Thursday, September 15, 2011

Al Borges and Jesse Pinkman

Take a gander at this post from Jonathan Wilson and tell me that you don't think of the odd mix of West Coast Offense guru Al Borges coaching Denard Robinson and other players recruited for the Spread 'n' Shred. Or better yet, just read this paragraph:
Again, given the make-up of the squad, you wonder why Gasperini was ever appointed. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with his 3-4-3 or his high-tempo style, but tactics do not exist in isolation; they must always be fitted to players, opposition and circumstances. There is no "best" system or formation; although there are styles of play that, thanks to other developments, become outmoded. It would be wrong to say that it makes no sense for a coach to have a preferred system, but there must always be a compromise between theory and resources.
Michigan's season (and probably next season, as well) will be determined by the compromise between theory and resources. Can Borges modify his offense to the talent? Can Denard learn to make reads in the passing game so he can do more than simply throw jump balls (what he did on Saturday night) or hit wide-open receivers (what he did last year)?

The analogy that keeps coming to mind is between Borges and Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad.  For those of you who aren't watching the best show on TV, Jesse has always been Walter White's right-hand man in cooking a particularly potent, pure form of meth.  At the start of the show, Jesse was a f***-up, a former high school student of White's whom White got involved in his cooking operation because White needed contacts in the drug world to sell the product that he was producing.  As the characters have evolved, Jesse has become more important, to the point that Gus Fring, the kingpin for whom the pair now work and share an uneasy relationship, is going to respond to a demand from the Mexican cartel for instruction on cooking "the blue" by sending Jesse instead of Gus to Mexico.  When Jesse explains this development to "Mr. White," he makes the obvious point that he knows how to run the cooking process from start to finish, but he doesn't understand the chemistry involved like White does.  He has a superficial understanding, but he doesn't know how the parts of the process fit together and therefore, would struggle to answer questions about it.

Borges is in the same position.  He's pragmatic enough to realize that the best way to move the ball with the talent on-hand is to use some version of the run-based spread.*  He's obviously looked at tape from 2010 and sees the plays that worked for Michigan.  However, he is in the position of being an imitator.  He doesn't quite understand how the plays fit together, how one play acts as a constraint play by punishing a defense for a natural counter to another.  This isn't a criticism of Borges at all.  He's making the best of the circumstances, but despite gaining 457 yards and putting up 35 points against Notre Dame, he's still Jesse trying to explain how to cook blue meth.

* - After two games, it's pretty safe to say that my caterwauling about Hoke forcing a Manball approach on Spread talent was a waste of time.  This is most certainly not a situation where Hoke and Borges are trying to squeeze 4-2-3-1 talent into a 3-4-3. 

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