In the wake of Michigan’s 7-6 season Brady Hoke made critical changes, firing offensive coordinator Al Borges and reorganizing his defensive staff. Hoke admitted that last season’s disappointment resulted from a failure of leadership on his part and made the necessary moves to correct things heading into this season.
While the dismissal of Borges was welcomed by Michigan fans, many questioned if the changes were too little, too late. Borges was an easy target, paying the price for the failure of an offensive line and a running game that struggled except for quarterback Devin Gardner.
But criticism of Borges had been growing since the previous season. His transformation of quarterback Denard Robinson from Heisman hopeful to offensive afterthought had raised eyebrows.
The year before Hoke and Borges came to Ann Arbor, Robinson set a team record with 502 yards of total offense (258 rushing yards and 244 passing yards) in a 28-24 win over Notre Dame.
By his senior season, Robinson managed a paltry 228 yards (90 rushing yards and 138 passing yards) in a 13-6 loss to the Irish. Robinson threw four first-half interceptions, passing up opportunities to run the ball while attempting to implement Borges’ offense. Borges’ insistence at moving Robinson up under center and passing the ball more didn’t play to his strengths.
Borges continued to work his offensive magic last season as the Michigan surged and wheezed from one week to the next—performances that ran the gamut from blowing out Central Michigan 59-9, to barely besting Connecticut 24-21 and completely disappearing versus Michigan State (29-6 loss).
Finally, Hoke decided he had seen enough and replaced Borges with offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to bring stability and direction to the Michigan offense.
Nussmeier faces a daunting challenge. He needs to shore up an offensive line that has lost two of it best players, sort out a quandary at quarterback (teach Devin Gardner his third new offense or start fresh) while scoring enough points to keep the heat off of Brady Hoke.
Athletic director David Brandon has dismissed speculation about Hoke’s status, but the seat in Ann Arbor is hot before a head coach even starts—add a 7-6 season and you have the makings of an inferno.
Gardner put together some impressive statistics last season, but 7-6 doesn’t equal job security for any quarterback. Nussmeier absolutely needs to look closely at the quarterback position and decide if Gardner is the best choice.
The offensive line is harder to fix.
Offensive line coaches rarely get singled out for criticism, but Michigan struggled mightily up front last season and coach Darrell Funk’s return this season was something of a surprise.
Offensive linemen usually take a season or two to acclimate to the college game—Hoke must be confident that last season’s epic failure on the offensive line was an aberration. Funk absolutely needs to have a better starting group ready this season or risk another offensive meltdown.
It’s telling that early enrollee Mason Cole has made such a big impression on Hoke. It’s troubling that a true freshman can show up on campus a few months removed from playing high school football and be working with the first group at offensive tackle.
It’s easy to second-guess Hoke’s decision to keep Borges for last season. But right now, with an unsettled quarterback position and an offensive line where every position is up for grabs, even Hoke has to wonder if maybe he waited too long to dismiss Borges.
All season statistics from mgoblue.com, the official University of Michigan athletic department web site.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via press conferences or in person.