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October 8, 2013

News & Views: Borges talks Gardner, line

Offensive coordinator Al Borges sat down with the media Tuesday afternoon. These are the highlights of that conversation:

News: Redshirt junior quarterback went 13-of-17 for 235 yards and a touchdown in Saturday's 42-13 win over Minnesota, and did not commit a turnover as a starting quarterback for the first time in his career.

This performance was on the heels of two subpar performances from Gardner. He turned the ball over four times (three interceptions and one fumble) against Akron and followed that up with three turnovers (two picks and a fumble) at Connecticut.

With Gardner's confidence waning - and public criticism of the quarterback getting louder - Borges reached back to his experience with former Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell for experience in guiding Gardner through the struggles.

Borges: "I know this from coaching Jason Campbell at Auburn. When I came in there, everyone wanted to replace him. Everyone said, 'This kid is not confident. He makes bad decisions.' But with Jason, I told him, 'I want you to go out there and let it rip, and I will correct your errors. If you make a few mistakes, we will fix them. I don't want you to be scared. I want you to use good fundamentals and good judgment.' And these are all things I told Devin.

"You can't go out there and think, 'Oh my God, if I throw over there, it's going to be an interception, or if I throw this ball, it's going to be bad.' Play your game, and know your references: don't throw the ball late over the middle, don't dangle the ball when you carry it, but don't go out there and be apprehensive, either. With Jason, when you showed that you believed in him and put that trust in him that if he did what you told him to do, he would succeed, he went out and had the best year of his career.

"I don't think it was any Earth-shattering coaching. All it was was making him believe that you were convinced he was still the answer, even though there were a lot of people out there that might not have thought that. At this point with Devin, after the first two games, people weren't thinking that he wasn't the answer, but after the next two, people started having their doubts. And if the guy coaching him is the same way or starts scaring him, he will go out there and play so guarded that you won't get anything from him.

"There has to be a delicate balance between keeping him aggressive and using good judgment, making sure he understands what you want, with not turning the ball over at the top of that list."

Views: This is a fantastic approach to dealing with Gardner and his recent struggles - and an inside view and Borges' coaching philosophy and process to which the public is rarely privy.

Gardner, at his best, is one of the most dynamic playmakers out there. He has shown that he can make magic out of nothing, and he has shown that he can shine within the constraints of the offense when things aren't breaking down.

On the flip side, Gardner can be capable of backbreaking mistakes. In fixing this issue, you can't hinder his ability to be the player you know he can be.

Gardner wasn't asked to do too much in the Wolverines' win over the Golden Gophers, and, for his sake, I think that was for the best. He had built on a poor performance with another poor performance - easing him back into the swing of things will be good for his confidence.

But Borges and Michigan coach Brady Hoke still have the utmost confidence in their quarterback. And they know - at some point this season - they will need him to bail Michigan out again. Gardner's going to be ready when that times comes.

News: Sophomore tight end Devin Funchess played a more versatile role than usual Saturday, lining up all over the field to create mismatches wherever he could. And he exploded, finishing with seven catches for 151 yards (21.6 yards per catch) and a touchdown.

Borges: "We have done that quite a bit. It's not totally new. We did a little more of it in this game. We got [redshirt junior tight end] Jordan Paskorz back, and he played a little bit. He's a good blocker. We used him in some situations we would have used Funch. Just packaging him, kind of like we have done all along. Try to move him around and do as much with him as we can. We're still getting him into tight end mode. He is still playing a lot of that u-position. His role is expanded a little bit, but it's still pretty much in line with what we've been trying to do with him since he got here."

Views: Funchess' presence at tight end obviously creates mismatches with linebackers and safeties who can't cover him in the middle. What Saturday proved was that Funchess is just as capable of beating cornerbacks out of a break or to the ball.

Let it rip with Funchess - if he can consistently beat cornerbacks, the coaches have to take advantage of that, especially with the offense still searching for playmakers opposite fifth-year senior wide receiver Jeremy Gallon, who has received the utmost attention from defenses since his career-best performance against Notre Dame.

Obviously, Funchess still has work to do as a blocking tight end. If he can have an expanded role elsewhere, he might be able to be even more effective.

News: The Wolverines mixed things up along the offensive line, with redshirt sophomore Graham Glasgow moving from left guard to center and redshirt sophomore Chris Bryant taking over at left guard.

Borges: "[Left tackle] Taylor [Lewan] was really good. [Right tackle] Mike Schofield played pretty well, and Graham Glasgow played pretty well. Chris Bryant, for his first start, had some first-start stuff that I think any kid would experience, but he played hard, and [redshirt freshman right guard] Kyle Kalis got hurt a little later in the game. He was, for the most part, healthy through the game, and he played pretty well for the most part. They weren't too bad. We were better, technique-better. We did a lot of things better. The rushing stats don't really reflect it, but it is a result of running only 52 plays."

Views: Realistically, after altering the offensive line makeup four games into the season, the new-look unit wasn't going to come out and blow its first opponent off the field.

It will take some time to adjust, some time to grow cohesion among the pieces. But this was a very positive step forward. The Wolverines came out of the gates and ripped off a six-play, all-run drive that ended with a touchdown to build the line's confidence, and fifth-year senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint averaged 4.6 yards a pop on the day.

There were some mistakes. Bryant whiffed in pass protection, which led to the afternoon's only sack, but there were a lot more encouraging things and concerning ones.


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