Yes, Saturday in Columbus might as well have been Groundhog Day. We’ve seen this movie a few times in the last two seasons where the Michigan offense falls flat on its face away from Ann Arbor in a big game.
Many have tried to spin it multiple ways and insist that the struggles are due to the fact that offensive coordinator Al Borges does not have “his guys” to run his offense. Well, Greg Mattison does not have “his guys” either and he is making it work. He’s making it work quite well. Enough with that nonsense. Truly good coaches take what they have and make it work.
The bottom line is that an offensive coordinator’s job is to come up with schemes/game plans that work with the team’s strengths and work around its deficiencies and also, maybe most important, to make in-game adjustments to to help win games. I’m sorry guys but I can’t tow the company line here and say that Borges is doing a good job here. If you think I am being a fair weather fan and want to make excuses for him you are living in a fantasy land and need to take off the Maize and Blue homer glasses. He’s racked up points on teams with inferior talent and has fizzeld against those who don’t.
If you are being honest with yourself you will admit that many times in his tenure he has been stubborn (Alabama and ND), incredibly predictable and unimaginative (MSU), and unable to make quality in-game adjustments to attack defenses’ weak points (many games but OSU the most glaring example). These blunders were key contributors to at least two losses this season and, as a TRUE FAN (not a homer/slappy) that can think objectively, I think it’s time to take a serious look as to what exactly Al Borges brings to the table. If you can’t think objectively or will blindly support anything that this coaching staff does then stop reading because this is not for you.
Forget last year, let’s just look at a few games this year where this Al Borges-led offense cost Team 133. And yes, I’ll throw out the Alabama game because we weren’t beating Alabama this year. Sorry it wasn’t happening.
I think one of the biggest blunders was the Notre Dame game in which UM lost 13-6 to the supposed #1 team in America. A game in which the defense played their a***s off and gave the team a chance to win on the road. Why didn’t they win? Because the offense had a gazillion turnovers including four Denard Robinson INTs primarily because Al Borges asked him to play the role of Tom Brady and sit in the pocket and throw the ball down field 30 times. Also, at a time when the offense was steadily moving on the stout ND defense and knocking on the door inside the 10 yard line in a scoreless game early, Borges dials up a halfback pass with a 5’7″ Vincent Smith only to see it get intercepted and destroy momentum. Not going to go into any further detail but if you watched that game you saw the offense cost that team a W. No two ways about it.
Nebraska was a different avenue for ineptitude. Yes, Denard got hurt. Tough blow. But how in the world is Russell Bellomy not at least adequately prepared to resemble a functional QB? I don’t want to hear it was a tough spot blah blah blah. Yeah, it was a tough spot. But it’s on the coaches to make sure he is at least serviceable. No excuses. The staff was ill prepared to deal with the possibility of Robinson going down. And who is ultimately responsible for the offense? Al Borges.
I won’t even touch on the fact that it’s hard to believe that Borges truly felt that Bellomy was going to be the better option to back up Robinson in the event of an injury. Forget the fact that Gardner is an athlete and was a decent WR. His ability at QB is a heck of a lot higher than Bellomy’s and I find it hard to believe the coaches didn’t see that in the spring or the summer. Gardner may have even been the team’s BEST option at QB and it’s also hard for me to not at least entertain that idea. Not after what we have watched since the Minnesota game.
Even though the Wolverines beat MSU, they failed to score an offensive TD in that game. A combination of a completely horrendous Spartan offense and a pretty darn good defensive effort by Mattison’s boys enabled Michigan to escape with a 2-point win after only mustering four FGs. Why did Michigan only score 12 points? Partly because MSU has a very good defense, but a big part also had to do with the fact the offense was beyond predictable. Denard run left. Denard run right. Denard run center. Maybe a tailback carry in the same fashion. Failure to convert red zone trips to TDs. They didn’t even attempt to outscheme that tough Spartan defense. A win is a win but that is a game that very well could’ve or should’ve been won 24-10 or something along those lines. Thank God for Greg Mattison.
Now the most recent example of terrible offensive coaching leading to a loss was the disaster in Columbus on Saturday against the Buckeyes. The offense looked pretty good in the first half scoring 21 points and heading into the halftime with a 1-point lead. It had appeared we would see more of the Devin/Denard backfield that worked wonders the previous week. So what happened in the second half? Well, Gardener would throw a 1st down pass for six to eight yards only to be taken out to line Robinson at QB for designed runs. OSU knew he couldn’t throw so it was as easy as stacking the box to stop the run. It worked. Shocker.
Not only did the constant QB shuffle kill Gardner’s rhythm, it essentially telegraphed what play they would run. If Gardner was in it would likey be a pass. If Denard was in it was certainly a run. Basically, Borges took all of the possible creative ways he could have them both on the field and keep the defense off balance and disregarded all of it. At least when Robinson had his QB runs in the first half they attacked the edge of the defense where they were struggling without one of their best players. In the second half they decided to attack the Buckeyes’ strength (and the UM weakness all season) the interior. It’s one thing to try that with Robinson who can make plays on his own, but to constantly run a 5’7″ 180 lbs. Smith on a power iso play on 3rd and short yardage was inexcusable. How did this make any sense? Someone please explain this to me?
Where were the Gardner rollouts (maybe even with a misdirection play action to Robinson) with a run/pass option that worked so well? Where were the bubble screens to Denard? Heck, try an option with Gardner and Robinson. Where was the creativity we had seen in previous weeks? I’ll tell you why we didn’t see it. The plays were called to not lose. They were not called to win. And, once it was painfully obvious OSU was not going to allow Denard to burn them again on QB runs, Borges kept dialing them up. By the time they stuck with Devin at QB and didn’t even put Denard in the game for what seemed to be most of the fourth quarter, the offense was so out of sync it was hopeless. They didn’t even cross the 50 yard line in the half. There is no defending Borges for what transpired on Saturday.
No imagination. No threat of a pass with Gardner out. No moving Denard around even as a decoy. This amounted to no win. The end.
Those are just a few examples of the ineptitude we have seen this season from Al Borges. And if you can’t see how they greatly contributed to losses then I want some of what you’re on.
You can point to the fact that the running game was putrid or rehash that Borges didn’t have “his guys.” I’ll give you a response of a fart noise. Michigan has one of the most dynamic players in Denard Robinson at their disposal and also what appears to be a darn good dual-threat QB in Devin Gardner. A coach that has been touted an offensive genius and is “well-respected” in the college football ranks should be able to do wonders with that. Many coordinators are able to do a lot more with a lot less. I have a very difficult time defending Al Borges after this year and would not argue with anyone who would think that he held the team back in the win column this year. The numbers and the facts are right there in black and white. The argument can be made.
I am not one of those saying Hoke should be fired. That’s goofy talk. I think he is the right guy for the job. Am I a little concerned about some of his game management at times along with his 3-13 road record in his last four seasons against winning teams? A little. But I think the good he has done as whole has far outweighed those things and I can look passed those for the time being.
However, I am seriously wondering if we have the right guy in Al Borges to run this offense in the future. I am concerned that it is entirely possible that his stubbornness, questionable play calling, propensity to get cute at the wrong times, his inability to make sound in-game adjustments, and his inability up to this point to outscheme any truly good defense could hold Michigan back from winning anything significant. It think it may have done just that this year. I am not saying this will 100% be the case moving forward but if you can’t say the thought hasn’t even crossed your mind you’re crazy and probably delusional. I have seen enough in the last two seasons to at least be concerned.
I hope I am wrong about Borges. I hope he makes those of us who question his abilities look like imbeciles by directing juggernaut offenses. We’ll see. But starting next season he won’t have to “figure out” how to adequately use Robinson, he will have a QB capable of making the throws needed for his offense, and will have two years of recruiting “his guys.” All of those crutches he has used to stand on will be gone and, at least for me, he is now on the clock. No more excuses.
Sorry for the rant. Losing to OSU in a game that was very winnable will do that.