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 9:27 PM ^

This is a great series.

Borges isn't an idiot. He's been doing this for a long time. There's a lot of nuances to his playcalling, the things he did made sense at the time, there's a lot of logic to his decisions. He has a complete lack of understanding of statistics, though. 

Running into a stacked box where you have 6 blockers for 6 defenders can be successful. You can call it "putting the players in a position to be succesful" . But it doesn't work out that way.

It only takes one unblocked man to stop one of these running plays at the line. Say your OLine is making blocks 90% of the time - your plays are still only 50% effective. Look at Saturday's game, and it's obvious that our Oline was much worse than 90%. And what's the upside? Perfect blocking gets us 5 yards. Add in underclassmen tight ends that can't block anything + losing our best player, then you have what happened Saturday - perfect blocking happens hardly ever, most runs get stopped at the line. Borges is calling plays like he expects the offensive line to execute - all of Borges's calls make sense if the offensive line executes - and it's absurd to think that the offensive line will execute. That's how you get 1 ypc on playcalling that "makes sense".

So get rid of useless tight ends, spread the field so you have to execute fewer blocks to be successful. You can say that's not Borges's philosophy - well I hate Borges's philosophy. Our super-manball Carr days averaged 4.5 ypc at best - that's the ceiling here. There's no reason for a team as talented as Michigan to settle for that.

Now, onto the overtime playcalling. You can say Borges was being "conservative". He wasn't. He was afraid to take a risk. Your goal in that situation is to maximize your chance of winning. Running three straight plays into a stacked box and settling for a 40 yard field goal  = 65% chance of winning* in OT1. Throw a fade to Funchess, run something to the edge, have Gardner run it - ANYTHING but settling for 0 yards gained. Sure, having Gardner pass has a 10% chance of being picked off, but you're ALREADY at a 35% chance of scoring 0 points if you decide to play "conservative". 


*(everyone that says Gibbons should have made that kick is wrong. It doesn't matter how many he kicked in a row, he's still a college kicker. anything else is gambler's fallacy bullshit). 


October 18th, 2013 at 12:12 AM ^

For an average college kicker, missing the both the 4th quarter + 1st OT FG is ~18%. Seriously, even with all that happened in this game, I think we win it 9 times out of 10. 

I won't extrapolate Gibbons stats because of low sample sizes, but he is 6/11 from 40+ over the last 2 years (4/9 before this game).

Predicted points from from an average kicker during this game was 14.25, and Gibbons scored 12. He definitely performed below average, but not by much.


October 18th, 2013 at 1:07 AM ^

really interesting read... nice to see another perspective, still have some problems with our playcalling though after reading this. a few thoughts :

1) I think, and have said this since the debacle happened, that I think Hoke is probably responsible for deciding when to mail it in and go conservative on a drive so I don't think Borges is necessarily to blame for the playcalling on the first and third OT drives and our last series before giving it back to Penn State at the end of regulation.  With that said, I think that playing for a field goal was absolutely a bad move, especially in the 3rd overtime when we had already missed twice but also the previous two times we did it.  I mean Gibbons is absolutely money but since 2011 (when he started being good) he's still 8 of 16 from 40+... so it's by no means a guarantee that he'll make that kick in a hostile environment at the end of the game.  Seems like if you play the percentages it's a much safer move to actually try to play offense and the option of kicking a field goal doesn't go away if you are stopped.  Sure there are turnovers but we turned it over on 3 out of what, 18 (?), drives... so you're way more likely to miss a 42 yard field goal than throw a pick.  Especially because you can still run some relatively safe routs that are way more likely to pick up yardage than a run up the middle with Fitz (1 ypc).

2. The Space Coyote interpretation of what happened tends to not blame Borges for plays that could work based on the number of blockers we have versus how many defenders Penn State has in the box, but that doesn't really take into account whether or not we are any good at running those plays.  I mean, yeah, a run up the middle when the other team has 7 in the box and we've got a tight and and fullback in the game isn't in theory wrong, but when your running backs have gone for less than a yard per carry on the night with like less than a quarter of those runs even getting 4 yards, you're not playing to your strengths by continuing to call handoffs to Fitz up the middle.  You don't have to be an x's and o's expert to see that those playcalls aren't destined to succeed.  Even on third and one from the PSU 15, I was begging Borges to do something besides run Fitz up the middle because I felt like we would get stuffed just like we have over and over again in that situation for the last few years going back to the RichRod days.  And you could say the same thing about Borges regarding our use of so many 1 and 2 wr sets... in theory there's nothing wrong with them but when you've got 4 good receivers and none of your tight ends are even average blockers it's the offensive coordinators fault if he calls a run out of a double tight end set and the guys he has in there can't block it.

3. The Space Coyote interpretation of what happened definitely tries to see things from Borges' point of view, which is useful if you want to understand why he called the plays that he did.  With that said, it kind of excuses limitations on our offense that are a result of Borges subpar coordination of our offense.  I mean a bunch of his playcalls are (probably correctly) explained by Space Coyote as "Borges anticipated a 7 man front and Penn State came out with 8 in the box and the safety playing up so his play didn't work" or something similar.  So maybe that's not a bad "playcall" but it's still the result of the limitations that his strategy has placed on our offense.  If we didn't take all day in the huddle and had an offense that was actually capable of adjusting at the line to what the defense is showing, we wouldn't be throwing away plays every time that the other team comes out with 8 in the box when a run is called.  I mean that is basic offense in college football these days.  The fact that we are incapable of reacting to how the defense lines up is just pathetic.  On top of that, like many people (including I believe Space Coyote) have pointed out, Borges is responsible for us having a decent line and a quarterback that doesn't throw picks.  So even if you say he called great plays and the guys didn't execute, it's still largely his fault because he is the primary person responsible for getting the guys to execute.


Space Coyote

October 18th, 2013 at 11:58 AM ^

I'm going to try to answer a lot of things brought up here. I'll start off with a big one. What do I think of Borges as an OC? I think he's above average. Not great. Not bad. Above average.

Secondly, the offenses execution is still absolutely on him and his staff. Any offensive woes are not excused because of poor execution.

The biggest issue I have is people saying the play calling is bad. To me that's insulting. It's saying someone who worked his way up and coached at Auburn, UCLA, and Michigan has no understanding of basic football concepts. It's saying he has no idea of how to react to the simplist of things yet a bunch of laymen absolutely do. As a coach myself it's insulting to say someone could get to his position and have no clue. And that goes for any coordinator. Pick one out there and I defend play calling just as I am with Al. Play calling is rarely if ever the real issue. Teaching players to understand the theory and be able to execute is the hard part. Not calling plays.

Now people that want to argue that they should have done something different with philosophy, such as passing in OT1, are perfectly allowed to that opinion. But completely excusing the other side as idiotic isn't really the solution. Both can be correct. Borges had many correct play calls that weren't executed. That's not absolving the man. That's saying he and his staff need to do better getting players to execute even the most simple of things.

Now as far as spreading the field. I don't know what Brian saw but I saw terrible pass pro despite Michigan going max protect. In ways spreading the field and quick passing can mitigate this. it also means DG will have to be better in his reads and accuracy because he'll see much more complex coverages. as is all these runs result in mostly single coverage on the outside while still keeping people into block in pass pro. There's a philosophy there that is believed that overall it helps the team. Maybe not play to play, but drive to drive. Maybe a way to mask a bad OL is to hit big plays so they don't have to be consistently good. In the mean time you get what you can and try to protect them.

The point isn't that one set of play calls is correct and the other wrong. They're just different. They both play into team weaknesses and strengths. they mask and bring forward the same. There is no good solution when you have a bad OL. But to dismiss one and say it's dumb while the other is better is dismissing evidence and logic that it isn't so simple.

Anyway. Thats a lot of what I wanted to touch on. not everything but I hope that makes sense. I'm not a Borges apologist. I just don't think people are seeing the whole or right picture in many cases


October 18th, 2013 at 5:59 PM ^

"Borges had many correct play calls that weren't executed."


The job of the offensive coordinator is to put the offense in an OPTIMAL play... a play that SHOULD succeed, not a play that COULD succeed.


Your analysis seems to be completely based on the fact that the play COULD have worked, even though they were sub-optimal choices.