Last week during Michigan’s bye, when most of the Wolverines coaches were out recruiting future talent, offensive coordinator Al Borges stayed behind, sat in his office and gave his current group a good, hard look.
And after seeing the progress made from the Connecticut game to the Minnesota game, it’s obvious that many of the changes Borges and the rest of the staff made were highly beneficial in creating a more efficient offensive group.
“When you have a bye, you get a chance to go back and look at everything you’re doing -- that means personnel-wise, play call-wise, game plan-wise, everything,” Borges said. “The coaches came back, we sat down and addressed all those things -- personnel, scheme, the whole thing -- and I think we took a step in the right direction.”
Here is a look at the improvements made in each position group from pre-bye week to post-bye week:
Stats vs. Connecticut: 13-of-25, 111 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT
Stats vs. Minnesota: 13-of-17, 235 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
Gardner made evident improvements from UConn to Minnesota. No, he didn’t attempt a pass until the second quarter, but that was part of Borges getting him back into a groove. And when Gardner did finally throw the ball, he was smart. Of his 17 attempted passes, all were on-target and thrown with good technique. Against UConn, he was throwing passes in locations that didn’t give his receivers an iceberg’s chance in Hades. But against the Gophers, everything was thrown to a place that gave his receivers a chance to make a play on the ball. Borges and Gardner spent the bye week returning to fundamentals and building up Gardner’s confidence. Even though several fans had called for freshman Shane Morris to be put in, Borges never stopped believing that Gardner was the answer to this team’s problems (even when the QB's creating some), which will prove to be critical down the road.
“Just know what your references are -- don’t throw the ball late in the middle, don’t dangle the ball when you carry it -- and you’ll be fine,” Borges said. “Don’t go out there and be apprehensive either.”
Stats vs. Connecticut: 47 attempts, 173 yards, 3 TD
Stats vs. Minnesota: 35 attempts, 113 yards, 4 TD
Michigan had fewer attempts and less total yardage vs. Minnesota, but as a whole the run game was more effective than vs. Connecticut. Because the Wolverines ran fewer plays against Minnesota, and as a result, had less opportunities to run as many rushing plays, the numbers are a bit skewed, but Borges said that the Wolverines finished the game with a rushing efficiency of 60 percent (“which means four yards or more or the ability to get a first down in a short yardage situation,” according to Borges). Derrick Green finally got in for some valuable snaps. He had one 14 yard run and then quite a few negative or no gain rushes, but Borges said he has great faith in his freshman back, especially with how he played against Minnesota, a game that had “real pressure.” And his running style, coupled with Fitzgerald Toussaint’s running style, will make Michigan more difficult to game plan for down the road.
“We had to take a little pressure of Fitz -- Fitz was carrying too much of the load and Fitz is in fabulous condition but even at the end of the UConn game, he was starting to run out of gas, I think anyone would,” Borges said. “We just decided, we’re going to put him in early, we’re going to make sure he gets some pops and hopefully if it goes as smoothly as we want, we’ll just keep playing him here and there and we did. That worked out pretty much the way we wanted.”
Connecticut stats: 13 receptions, 111 yards, 0 TD
Leading receiver: Jeremy Gallon (4 catches, 31 yards)
Stats vs. Minnesota: 13 receptions, 235 yards, 1 TD
Leading receiver: Devin Funchess (7 catches, 151 yards, 1 TD)
The obvious improvement here was moving Funchess from tight end to wide receiver. He has never been a very strong blocking tight end so the move seems straightforward and benefited the receivers greatly. No, the Gophers weren’t expecting Funchess to have that kind of a game. Instead, they were more keyed in on Gallon, who seemed the likely target for Gardner. Gardner, however, targeted Funchess more, and with the Gopher D keying Gallon, opportunities opened up for Funchess. As the season progresses, the same might be true as more defenses begin to put Funchess in double coverage, opening passing lanes up for Gallon or Drew Dileo or Jehu Chesson.
Even with the move from Funchess to wide receiver, the Michigan tight ends didn’t drop off much. The Wolverines have talented blockers in A.J. Williams and Jordan Paskorz, and Jake Butt has shown himself as a player who can both block and catch very well (though Butt didn’t catch any passes against Minnesota). This is a position that will continue to evolve through the season as each of these players gets more experience, so there is a ton of upside for the Wolverines here.
Stats vs. Connecticut: Ugh.
Stats vs. Minnesota: Not so ugh.
The O-line against Connecticut was abysmal. Toward the end of the game the offense got it going, thanks in part to the offensive line pulling it together. But only so much thanks can go their way when it was their breakdowns early that caused so many of the issues. Against the Gophers, Michigan started a new center (Graham Glasgow) and left guard (Chris Bryant) and threw out a few lineups that people might not have seen coming. And all in all, it work quite effectively. The Wolverines ran early and often to give the offensive line “a little inertia,” according to Borges. And that inertia held up. Even with a brand new group, it looked the most consistent and complete that it has all season.