October 2, 2012

Borton's Blog: Puzzle piece

It's tough to tell the all-time leading yards producer in Michigan history to just be part of the puzzle. It's probably tough for Denard Robinson to manage that scenario, although he insisted repeatedly after the Notre Dame game that's how it is.

He has the football in his hands every play. He can do amazing things with it, whether tucking it away and making defenders look like cattle chasing an impala, or throwing it over, under and around defenders like he did at the end of last year's Notre Dame game.

But there's bad that goes with the good when so much falls to the central figure in Michigan's offense. And bad welled up like tears at Notre Dame.

It's a clean slate in the Big Ten, and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Al Borges wants Robinson focused forward on Purdue. But with a bye week doubling the prep time for the Boilermakers, don't think for a minute there wasn't a hard glance backwards.

Along with that came a bit of psychological rebuilding, the OC acknowledged.

"To a degree," Borges said. "I don't think his confidence is waning too much. The biggest thing about that situation is getting back to some of the basics of reading the defense and making good decisions - that's the biggest factor.

"There are a couple of footwork issues that hadn't shown up until that game. The good thing about having two weeks is getting a chance to really evaluate everything you're doing. That's what we've done - looked at how we've done on the road, because we've not played as well on the road. But overall, it's getting back to sending your message and knowing we've got to play better in those road scenarios."

The bottom line remains simple. Don't give the ball to the other team - especially six times, five by the quarterback.

"You turn the ball over as many times as we turned it over, you virtually have no chance of winning the game," Borges noted. "We were as fortunate it was as close as what it was."

Head coach Brady Hoke tossed out the notion at his Monday press conference, one that other Michigan coaches have used in wince-inducing fashion for fans: "Sometimes, a punt isn't a bad play."

There's no doubt, it's a better play than watching Manti Te'o racing back towards one's goal line with a pilfered football in his hands. An even better option often involves Robinson himself cradling a potential pickoff that never gets thrown under his arm and sprinting away himself.

Michigan's coaches have stressed Robinson wasn't the whole problem at Notre Dame. They want him to understand he doesn't have to be the whole solution moving forward. They want him to know he doesn't have to do it all.

"It's a reemphasis of that," Borges said of his bye-week approach to the senior's psyche. "Understand, he's been the dominant force in the last two Notre Dame games. He feels some of that, whether it's spoken or unspoken.

"As coaches, we've got to reel him in a little bit. He's going to be fine. I really believe, he's going to be fine. He'd shown some great progress going into that game. A good thing about it is, you do have two weeks to remedy your problems. If we just take the turnovers out, we're going to be fine."

So would Edward John Smith, minus the iceberg.

Borges knows that. He understands what needs to happen going forward, and what can't happen. So does Robinson. How well they navigate the opportunity-filled Big Ten waters, with a do-it-all quarterback just doing his part, will make all the difference.

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