PSU game that we had several chances to win.  

Same goes for the Iowa and MSU games in the recent past.  

I'm always pissed when we lose, but fergodsakes please bring on the Indiana game so we can move on from pulverizing the dead horse pulp any further.



Monocle Smile

October 17th, 2013 at 2:08 PM ^

I understand what you're saying about the big picture (sort of), but I recommend staying away from things that greatly weaken your point, like stating the same record against ND that Rich Rod achieved, or spouting nonsensical old man crap like "Restored the character of the program."

Also, the hubbub is about the future. It's still premature, but at some point we have to wonder if we're okay with regularly pissing away winnable games.


October 17th, 2013 at 2:28 PM ^

more games that were likely losses--largely because Hoke has been a gambler--than we have lost miserably thus far. This is what makes the "conservative" label for this game so inapt and historically inaccurate. It's the delay of game that cost us this one, pure and simple.  

I see potential long-term failure in manball myself. But let's try to stay real. 



October 17th, 2013 at 2:48 PM ^

I think that he is right on re: the big picture.  Hoke came in and, despite a bare cupboard at several positions, managed to have instant success.  He will have had a winning record during all three of his first three seasons, the first of which included showing glexibility to tun an offense that he would prefer not to run to maximize Denard, and winning a BCS bowl. 

Are there glitches and speed bumps along the way?  Of course.  No transition is smooth, and the Borges / Denard (now Devin) fusion is taking some time.  It isn't helped by the fact that our OL is really thin, young and inexperienced in the middle.  Not an excuse, just a fact.

As to restoring the character of the program, I completely disagree that this is old man crap.  As context, when did you begin to watch Michigan?  I started watching in the early 1990's, and we did have an identity back then.  We were part of the big 2 in the B10, right along side with Ohio.  We were a midwestern superpower, were thought of as a classy program and recruited as well as almost any program in the country.  I don't want to get into a RR discussion, so I will just say that in 2010, Michigan's reputation was none of those things.  We were decidedly behind Ohio in talent and wins, we were arguably not even one of the top 10 midwestern teams, were coming off of sanctions and were recruiting for shit.  There was also a rift in our fanbase / culture that left many of the former players feeling less connected with the program (again, not looking to assign blame).  Hoke has restored much of what was lost in the 3-5 years prior to his arrival.  We are recruiting at a top level, with kids of great character.  Our retention rates even during the transition to Hoke have been impressive.  We are re-establishing ourselves as a good program and the former players have returned.  Hell, Hoke could win only 2 more games and he would match our 2010 win total. 

Monocle Smile

October 17th, 2013 at 3:08 PM ^

When someone talks about the "character" of the football program, I don't take that as having anything to do with wins and losses. None. I've said this before, but people act like Rich Rod was a Batman villain and somehow allowed his evil taint to poison the program outside of the product on the field. It's meaningless twaddle.

Yes, the outside perspective of the program has changed since 2010. No, the people involved don't get credit for that. Outside of wins and losses, the perception of the program is largely affected by people convincing themselves of nonsense, like Hoke being the embodiment of all that is good purely because he's a Michigan Man (tm). That was really my point. It's clear that we're talking about two different things when it comes to "character," and I apologize for any confusion.


October 17th, 2013 at 3:26 PM ^

"Michigan Man" might be nonsense to you, but I once told a coach that he was the epitome of what a "Michigan Man" is and HE STARTED CRYING. It means something to a lot of people. Those people are, simply put, more important to the program than you or I.


October 17th, 2013 at 2:26 PM ^

Here's a comparison of coaches since Bo over their first 32 games

Total W-L / Big 10 W-L (Titles) / Bowls (BCS Bowl Wins) / vs Ohio / vs Sparty / vs ND

Hoke: 24-8 / 13-5 (0) / 1-1 (1) / 1-1 / 1-1 / 2-1

Rich Rod: 13-19 / 4-16 (0) / 0-0 / 0-2 / 0-3 / 2-1

Carr: 23-9 / 13-7 (0) / 0-2 / 2-0 / 2-1 / 1-0

Moeller: 26-5-1 / 18-2 (2) / 1-1 / 2-0 / 2-1 / 1-1-1

Bo: 28-4 / 20-2 (2) / 0-1 / 2-1 / 2-1 / NA

Eye of the Tiger

October 17th, 2013 at 2:04 PM ^

A post that makes me more optimistic about the rest of our schedule. Nicely done. 

That said, I still don't understand why we aren't throwing short passes when they are blindingly obviously open and we need yards. 


October 17th, 2013 at 2:11 PM ^

30 carries. 28 yards. It's been repeated ad nauseum this week, but that doesn't make it any less significant. We ran multiple times into stacked boxes when corners were playing 10 yards off of our WRs. I understand Borges and Hoke's thinking in the OTs that due to our unfortunate habit of turning the ball over, they wanted to minimize the risk and trust Gibbons could make his FG attempt.

My problem: if Borges had developed any kind of counter to Penn State's overloaded D during regulation, the game would've never made it to OT.


October 17th, 2013 at 2:16 PM ^

This is complete baloney. Maybe if you actually bothered to read what SC wrote you would understand why. But let's sum up:

Borges had and used counters to the stacked boxes. As a direct consequence, Michigan produced 17 (should have been 21 but for a drop) points by early in the fourth quarter. Michigan then ran an effective time-killing sealing drive up seven that was thwarted, not by bad playcalling, but by a delay of game call that Brady Hoke deservedly took responsibility for. 

I can and have agreed that the 27 for 27 is awful. But to then state that Borges "never" countered at all is to demonstrate your own failure to understand what happened.


October 17th, 2013 at 2:30 PM ^

I hear you, man.

The problem is the 27 for 27 piece is being interpreted completely out of context.

Right now, the only thing that Michigan is consistently good at on offense is play action. The 27 for 27, while completely horrible creates that play action.


By focusing on the, admittedly terrible, 27 running plays you are ignoring the counters they created. It is a little like analyzying only the incomplete passes and pretending the complete passes didn't happen.