For much of offensive coordinator Al Borges' first two seasons coaching the Michigan football team, he was forced to run the spread. Now, with do-it-all quarterback Denard Robinson gone and redshirt junior Devin Gardner filling the void, Borges can get back to a pro-style attack.
The Maize and Blue faithful yearning for the old Michigan offense are finally getting their wish. Since Borges can finally utilize the schemes on which he's built his career, there is every reason to believe the Wolverines will rank among the nation's top offenses in 2013.
Michigan did not particularly excel in any offensive category last season. The Wolverines ranked No. 41 in rushing yards (183.8), No. 58 in scoring (29.8 points) and No. 97 in passing yards (199.3).
Most of these struggles had to do with Robinson's issues with accuracy. Borges had to play to Robinson's strengths, which were the read-option and scrambling.
Opponents countered by loading up the box and daring Robinson to beat them with his arm. More times than not, the speedy Floridian came up short. Not having Junior Hemingway to haul in jump-balls was part of the reason for Robinson's regression as a passer from 2011 to 2012.
Additionally, many of the leaner and smaller offensive linemen former head coach Rich Rodriguez brought in during his tenure did not allow the Wolverines to run the ball with any consistency. Michigan no longer had the personnel to dominate the trenches.
In fact, the offense looked so little like the one Borges wanted to run that he had to showcase film from past coaching stops while recruiting prospects to come to Michigan.
Borges would show prospects clips of San Diego State's Ronnie Hillman running behind the Aztecs' offensive line. Even highlights featuring running backs Ronnie Brown and Carnell "Cadillac" Williams from Borges days at Auburn were used.
All along, though, the goal head coach Brady Hoke and his staff set out to achieve has always been to bring smashmouth football back to Ann Arbor. After all, the nation's top programs were doing the same.
The 27-year veteran coordinator had this to say when Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated asked him about the original plan to turn Michigan around:
When we came in here, we decided we had to improve our defense, had to run the ball downhill—do all the things that may seem a little old school and maybe even boring to some fans...But they still win. I think Alabama has proven that. I think LSU has proven that. Most teams that are winning—and winning with big consistency—are still doing it the old school way.
Once Robinson went down with an ulnar nerve injury in a Week 9 loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers, the transition from the spread commenced.
Gardner used a variety of ace, twin-tight end and I-formation sets accompanied by a play-action passing attack to rack up 1,320 total yards and score 18 touchdowns in just five starts. Not bad for someone who spent the first eight weeks of the season at wide receiver.
With Gardner firmly entrenched as the No. 1 quarterback, and an extended period of time to prepare for South Carolina in this past Outback Bowl, Michigan piled up 355 yards and 28 points on the nation's No. 11 defense.
The Wolverines still have over four months to prepare for their Aug. 31 season opener against the Central Michigan Chippewas. All of a sudden, the potential for success on offense seems limitless.
All-American left tackle Taylor Lewan's decision to return has given Michigan's offensive line a significant boost. Right tackle Michael Schofield is on track for a breakout season, while future bookend Ben Braden has moved inside to hold the fort down at left guard.
Redshirt sophomore Jack Miller will bring toughness and physicality to the front five. A heated battle between former 5-star prospect Kyle Kalis and savvy veteran Joey Burzynski will determine who rounds out the group.
Incoming freshman Derrick Green should be the bulldozer the Wolverines' backfield has been missing since the departure of Mike Hart. Fifth-year senior Fitzgerald Toussaint and redshirt freshman Drake Johnson will get a heavy dose of carries as well.
Establishing the run will be the No. 1 priority for Michigan's offense. This will set up the play-action and take some of the load off Gardner's shoulders. In turn, Gardner should be able to stay healthy.
Backup signal-caller Russell Bellomy is out indefinitely with a torn ACL, so keeping Gardner injury free will be more important than ever.
The Inkster High School product will have some options to stretch opposing defenses vertically. Sophomore wideout Amara Darboh could be Gardner's deep threat. Fellow sophomore tight end Devin Funchess will be equally problematic for opposing defenses, as he looks to build on a freshman season that saw him post 15 receptions for 234 yards and five touchdowns.
Do not forget about slot receiver Jeremy Gallon either. Gallon may be undersized but has the athleticism and leaping ability to be a playmaker in the passing game once again.
"Coach Borges can call anything he wants, from any formation, set or anything," Gardner told Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com. "I talked to him about it, and he said he's very comfortable with me, calling anything at any time."
Finally, Borges can dial up exactly what he wants. It should make all of the difference to quickly turning around Michigan's offense.
Follow me on Twitter: @Zach_Dirlam.
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