ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- No one said it was going to be easy for offensive coordinator Al Borges and the Michigan offense, as the Wolverines prepare to play at Michigan State this Saturday.
The Spartans (7-1, 4-0 Big Ten) have the No. 1 total defense in the Big Ten and rank amongst the league leaders in number of defensive categories, most notably rush defense, where the Spartans are No. 1 in the country only yielding 54.9 yards per game on the ground. The MSU defense has caused 15 turnovers this season with a plus six turnover ratio, and are only giving up 12.3 points per game.
That’s not an easy task for the Michigan (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten) offense, considering the Wolverines struggled against the Spartans defense the last time they ventured to East Lansing, Mich., losing a physical contest to MSU 28-14.
With all these variables to look at, Borges said limiting mistakes and costly turnovers are the biggest obstacles facing the Michigan offense heading into rivalry game at MSU.
“First thing you got to make sure you don’t give it to them,” Borges said. “That’ the same deal. Cause they’ve done a really good job of feeding off turnovers. Either creating opportunities for offense or literally scoring themselves. Which is amazing how many times they have done that.”
Borges said his other focus was making sure the offensive line met their opponent at the point of attack, to give the wide receivers and running backs an opportunity to make a play.
“… Getting bodies on their bodies, making sure your plays get started so you give your skill guys a chance to do what they do best,” Borges said.
“If you’re getting hit in the backfield soon as you’re handing the ball off, you’re not going anywhere. And they have done that some.”
A big reason for MSU’s success on defense, is their ability to penetrate using the double-A gap blitz. While the Spartans are expected to blitz throughout the game, Borges said he doesn’t fully expect the same game plan as past seasons, citing he expects MSU to “mix it up.”
“[MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is] going to mix it up to where there is not going to be any true, ‘Oh, here it comes.’ You know what I mean?” Borges said. “So you have to as a offensive coach, you have to make sure you take care of all the things they could do to you. You know? If you don’t call the perfect play, can you still handle what they’re doing?”
If the Michigan offense is going to be successful, Borges said they must put themselves in positive situations – meaning no turnovers.
“You just can’t put yourself in bad situations where they become … disasters,” Borges said. “You know what I mean? They have fed off that all year. And if we do that, they’ll feed of it against us. We got to be smart with the ball. …If we’re unable to do that, then we’re going to have to hold the ball longer then we want to. Then generally something bad happens after that.
“To beat a team that is that good defensively, you need a stellar effort from your entire offense. Not just certain positions, because when a team good defensively it’s because they can exploit a lot of different things. It’s not just cause you’re usually good at one thing.”
It just comes down to playing smart, said Borges.
“You got to be smart,” Borges said. “but then you don’t want go in with the idea that you’re going to get pushed around. This is a figurative street fight. You want to go out there and match and exceed the intensity of your opponent. That’s the only way you can play games like this.
“When push comes to shove, the winner is going to be the guy that is the most physical and won’t back down.”