After an ineffective offensive performance and a lopsided loss against Alabama on Saturday, Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges said he was ready to rip up the playbook, run more and pass less. Right?
Well, Borges has eight words for you.
“No. No. Nope. No. Not at all. No.”
The plan will remain the same, Borges said on Tuesday, despite criticism that he didn’t properly utilize senior quarterback Denard Robinson’s ability to run. He said that he wouldn’t change his plan even if he were playing Alabama again.
“Very little would I change,” Borges said. “Very little. Almost none. But that’s probably harder to grasp because of the way we executed.”
When the defense stacks the box to try to stop Robinson, Borges will favor pass. With fewer men in the box, Borges will favor run. Borges’ philosophy isn’t particularly new or radical, but perhaps more than ever, Robinson must pass efficiently for the offense to succeed.
Under former coach Rich Rodriguez, Robinson was asked to run first, and, well, run second. To shake things up, Robinson could fake the read option and look for a receiver over the sleeping secondary, though if things broke down he could always — you guessed it — run.
Robinson averaged nearly 20 rushing attempts per game in 2010 and paid the price for the punishment later in the season.
Last year, Borges adjusted, though Robinson still ran the ball 17 times per game. Good defenses, like Michigan State’s, shut down the Michigan offense by crowding the line of scrimmage and daring Robinson to throw.
The opener and remarks from Borges indicate Michigan will try to exploit that defensive philosophy this season. Robinson ran just 10 times against Alabama, and his first designed run came with just 30 seconds left in the first quarter.
“I would not have run Denard Robinson any more than we ran him Saturday,” Borges said. “Absolutely not. No. I know a lot of people think that, but no way. That wasn’t going to happen.”
He continued: “In certain games you’re going to run the ball. It’s just like last year. You’ll see certain games he’ll carry it 25 times. You’ll see other games he’ll carry it 10 to 15 times. You can run him 20 times every game, but there’ll be nothing left of him by the end of the season, particularly when you’re playing opponents like that. That’s already been proven.”
Borges is betting that Robinson has improved his decision-making and mechanics enough to catch defenses creeping in. Against Alabama, Robinson limited the number of throws off of his back foot, but still appeared flat-footed at times. He made one catastrophic decision — a second-quarter interception returned for a touchdown — but also connected on a beautiful deep ball to redshirt junior Jeremy Gallon and found junior Devin Gardner for a long touchdown.
“The game plan, obviously we know they were going to try to stop me from running, so we went in with a different mindset, and we took what they gave us.” Robinson said “The play-calling was great. … We’ve just got to execute.
“I didn’t play well. I didn’t make the throws I was supposed to make. And that’s what happens: You lose.”
Borges cautioned against drawing conclusions from the Alabama game. Forget the game plan, Michigan just didn’t execute well enough to move the ball. Even against a six-man box, the Wolverines couldn’t run the ball with their running backs.
Against a lesser defense, Robinson will have bigger passing lanes. The backs will take some of the pressure off. Alabama simply made plays that other defenses do not.
“Never in my life have I seen a corner knock a guy out of bounds, run back and intercept a fade,” Borges said. “In 37 years of coaching, I’ve never seen that happen.”
Though Borges said he will limit Robinson’s touches to keep him healthy, Michigan will likely run him more against the remainder of the schedule than against Alabama. Borges said he takes a game-by-game approach in deciding how much to utilize his quarterback’s legs, and the Crimson Tide’s past success against mobile quarterbacks spelled doom. (“No one’s done that to them,” Borges explained. “Look at the numbers in the past.”)
Yet the blueprint is out there. The defenses that turned Robinson into a one-dimensional player have shut Michigan down.
It’s up to Robinson to prove he can beat them with his arm.
“Whatever coach calls,” he said, “I’m with him 100 percent.”