Hoke backs Borges’s play-calling against Ohio State

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Senior quarterback Denard Robinson, shown here in a 45-0 victory over Illinois earlier this season, didn’t attempt a pass against Ohio State. Buy this photo

By Luke Pasch, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 26, 2012

Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges has come under fire from the public regarding his second-half play-calling in Saturday’s 26-21 loss to Ohio State.

Fans have criticized Borges’s calls in short-yardage situations, as well has his use — or possible misuse — of senior quarterback Denard Robinson. Borges hasn't spoken to the media and he isn't scheduled to address reporters this week. But on Monday, head coach Brady Hoke backed Borges’s play-calling and said poor execution was the main problem from an offensive standpoint.

“I thought (Borges) called a good football game,” Hoke said. “If we do a couple things better, I think we’ll all be much happier. I thought the play-calling was exactly what it should have been.”

The turning point of the game came on the first drive of the second half, when Michigan was driving with a 21-20 lead. The Wolverines picked up one first down and advanced to midfield before being held and lining up for a punt.

Then, Hoke called a timeout and decided instead that he wanted to go for it on fourth-and-three, sending his offense back onto the field. The Buckeyes held strong, though, forcing a turnover-on-downs and then converting a field goal on the following drive.

On Monday, Hoke declared emphatically that the decision to go for it on fourth down was his — not Borges’s — and that he was going with his gut. For a moment before the timeout, he considered faking the punt.

“That’s the only thing I wish I wouldn’t have done was call the timeout,” Hoke said. “I should have left them on the field and gone for it.

“I just told (Borges) after I called the timeout, ‘Be ready, and then go.’ And I thought we had a good play. In fact, we did have a good play if we execute the blocking.”

The play called in that situation was the same power formation Borges called with just over a minute left in the first half, when Robinson lined up in the shotgun with three other players in the backfield. In the first half, Robinson faked the sweep handoff and kept the ball to the right sideline with a convoy of blockers in front. He bounced off a pair of defenders and took it 67 yards to the end zone.

But in the second half, on fourth down, Robinson kept it to the middle of the field, and he was stuffed in the backfield.

After the game, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said the message to his players at half time was to stop Robinson from running the ball, and it was clear that they were keying on him on that fourth-down stop.

“My comment was, after I saw Denard Robinson sneak out of there for a long run, stop the quarterback run,” Meyer said. “That’s the input I had. Probably the same, I think 107,000 people said that as well.”

Another issue fans have had with Borges’s play-calling was the limited simultaneous use of Robinson and junior quarterback Devin Gardner. Against Iowa, Gardner took many snaps with Robinson lined up either at tailback or in the slot.

“We were helping our football team because you’re putting your best 11 on the field,” Hoke said after the Iowa game. “I think Denard fits in that either as a quarterback or as a slot receiver or wherever it may be.”

It was evident in the first half of the Ohio State game that Robinson would not be throwing the football due to his elbow injury. But Borges did not try very hard to disguise it, either. Nearly every time Robinson was in the game, Gardner was not, and Robinson was taking the snap at quarterback. He would either keep the ball himself or pitch it to a tailback — passing was not an option.

It didn’t take the Buckeyes long to catch onto the game plan — Gardner was passing, and Robinson was running. And without the two on the field together, the play calling was transparant.

“They were a little bit predictable in the first half,” said Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers. “You know, they put (Robinson) back there, he was gonna run it. And they put 12 (Gardner) back there, they were gonna throw it.”

Still, Hoke denies that the plays were predictable because he thinks they would have been successful had they been executed properly.

“I don’t think (they were predictable) because I think there were plenty of opportunities,” Hoke said. “You have to block, too.”