It's game day! GoBlueWolverine's Sam Webb and Kyle Bogenschutz discuss the keys to slowing down…
Sam Webb with Borges - Devin and Denard
Al Borges: "That was me who said it (laughter). It depends on what week you're playing, but that's kind of the nature of this job. No matter where I've been, no matter what the school, there's always a love/hate relationship with the offensive coordinator. You just try to stay on the love side more than the hate, but that's not always easy to do."
Sam Webb: You know, a lot of times I imagine for a coach, it's just about getting the job done. A lot of times for fans it's about getting the job done, and it looking good to them aesthetically. Last week, clearly, it was one of those aesthetically pleasing and effective games from a fan perspective. Talk to me about the aptitude of your guys to be able to take a package that you come up with, that you draw up, to be able to internalize it, and go out there and execute at the level that they did on Saturday.
Al Borges: "Like I said yesterday, it wasn't a complete departure from what we've done here over the last two years. We've carried portions of that package last year, so you weren't really starting from scratch. We just had used it that much simply because we did move Devin to wide receiver, and it wasn't as much of a place for it, but really it wasn't anything earth shattering like one might think."
Sam Webb: What has been earth shattering to a lot of people has been the emergence of Devin Gardner. Knowing that kid, not surprised by his physical ability, and that's one of the things that Brady talked about as well, so I'm not surprised about what he's able to do physically, how well he throws the ball. One of the things I picked up that he did talk about though is that he said his growth, as far as his maturity and his leadership, he said it's improved dramatically.
Al Borges: "Yeah, well he's taking on the role is what he's done. And that's the one thing that I think that – I've been asked a lot of questions about Devin, ‘Did you know he could throw this well? Did you know he was this athletic?' And the answer to that is yes, anybody could see that. But the one thing you never know is what his poise level is, and how will he take to leading the football team. And you won't know that until he actually is forced to do it, but I think the big nicest surprise for me – and I use the word surprise simply because I didn't even know – is the poise level that he has shown during football games, is that he is not gotten rattled, he has kept himself emotionally balanced, even in some bad times, because all of these games haven't gone perfect, so I think that part – and that I was talking about things being game specific, certain things are game specific, and that's one of them."
Sam Webb: Was there a moment that – I know you look back at entire games, but was there a moment within a game, or a moment looking back at a game that kind of clicked to you where you said, ‘Okay, I can see it now, beyond the throws, beyond the arm, I can see that this kid, he is demonstrating it'?
Al Borges: "I think at Minnesota, we started the game with three straight three and outs when he was the quarterback, and I think it was the fourth, and I'm not sure, you have to check this, but when he broke contain and reversed field and threw the ball to Drew Dileo, who had popped open in a total backyard football type play, I think the dam broke a little when that happened. He came back, and like I said, he never really lost his confidence, but we didn't start very well and that – you're on the road, you're following a kid that's been very productive for us like Denard, you didn't start very well, and all of a sudden now you get a play like that, and again it's a question probably better for him, but it helped. From that point on he started, I think, feeling his oats a little bit and he has progressively improved in every football game in some phase of his play."
Sam Webb: Now you get a lot of people that say, ‘Hey, Al Borges looks more comfortable calling this game with this quarterback'. What does Al Borges say about that?
Al Borges: "I say I'm comfortable when the ball's moving. We have that with both quarterbacks. I think that's a gross overstatement, simply not true. When the ball is moving, you can call the next play, and get a lot of turns for a lot of the kids, a lot of kids get to touch the ball, and everybody's basically happy. When the ball is not moving, it gets to be more of a less comfortable situation, but I can honestly say I more comfortable. In certain games, when Devin didn't play quarterback, I was completely comfortable. I think that's probably a little bit of an overstatement."
Sam Webb: Now you're in a situation where your number one tailback goes down. How, if any, does that change your approach to running the football? Does any of that change?
Al Borges: "Well the approach doesn't change. Thomas Rawls, and Vincent Smith, and Justice Hayes are very efficient running backs, and we'll use them in the same capacity that we use Fitz. So, no, I don't see that as a major – shouldn't dictate any major shift in thinking."
Sam Webb: All right, so let's look briefly back at that package that everyone is talking about in the Iowa game. We saw some terrific downfield passing, we also saw some guys running wide open in the secondary. It was almost like Devin's eyes got wide and he had to make sure not to overthrow the football. Are they seeing things, are you showing things to defenses that they haven't seen this season for guys to be that wide open in the secondary?
Al Borges: "Well there are probably a few things, yeah, I would say a few things. A lot of it is kind of the luck of the draw when you dial a play up, which can go both ways, as you know. But sometimes you dial one into the perfect situation, and that happens, and you turn around and call a play five plays later and the quarterback gets blindsided for whatever reason, so it's kind of tit-for-tat, but there were more of those probably in this game, more good ones in this game, then there has been, but I think a lot of – you know, offense is about an inertia, and once you gain a little inertia, once you run a few back to back successful plays, the kids start feeling it a little bit. It's like when Michael Jordan is shooting three-pointers and you say the rim looks huge. Some games the rim looks huge, some games the rim looks small, but when you get in sync and you get confidence, there's nothing more dangerous than a confident athletic player. That's the most dangerous thing. You can have an athletic player, and if he's not confident, it just kind of negates his skills. Once you gain that confidence that you can do it and you are capable of doing it, that's a very dangerous thing to deal with if you're trying to defend."
Sam Webb: You're coming up on the last regular-season game of Denard Robinson's career. How unique, not just quarterback, an athlete, is he in your coaching career?
Al Borges: "He's the most unique athlete that I've ever coached, not to mention the most electric player that I've ever coached, and all that aside, one of the most enjoyable kids to coach because he brings energy every day to practice. He has a tremendous sense of humor. He has an infectious personality that our fan base has taken to, obviously, and our team takes to, and the coaches in turn take to, and sometimes coaching him, you can't be as – I don't know, I would say, I always tell players that it's not my job to tell you how great you are, it is my job to tell you when you're bad, and pat you on the back when you do good stuff. I'm going to let your girlfriend, I'm going to let your mom, and I'm going to let the fans tell you how great you are, and then when you're done and you're not playing anymore, then I'll tell you how great you are. And so we can't get too caught up in all that stuff, but by the same token, our entire offensive coaching staff has a tremendous appreciation for what Denard brings the table. These new dimensions have been kind of cool because it just demonstrates his unselfishness."
Sam Webb: I often get the sense from some of the people that we talk to that there's a lack of appreciation externally for how good he is, or everything he brings the table. You don't pay attention to the media and that kind of thing, but is there an aspect of Denard Robinson that you think you have a greater appreciation for as a guy that's coached him that many people outside the program can't realize?
Al Borges: "His competitive juice. That can be masked with a big smile and a pleasant demeanor, because everybody just assumes that competitive guys are guys that throw their golf clubs or scream and yell or tear up down markers, or whatever, where that is simply not true, because some competitive guys have your fire in their belly that might not be manifested by some volatile act. I think Denard epitomizes that. That's the one thing I think that might get missed a little bit that I appreciate."
Sam Webb: Alright so coach to have a guy, in a week like this, you're going to see that kind of competitive juice from taking on Ohio State, or Ohio as you call them, in the fiercest rivalry in all of sports. Talk to me about this year's team. They're undefeated, they are ineligible for a bowl game, so this is their bowl game so to speak. What have you seen from the Buckeyes when you look at them defensively?
Al Borges: "Well, as usual, extremely athletic. They run very well. I think their front is their strength. Their four down guys, particularly Simon, is as active a player as we played against. I mean, he's going to be tough to blocking pass rush. He's going to go through the whistle. He plays like your defensive coaches want a player to play. But they're solid and they don't make a lot of mistakes, and they've improved, I believe, from the beginning of the season to the end of the season, I really do. So we're probably going to face them at their best, I would guess, and with the most at stake. So we are assuming that this is going to be a real battle, but we're looking forward to it."
Sam Webb: One of the things that is been brought up in some of the pregame previews is you're going to have a guy at least taking some snaps that really hasn't done in that environment before in Devin Gardner. Is it really that big of a deal for a guy who has at least played in a raucous environment? Maybe not at quarterback, but he's played down in Dallas, he's played in South Bend, in raucous situations, and as far as starting on the road, we've at least seen him do that. Do those experiences add up to being enough to where you say, ‘Hey it's really not that big of a deal that it's his first time'?
Al Borges: "I think he'll be ready to play. The only time you worry about something like that is if you think the guy is afraid, and I promise you he's not afraid. He's very confident right now, but sometimes guys get a little intimidated by that. I have not seen that in Devon Gardner or any of our team. And the fact that now he's been seasoned, playing a couple of games, one on the road, couple at home, and had some success, I think all that, I think he'll be fine, I don't worry about that. But then again, you never know. We don't know how the game is going to go, and how he's going to handle it, but to this point there's no evidence to prove that that would intimidate him."
Sam Webb: Alright coach last one for you. This is not a game plan question, this is just a possibility. We heard from Brady this week, he said Denard is near 100%. Denard said he's feeling pretty good heading into this game. Not asking you will Denard throw the football, I'm asking you can Denard throw the football?
Al Borges: "Oh he's gotten – his throwing has gotten much better, obviously. He's had time to heal now, so there's any number of possibilities. Let's just say this, it wouldn't be his first pass. So, no, he's coming on pretty good."
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