When images of Michigan football come to mind, they usually involve three things: winged helmets, "Hail to the Victors" and a power run game.
Whether it was players like Tim Biakabutuka, Tyrone Wheatley or Mike Hart, Michigan always seemed to have someone in the backfield who wasn't afraid to pound the football.
Today, those days feel like a distant memory.
Michigan is rushing for just 88.2 yards a game in conference games, the 11th-best mark in the Big Ten, and is averaging 135.3 yards on the season, also good for 11th in the Big Ten. All of this from an offense that was supposed to get back to the power running game under offensive coordinator Al Borges.
Borges, a man who has been coaching offenses since 1986, mind you.
To say it has been a failure of epic proportions may be putting it too lightly. It also has some creating Facebook pages to call for Borges' firing.
Playing running back at Michigan means an expectation of greatness, and Fitzgerald Toussaint started off with such promise to his career. However, the past two seasons have been a disaster for him.
Look once at the numbers, and it's easy to see why Michigan fans are upset with their team and its offensive performance to date.
First, a broken leg suffered last season kept Toussaint out of the final two contests. Now this season, he seems to be unable to get anything going.
He's rushed for just 601 yards on 172 carries, the third-most carries of any back in the Big Ten. Yet he ranks just 11th in rushing yards. Toussaint has broken the 100-yard barrier just once in Big Ten play and that came against Indiana, the third-worst rushing defense the conference has to offer.
Those aren't numbers of a star running back at Michigan.
His understudy, freshman Derrick Green, has also been completely bottled up. He started with a 58-yard performance in the opener against Central Michigan, but since then he's gained just 58 more yards.
Then there's the little bit about the last two weeks and minus-69 yards rushing in total.
Yes, you read that correctly. Michigan, as a team, ran for a grand total of minus-69 yards in two games.
Let's also not forget about more sacks (14) in the past two weeks than in rest of the season combined (12).
It's a stretch that all involved would like to forget and move past, but it's also a stretch that tells the story of why frustration with the offense has set in among the Maize and Blue faithful.
No one may be more frustrated by what is going on than Borges himself, but outwardly he calmly talks about transition and how "growing pains" should be expected.
However, after taking the players Rich Rodriguez gave him and molding an offense around them, one would think the task of putting in your full pro-style offense wouldn't have these kind of speed bumps along the way.
It isn't like Borges and Hoke aren't recruiting the players to play the system.
Borges has admitted that he believes the talent is there to produce a quality pro-style offense, yet despite the results, he continues to say the transition will take hold. He recently told Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com:
I don't think there's any question we have the guys here to run any system we want, but there is a transitional phase here and you guys all know it. We're two years behind, really, because we didn't do it in the beginning. We have to start doing what we want to do. With that comes some growing pains.
We've got a direction we want to go, and that's where we're going to go. It'll take, and when it does take, this program will be where we want it to be.
However, that's the puzzling part of this all—in Borges' first season, he found a way to marry players he didn't recruit to his offensive philosophy. It turned into something special enough to win 11 games, including the Sugar Bowl over Virginia Tech.
Yet with his own players and the knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses, Borges hasn't found a way to be successful.
That's the issue at hand—three years in, and Borges' offenses have steadily declined.
|Michigan's Offense Under Al Borges (Big Ten Rank)|
|Season||Scoring Offense||Total Offense||Rushing Offense||Passing Offense|
|2011||33.3 (2nd)||404.7 (3rd)||221.8 (2nd)||182.8 (8th)|
|2012||29.8 (5th)||383.1 (8th)||183.7 (5th)||199.3 (6th)|
|2013 (through nine games)||35.1 (5th)||385.3 (9th)||135.3 (11th)||250 (4th)|
Perhaps the most telling of all those numbers are the passing stats. Borges' offense has gotten more and more pass-happy over the last three years, yet the end results haven't been good.
Michigan attempted 21.8 passes a game in the first year of this regime. In 2012 it was up to 24.5 pass attempts per game, and this year the number has increased to 26.5 attempts per game.
As the chart shows, it has also coincided with a rushing attack that has gone downhill each season under Borges. Those numbers don't look like an offense transitioning and getting better. They appear to show an offense that is getting away from the identity everyone says they want to be—a power running team.
Making a transition and living with some growing pains in September and early October? That can be understood. But here we are in mid-November and the lights still haven't gone on for the 2013 offense.
Who is to blame?
Sure, the players need to take some responsibility in the matter, but at the same time, the coaches are not putting the right mix of players together to make this thing work.
It isn't for a lack of effort, either. No matter what is going on, no player has given up or hasn't given 100 percent to the cause of Michigan football.
Yet no matter which players they've trotted out on the offensive line or the changes they've attempted to make on the coaching side, nothing has clicked yet.
At a place like Michigan, there is no patience for losing football games at a significant clip. That's what happens when you've won more games than any other program in college football history.
If the lights don't go on for this offense soon, it may be lights out for Al Borges and his tenure as the Michigan offensive coordinator.
*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.