I haven't thrown in the towel on Al Borges, and neither should you.
Michigan's 63-47 victory over Indiana showed us many things about our oft-criticized offensive coordinator. It showed us that he can competently put together a game plan. It showed that he can produce an exciting, high-flying offense that puts up a dizzying barrage of points. It showed that he can utilize his offense's strengths. It showed that he can adapt and adjust when his offense has had a bad game. It showed that he's not stubborn. It showed that he can exploit defenses. Finally, it showed that he trusts his play-makers and his quarterback.
We should really be showing Al Borges that same amount of trust. Yes, Michigan's amazing offensive display against Indiana can serve to only further infuriate those who wanted to see some competency against Penn State, where Michigan's run stat is now famously cited in Michigan blog circles as 27 carries for 27 yards. How much of that do we put on Borges? How much of that do we put on offensive line coach Darrell Funk? How much do we put on Brady Hoke?
Does it all come down to a spread vs. pro-style issue? Would Rich Rodriguez's offense at Michigan in 2013 be the virtual equivalent of Baylor's? If we only ran the spread, many Michigan bloggers grumble. Sound familiar?
What part does the offensive line play in offensive production? A pretty heavy part, I'd say. Yet consider this: can you really fault Michigan's staff for doing everything they can to keep the redshirts on players who might have monster seasons as redshirt seniors? That's why they kept Kyle Kalis off the field in 2012. If anyone seemed college-ready, it was him. Yet Hoke, Funk, and Borges stuck with Elliot Mealer and Ricky Barnum. Even Joey Burzynski got some playing time even though he's a walk-on.
This certainly doesn't seem like the best approach to win games, certainly not in the short term. It does fit a long-term approach, however. In 2014, Michigan will have offensive linemen with more than adequate experience, and their backups will be highly touted redshirt freshmen. Not one Kyle Kalis, but four. Patrick Kugler, David Dawson, Chris Fox, Logan Tuley-Tillman. The starters will likely be Erik Magnuson, Kyle Bosch (whose redshirt was burned because Michigan's staff had no other choice), Graham Glasgow, Kyle Kalis, and Ben Braden.
You can start to see why the staff was hesitant to rip the redshirts off true freshmen both last season and this season. You look at that offensive line and it's Alabama-esque. And that's largely thanks to Hoke and Funk and possibly even Borges. The current state of our offensive line? That's thanks to a certain resident of Tucson.
I don't doubt for a second that Michigan's staff, on both offense and defense, is savvy. Even on national championship caliber teams, you're never going to have a situation where no one ever makes a mistake, be it players or coaches. Les Miles catches heat occasionally at LSU, and yet you're not likely to find someone in Baton Rouge who would want a change. Even Saban's teams, known for their discipline, get beat by a big play. Even they get outscored. The difference is that the fans of those programs trust the coaches. They might occasionally utter a criticism, but at the end of the day they know they're better off with those guys than without them.
For three pain-staking years Michigan bloggers begged and pleaded with fans to give Rodriguez a chance, to trust that what he did at West Virginia will eventually show up at Michigan--hell, even be better than what he did at West Virginia.
Despite all the bullshit that came from Rodriguez's personality, his affinity for Josh Groban, and the fact that if you wanted a progressive coach who would adapt it would not be him ("We only know how to run one system!"), we were told to wait, to be patient, to suffer the terrible games, because one day, Rodriguez would dominate the land. It didn't happen. It was never going to happen.
This staff is an improvement on so many levels. The classes they've brought in have, so far, shown no (or considerably little) signs of attrition. They reestablished recruiting footholds in Michigan and Ohio. But the biggest improvement is that they've been able to work with the personnel they have.
Does that mean that we were wrong to think that our running game should be better than it is? Not necessarily. I won't make excuses for Hoke and Borges and say that it takes longer than three years to implement a certain offense. However, I will say that if Hoke and Borges feel that running spread concepts gives them a better chance to win games and we can wait for the Power stuff later, I'm okay with that. There's nothing wrong with having an offense that is a Multiple.
Even in his worst games, I've never hated Al Borges to the degree that other Michigan fans and bloggers have. Even when we lost to Ohio State in 2012, because of what seemed like a decision to run with Vincent Smith on third and 2, the harshest thing I said was "Borges is going to get ripped something fierce." Even after that, even after Penn State, I don't think Borges should be fired. His play-calling against Indiana proves that he shouldn't be. He showed what he can do.
Borges now faces a very stiff test this weekend. It's his toughest as an offensive coordinator at Michigan since 2012 Alabama. That was against a defense that had just won a national championship, a defense that gives SEC offensive coordinators fits on a weekly basis, and a defense that would go on to win it all again. Even against that defense, Borges made some calls that resulted in big plays, bombs over the top.
His opponent this week is Michigan State, which boasts a defense that is about as scary as a defense can get. They're No. 1 in run defense. They're No. 3 in pass defense. They're No. 3 in scoring defense. They're No. 1 in total defense. In the Big Ten, their defense is No. 1 in all categories.
Good luck with that.
But seriously, is this a game that could cost Borges his job? No. Not really. It shouldn't be.
Is this a serious test for him as an offensive coordinator? Absolutely. Borges has another opportunity to quiet all the nay-sayers who griped that his record-breaking offensive gameplan last week was a fluke because Indiana's defense is the worst in the Big Ten. Do half of that against Michigan State and the Wolverines are in business.
But win or lose this week, I trust Al Borges. He's the type of savvy, smart offensive coordinator that I want calling plays for Michigan. He's shown me enough to where I believe we are better with him than without him. We've seen what he can do in flashes. We've seen what he can do with talent. We saw Borges execute a practically flawless game plan against Notre Dame. You know, that defense that boasted All-Americans on their defensive line? That defense that was top-ranked last year and was a serious contributor to the Irish going 12-1?
Borges has done it before. He's torn apart elite defenses. He can do it again. He's not going to stubbornly stick to stuff that won't work right now. He's (probably, hopefully) not going to try to power run against the No. 1 rushing defense in the country. He's going to trust Devin Gardner to make some plays and hopefully not turn the ball over.
Now let's trust him.