Dienhart: Meet Al Borges, Michigan's 'fall guy'

Meet Al Borges, Michigan’s fall guy for the ultra-disappointing 2013 season.

Brady Hoke has a head to show the restless Wolverines fan base. Someone had to pay for the 7-6 season. And, it was Borges. See! Hoke is doing something! He isn’t sitting idling by in his short-sleeve shirt doing nothing as Schembechler Hall burns. He’s a man of action!

“Decisions like these are never easy,” said Hoke in a statement. “I have a great amount of respect for Al as a football coach and, more importantly, as a person.  I appreciate everything he has done for Michigan Football for the past three seasons.”

[ MORE: Read the full MGoBlue.com release ]

Yes, the Michigan offense stunk in 2013. The Wolverines were No. 4 in the Big Ten in scoring offense with a 32.2-point average and No. 4 in passing offense (247.8 ypg). Not bad. But the other numbers were rotten. Michigan was No. 10 in total offense (373.5 ypg); No. 11 in rushing offense (125.7 ypg).

The moribund attack was a big reason why Michigan’s 5-0 started melted into a 2-6 finish that caused much consternation along State Street in Ann Arbor.

The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl loss to Kansas State was a perfect punctuation mark to the pathetic offensive performance that was the storyline in 2013. Michigan mustered a scant 261 yards of offense in a 31-14 loss that, honestly, wasn’t even that close with true freshman Shane Morris starting at quarterback in place of injured Devin Gardner. (The defense vs. K-State was just as rotten that night, too. But few folks mention that.)

[ MORE: Tom's Take: Michigan season ends on sour note ]

It wasn’t supposed to be like this in 2013. Nope. For the first two years, we heard about how Borges couldn’t run his offense because of Denard Robinson, who didn’t have the skill set to run Borges’ West Coast style attack. But once, Robinson left after 2012—we were told–Borges would have full use of his playbook.

Well, that day came … and it went … and Borges is gone.

Borges came to Ann Arbor with Hoke from San Diego State in 2011. They were buds, compadres, pals, cohorts. Well, all of that went out the window when the temperature in Hoke’s office started to rise in December.

This is business. And, don’t you ever forget it.

Things started smashingly for the Michigan attack in 2013 with a 59-9 win over Central Michigan in the opener followed by a 41-30 victory vs. Notre Dame that had some whispering that Michigan may be a national title contender and Gardner could be a Heisman contender.

Michigan had 460 yards of offense vs. the Irish, as Gardner hit 21-of-33 passes for 294 yards with four touchdowns. And he ran for 82 yards and a score. Borges could have run for mayor of Ann Arbor after that game and been elected in a landslide.

But it all unraveled from there.

Too-close-for-comfort wins vs. faceless foes Akron and UConn sounded alarms. The line struggled to get a consistent push. The interior was especially troublesome, as personnel at guard and center were shuffled. To no avail. It was akin to shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic. Fruitless.

The negative vibes rippled from there, as Gardner’s confidence waned and none of the running backs could gain traction. Fitz Toussaint led the team with a scant 648 yards rushing, averaging 3.5 yards per carry. Gardner had 11 picks and was sacked 34 backbreaking times. It was ugly and hard to watch for proud “Michigan Men.”

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The nadir came on Nov. 2, when Michigan got clobbered, 29-6, in East Lansing by Michigan State. The Wolverines had a school single-game record low minus-48 yards rushing and just 168 yards of offense. Gardner was sacked seven times. MSU fans howled. Michigan fans groaned.

Hoke had to do something in the aftermath of a six-loss season. He has seen his record go from 11-2 to 8-5 to 7-6. Even worse: Michigan State is riding high, winning five of the last six meetings with Michigan and coming off a Rose Bowl victory. In fact, the Spartans have won a share of two of the last four Big Ten titles. Sparty is white-hot. Michigan? It hasn’t won a Big Ten crown since 2004.

And then there’s Ohio State, which is 24-2 in two years under Urban Meyer and only getting better. Oh, and Meyer is 2-0 vs. Hoke.

Who knows what direction Hoke will go when it comes to replacing Borges, a good, loyal solider and smart coach who deserved better. Know this: The new hire won’t do anything crazy. This is Michigan. The offense figures to improve just based on continued player maturity and development. The new guy calling plays won’t be radically different in style/philosophy than Borges.

The best thing the new coordinator will have going for him? He won’t be named “Al Borges.” And fans who buy tickets will like that.

Hoke better hope this change at coordinator works. If it doesn’t, we all know who will be the next to go.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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Show Comments (8 Comments)
8 Post Your Comment
MSU#1-Rose Bowl Win, B1G Champs! 13-1! 42 wins in 4 years! on 1/8/2014 @ 7:17pm EDT Said:

Go Green! ;)

Doug on 1/8/2014 @ 7:28pm EDT Said:

hoke and mattison next year…..

Mark Peshaba on 1/8/2014 @ 7:42pm EDT Said:

Brady seems rather lazy! I mean he doesn’t even put a head set on during games does he? I’m also not sure of Gardner? Yes he was better in 2012!!! Maybe a change at qb would do the ttun some good?
If I had to say, they need to go back to the spread!! Its a numbers game after all. Recruit a duel threat qb and go from there!!!
Yes OSU choked, choked on there own defense!!! Gotta get better in the 2014 campaign!!!
I see OSU a way better team talent wise and athleticism. MSU is way better coached!! 9-10 games OSU wins against MSU!! There’s always that 1 game that was the most important and this time the Buckeyes choked!!!

greg on 1/8/2014 @ 8:41pm EDT Said:

there are two things that jump out to me about Michigan football: first, Hoke won more games with RR’s guys than his own (what does that say about evaluation of talent or the coaching of the talent?) and second, Mattison is the real culprit here, his defense is terrible, can’t stop anyone. Mattison must be closer with Brandon than Borges was.

Larry on 1/8/2014 @ 11:14pm EDT Said:

Sounds like Tom Dienhart is a close buddy to Al Borges. It’s easy to label Borges as the “fall guy” in all of this. However, the reality is Borges did this to himself. With the exception of two games last fall (Notre Dame and Ohio St.), Borges’ offense lacked creativity and, maybe most importantly, an unwillingness to make changes during games when Michigan’s struggling QB and young offensive line demanded changes be implemented. If the offense could show some life against the Irish and Buckeyes, why not the rest of the season? Yes, there were a few changes in the offensive line interior based primarily on injuries but the personnel, for the most part, remained the same throughout the season.
Hoke may be the next Michigan coach on the chopping block. But I don’t see him using Borges as the scapegoat for the offense’s shortcomings.

Josh on 1/8/2014 @ 11:49pm EDT Said:

@greg

Even if Michigan’s defense was terrible, the offense mustered less than 200 yards against MSU, Nebraska, and Iowa. Michigan also mustered a positive turnover margin despite all of the offense’s turnovers, and Michigan had a hard time converting on 3rd/4th down. The rushing offense was also one of the worst in Michigan history, averaging 3.3 yards/rush, good for 111th in the country. I am not defending the defense; Mattison and Hoke deserve some heat, but the defense saved Michigan against UConn, gave Michigan a few chances to win against Penn St., and did well against Nebraska. Mattison also gets a pass since he had top 20 defenses the first two seasons while they were 70th or below in RichRod’s last two seasons.

joe b. on 1/12/2014 @ 5:39pm EDT Said:

“But once, Robinson left after 2012—we were told–Borges would have full use of his playbook.”

The only punctuation required in that thing you probably call a “sentence” is the period at the end.

John on 1/12/2014 @ 6:00pm EDT Said:

Play action off of 3rd and 10 while less than a minute left to score. That’s all that needs to be said.

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