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Posted on Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Al Borges proud of 'spread-West Coast' offense, but 'we've still got a ways to go'

By Kyle Meinke

The Michigan football team had the Big Ten's second-best offense this season.

They did it with a partial playbook in what proved to be a one-of-a-kind scheme.

Offensive coordinator Al Borges reflected Tuesday on his first season with the Wolverines, and he acknowledged that, despite the progress made this year, there's a lot he left off the table.

"We've still got a ways to go," he said. "This was a beautiful season, as far as 10-2. The kids have done a great job. But, we have not arrived. We've got a lot more to put in, a lot more to find."


Michigan wide receiver Junior Hemingway, right, and tight end Kevin Koger celebrate a touchdown against Ohio State. Michigan averaged 34.2 points a game this season.

Melanie Maxwell |

That raises the question: Just how good can Michigan be, given a full playbook and some experience?

Borges has been scrutinized this year while he ditched the spread-option offense for which his players were recruited and implemented his preferred pro-style sets. There was skepticism regarding how well players such as quarterback Denard Robinson would adapt, but Borges, true to his word, modified his playbook to fit the skill-sets he inherited.

He said it was "without question" the biggest adaptation he has made to personnel in his 25-year, nine-stop career. The end result was a hybrid of the two offenses he referred to as the "spread-West coast" that actually was more successful than last year's offense.

Michigan averaged 34.2 points this year, up from 32.8 last year. Most impressively, it averaged 29.5 points against ranked teams, a drastic improvement from 16.5 last season.

And, they did it with what Borges at first referred to as a "starter's set" — meaning, a skeleton playbook — although later said that was too strong of a characterization. He didn't put a percentage on it, but was clear there was a lot he stripped from the playbook this year.

Still, by the end of the year, the Wolverines' offense was humming at an elite level. They scored 85 points in the final two games against Nebraska and Ohio State, and will try to replicate those results Jan. 3 in a Sugar Bowl matchup against Virginia Tech (8:30 p.m., ESPN).

Borges said he leaned on colleagues in coaching circles — many of whom have backgrounds in the spread — to help him forge this year's offense.

"We are constantly trying to enrich ourselves in the development of our offense and defense — (putting) our egos on the shelf," Borges said. "If we think somebody can help us, I'll make a call here or call there. We're going to do whatever it takes to get it taught."

He also accepted input from players. Sort of.

"It's always going to be somewhat of a dictatorship," Borges said. "It's always going to be that way — that's just the nature of coaching. But, it's a benevolent dictatorship. We're not so closed-minded we're not going to listen to what's best for the kids."

Borges said there are a couple of finer points he wish he would have done differently this year, but, structurally, he's happy with the way things unfolded.

Most of his second-guessing came after the team's losses to Michigan State and Iowa. He drew heat for some of his play calls in both games, and was equally hard on himself.

"Every time you lose a game is when you start second-guessing yourself because, believe me, as much as the fans want to second-guess the offensive coordinator, in my mind, I’m always taking educated second guesses," Borges said.

"(I'm) saying, ‘OK, look at the tape. Was this the best way to approach this?’ I do that all the time. Win, lose or draw I do that, but when you lose (you do it more) because it has more impact.

"You say, ‘Well, doggone it, we lost, and we lost for a reason.’ And it’s not all the players’ fault."

Good thing for him the Wolverines lost just twice.

The spread-West Coast was a big reason why.

Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.



Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 8:02 p.m.

discgolfgeek -- couldn't agree more. More dual threat QB's, please.


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 4:23 p.m.

Tru2Blu76 I played for Bo on the 1969 team. Your comment about not being too reto-sentimental about the Bo Era bothered me a little. I agree that an offense must continually evolve, but the Bo Era, as I see it, means dominating defense. Bo always told us that DEFENSE was the MOST important part of the game. It doesn't mean a damn thing to score 40 points if the other team scores 41. I know that Bo's saying "Those who stay will be champions" has lasted. But that was meant to stem the tide of players quitting in the spring of 1969, not as a lasting slogan. Bo put up a sign saying such, but only said it once. The phrase we team members remember him saying the most is: "If the other team can't score, they can't win." That shows the importance and emphasis Bo put on defense.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 6:38 a.m.

@ Theway I think the two teams playing in the NC this year would disagree with your statement. Literally, the two best defenses squaring off. And for the NFL, Its seems like the steelers have had some recent success....


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 9:32 p.m.

TheWay, the Green Bay Packers , winners of last year's Super Bowl, had the # 2 scoring D in the NFL. They beat the Steelers, which had the # 1 scoring D in 2010. Both of those teams had excellent D's. Having a good D was important to them.


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 5:32 p.m.

TheWay I beg to differ. What happens in the pros has no bearing on what happens in college football. As a matter of fact, its the colleges that do most of the inovating in football, not the pros. USC developed the I formation which the pros adopted. Michigan developed the "H" back for a Rose Bowl in the 1980s. Michigan developed the platoon system during WWII because of lack of talent. Most young men were fighting a war. The pros followed. There are many more instances of colleges inovating and few from the pros. So I don't think what happens in the pros has anything to do with winning in college football. Look at most of the best college teams. All have great defenses. Then look at RR's teams at Michigan. Unless you are satisfied barely beating Indiana and Minnesota and being embarrassed by the top teams in the Big 10 and in a bowl game to a mid level SEC team, then defense is very important.


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 4:44 p.m.

Times are changing. A lock-down, smash-mouth defense isn't as important as it used to be. Ask the last 2 Super Bowl winners.


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 4:33 p.m.

"I played for Bo on the 1969 team." I hope you stick your chest out a little further everytime you say that. You are one lucky man to have participated in such a great moment in UM football history.


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 5:17 p.m.

I'm not so sure innovation was missing even back then. The innovation was within the context of football at that time. As I recall it, the wishbone option was all the rage back in the early 1970's. And though I can't recall if Michigan ever ran the true wishbone (FB and two TBs behind QB), I know during the Ricky Leach years Michigan was definitely running an option attack. I vividly recall Ricky Leach running horizontal and either turning upfield or pitching to Lytle trailing. So I think there's a bit of false recollection going on about the "three yards and a cloud of dust" theme. Michigan ran elements of what had developed to that point in time. If Michigan -- and the whole Big 10, frankly -- can be faulted for anything back then it was missing the signals about the value of speed, both offensively and defensively. But that lesson has been mostly taken to heart. Finding the proper speed/power blend is what the Big 10 is trying to do right now.


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 3:44 p.m.

I have great respect for Al's flexibility. He brought Denard's incredible talent back into the offense the last 3 games. It's a double win for fans. Michigan goes 3 and 0 and we get to watch Denard run. My fondest memories of NFL football are of Barry Sander's running. A thing of beauty. 20 years from now I'll feel the same way about Denard.


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 3:41 p.m.

I always wondered what it must have been like to be a Michigan fan when the innovative Fritz Crisler was coaching at Michigan. Now, with the innovative Al Borges, I think we're getting an almost unique historical refresher course on that experience. And lets not be too retro-sentimental about the Bo Era: we're seeing now the innovation that was missing then. The Spread-West Coast Offense is now MICHIGAN'S offense. Once again, Michigan is first in the Leaders and Best category. Thanks, Coach Borges.


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 7:19 p.m.

There is an excellent summary on mgoblog of why 3YAACOD made perfect sense in the Bo era. You might find it illuminating. You might also consider that Bo did adapt his offense as the game changed, or perhaps more accurately as growing parity in recruiting changed the game. I would expect that the longevity of the "spread" in the spread-west coast offense will most strongly depend on the talent that is recruited. Borges has demonstrated that he will build an offense he feels is best suited to his players while remaining true to his offensive vision. I also expect that, while the spread will still be present, the 2012 offense will trend more to west coast than to spread than this years.


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 3:40 p.m.

Borges is a man who understands the priority of objectives: (1) Win games (2) Score points (3) Employ offense scheme of choice Because (3) is subordinate to (1) he was willing to adapt to skills on hand to accomplish (1) What is particularly refreshing about Borges is his enthusiasm is for offensive design and execution, and not necessarily a given scheme where pride of ownership is the driving factor. He is open to new ideas and will incorporate what seems to work to achieve (1). Borges admitted he reached out to other coaching colleagues to learn more about an offensive scheme for which he was not familiar. Given his willingness to adapt and learn, do you think Borges took some lessons from this year's experiences? Answer: yes. Which means as Borges and Michigan move towards more of a pro-set scheme, he will (I predict) maintain key elements of spread techniques. In other words, it'll be an offense based on physical play and ball control with elements of speed and perimeter attacks. What other big-name coach recently hired by a Big 10 school has said the EXACT SAME THING about his planned offense? That's right. The game of football evolves. Good coaches adapt. Bad coaches cling. Good coaches win and stay. Bad coaches lose and leave.


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 4:26 p.m.

Outstanding! We are really in good hands. What an excellent coaching staff Michigan has assembled! Fans and foes look at next years schedule and say it's too tough for us to have a great season in 2012. With the way this coaching staff has this team clicking right now, I believe the Wolverines will start next season about as good as they are right now, and will only improve. We may be pleasantly surprised next season.


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 2:05 p.m.

This year: "They scored 85 points in the final two games..." Last year: "They gave up 87 points in the final two games..." THIS IS MICHIGAN (once again) !!!


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 2:52 p.m.



Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 12:58 p.m.

57...isn't that the way it should be? I personally wish UM-OSU were in the same division, though, so they would be battling for the right to go to the conference championship every year. I believe that's how Alabama and Auburn is set up. Either way, it's nice to see the rivalry is once again alive and well.


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 12:56 p.m.

Keep this offense and recruit quarterbacks who can execute it. A mobile quarterback who can throw is the way to compete at the national level. It also is huge for the defense who becomes better at defending said quarterback in practice. Don't forget what started all this change at the top (Lloyd leaving, RR, etc) -- it was Troy Smith and other mobile quarterbacks making a mockery of our defense.


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 12:08 p.m.

Like the open minds. I really like this coaching staff. Ohio is the only team who has a chance to beat Michigan over the next 10 years. We will dominate every other team in the Big Ten...