Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Borges Must Let Denard Be Denard

Denard Robinson is not Tom Brady.  He is not Chad Henne.  He is not Elvis Grbac.  He is not Scott Dreisbach.  We have known this since his first start as a QB at the University of Michigan and we were all brutally reminded of that on Saturday in the "Cowboy Classic Massacre" against Alabama.  Hopefully Offensive Coordinator Al Borges will not be needing anymore reminders as to what type of QB he has for the rest of the 2012 season because this team will only go as far as "Shoelace" can take them.  He is not a pro-style signal-caller who can sit in the pocket and pick apart defenses.  In that role, he is basically useless, if not a detriment, to the offense.  However, he is one of the most, if not THE most, dangerous and dynamic offensive weapon in college football when he uses his legs and is on the move while passing and/or running.  It's that simple.  Like almost every football player he has strengths and he has weaknesses/limitations.  It is time to admit the latter and play to the former.

Look, I get the fact that he should not have ran 30 times versus an Alabama defense that was stacked against the run.  It would be suicide on many levels.  I also get that Alabama has maybe the best defense and best team in the nation.  However, I also cannot fathom how a Heisman hopeful only had 2 rushing attempts in the 1st half and was regulated to sitting in the pocket throwing to an unproven and somewhat inexperienced group of WRs/TEs without the services of his top RB.  At the very least, roll him out and create the option of him tucking the ball and running to keep the defense honest.  The game plan implemented by Al Borges neutered Robinson and the offense and set them up for failure.  If you felt you were over matched then why not get creative?  Making your best player who runs a 4.3 40-yard dash a sitting duck, forcing him to be the type of player he unquestionably is not, and running a 5'6" tailback into the middle of possibly the best defense in the country is head-scratching.  I am not sure I buy the notion that they made the game plan scared with the objective of simply getting Robinson out of there alive, but I will say that it raises the question of "What the #$&% were you thinking?!"  To not even try to allow your best player do what he does best and make a play or two is asinine.  It's like bringing a knife to a gun fight.  There were other ways to utilize his legs other than designed runs.  He was handcuffed and neutralized even before the first snap.  Even the biggest die hards (I am one of them) have to question the game plan when being honest with themselves.

After watching the Alabama game and hearing Borges' rationale for the game plan (defense stacked against the run, forcing him to pass, etc.) I am nervous as to what lies ahead for the remainder of the season.  I know the Wolverines will not face a team nearly as good as the Tide in their remaining games but they will face some pretty good defenses who also are big, fast, agressive, and athletic, most notably Nebraska, Ohio State, and Michigan State.  These teams without question will follow Alabama's blueprint against Denard.  MSU has already implemented an almost identical scheme against Robinson the last two years and have embarrassed the Wolverines in the process.  If Borges will be adamant/stubborn on not being creative and tying to force a square peg in a round hole against such defenses then the offense will be behind the 8-ball and will sputter in those games.  Particularly against the Spartans who have one of the best defensive fronts in the B1G and the country and a very good secondary to boot.  Good luck going into that game with a similar scheme that was implemented against Saban's group.  It's very early to speculate as to what the offense will look like in these games but my point is that they will face a few more teams that will play to stop the run and they will need to be a little more um, DYNAMIC to have any success offensively.

I am also not oblivious to the fact that Robinson was not recruited by the current coaching regime.  I am fully aware that Al Borges needs to instill his pro-style West Coast Offense in the program to build for the future.  But right now, their starting QB was recruited as a Spread Option QB.  He does not have the skill set to efficiently run a precision passing offense.  As long as "Shoelace" is under center, Borges must find a way to utilize his strengths while implementing principles of his offense.  Last year, when Michigan ran a hybrid offense which had elements of both the Spread and the West Coast offenses, particularly against Nebraska and OSU, they looked incredibly efficient and explosive.  That has to be the plan going forward for the remainder of the season.  As long as the personnel still has more of a Rich Rod feel to it, Borges has to play to their strengths if they want to have a win total close to last year.  At times he has done this very well and the results have been favorable on the field.  At times he appears to be stubborn almost to the levels of Rich Rodriguez in 2008 and the offense has been grounded almost to a halt.  If the staff wanted a true passer at the helm to completely implement their scheme, they should have told Denard from the start that he will be moved to another position where he would still get plenty of touches and be a difference-maker while finding an adequate game-managing QB to run a more conventional offense until you brought in your future stud (Shane Morris hopefully).  Forcing Denard to be a pocket passer is the equivalent of Rodriguez making Steven Threet run the Spread Option.  It just doesn't work.  At least not against any decent defenses.

Am I panicking for the season?  No.  Do I feel like Al Borges is a bad offense coordinator?  Absolutely not.  His track record proves otherwise and I feel in a few years he will have a heck of an offense.  I understand the coaching staff is in a tough situation inheriting players, most notably their starting quarterback, not suitable for their system.  But until they have a QB CAPABLE of running their offense then they must adapt and play to Robinson's strengths which are his speed and play making ability.  He is most effective using the run to set up the pass.  Not the other way around.  If they are truly playing for a B1G Championship and a Rose Bowl birth then this is the only way to go.  If they are more concerned with fully installing their offense of the future, then start Bellomy at QB and use Denard the way Florida used Percy Harvin a few years back and hope for the best.  Ignoring the fact that Denard is not a conventional QB and forcing him to become one does the team no good.  It's time for Al Borges to decide what he wants out of this season.  It's time to go poo poo or get off the pot.  It's way too early to say this offense will not come together and be very good.  But a lot of big games are coming up.  The biggest one being the showdown vs. the hated Spartans is roughly 6 weeks away.  That's how much time they have to figure out how to utilize "Shoelace" correctly against a tough, fast, aggressive defense.  If they continue with game plans similar to last Saturday, it will be awfully tough to beat the Irish under the lights in South Bend, beat the 'Huskers at night in Lincoln, or most importantly, end MSU's streak at 4 and have a shot at winning the Legends Division.  Al Borges is supposed to be an offensive guru.  The clock now starts ticking, at least for this season, for him to show it.  GO BLUE!!

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