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October 22, 2013

News & Views: Real test awaits against Michigan State

Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges addressed the media Tuesday following the Wolverines' record-setting afternoon against Indiana. While there was much to like about the offense's performance, he's not satisfied heading into the bye.

News: The five linemen that finished the game against Indiana, including freshman Kyle Bosch at left guard and redshirt freshman Erik Magnuson at right guard, will likely stay put when the Maize and Blue play at Michigan State in two weeks.

Borges: "It's still competitive, but those five guys did a pretty good job during the game. Now it's going to get tougher, and we're going to have to demonstrate some consistency but indeed if they can do that, they will be the five offensive linemen.

"We're not eliminating anybody. We still have some talented kids in the wings, and we want to keep this competitive. Do we want those five guys? Yes we do, but that being said, we got to this point because we've kept it competitive. We don't like doing it this way. We'd like to have just had the same five from the beginning, but it hasn't worked out that way."

Views: Borges noted that the thing this group of five did better than previous iterations was eliminate the negative-yardage plays. Indiana finished with seven tackles for loss, but only four after Bosch entered the game midway through the first quarter. Opponents have averaged eight tackles for loss per game, including sacks, but that wasn't as big of an issue Saturday.

Though Bosch didn't start, and if he were to against MSU it would mark the fourth different starting lineup for the Maize and Blue, it is imperative Michigan goes into that game without another significant change. This group of five needs these next two weeks to meld and build off of the effort against the Hoosiers, and that can't happen if more mixing and matching is taking place.

The situation remains competitive, and players like redshirt sophomore Chris Bryant and redshirt freshman Kyle Kalis are not being given up. In fact, Borges had nice things to say about Kalis.

"Kyle Kalis is going to be a good player but he needs to be pushed just like anyone else does," Borges said. "The way to be pushed, as Brady Hoke has said from the beginning, is competition.

"There is a point where you wish you were playing better than you were but this kid is going to be a good football player. I'm 100 percent convinced of that. When he plays like he's capable of on a consistent basis, he'll be in there."

For now, however, it makes more sense to commit to five, providing this quintet the chance to build the chemistry needed to be successful during the Wolverines' final month.

News: Sophomore Devin Funchess' emergence as a legitimate No. 2 option in the passing game has greatly aided senior Jeremy Gallon, and played a major role in Gallon's 369-yard afternoon versus IU. In the first two games of the Big Ten campaign, Funchess had 263 yards and scored three times on 11 receptions, helping to create more one-on-one opportunities a week ago for Gallon.

Borges: "I'd never take anything away from Jeremy Gallon - he had a career day - but a lot of that, some of it anyway, was because they were so conscientious of Devin Funchess running down through the middle of the defense because he poses that threat.

"There were some Gallon catches that were irrelevant, where he put a couple moves on the guy and then beat him. There were other ones where the defense had to play two receivers, and both can hurt you, and that makes a difference where maybe another game it's just reversed, where Funchess has the big game."

Views: In the two games against Minnesota and Penn State, Funchess was targeted 15 times, pulling in 11 receptions. This past weekend, he was targeted only five times, with four catches. Part of that had to do with the fact that Gallon was on fire and QB Devin Gardner looked the senior's way more often, but it also had to do with the way Indiana defended him, at least early in the game.

This has to be fun for Gardner, knowing teams cannot possibly double-team both Gallon and Funchess, and it's on the junior signal-caller to recognize when the matchups favor one or the other and go to him with the ball.

At some point, the focus on the top two should open up opportunities for a third target also, whether that's freshman tight end Jake Butt, senior receiver Drew Dileo or redshirt freshman wideout Jehu Chesson.

News: While Indiana was not a good defense, Michigan State features one of the nation's best, and Borges knows offense and points will not come as easy against the Spartans. He's hopeful the confidence gleaned from the IU game will help his team, but he understands he and his players have to prove themselves.

Borges: "You're not getting 700 yards on them. Are you going to play efficiently and get what they give you, take care of the ball and let the confidence from the last game carry over? Until I see a consistency in that, particularly in light of the fact that it's a road game, until I see that, I'm not committing any boost in confidence because of one game.

"If we go into the game, and don't turn the ball over, and play solid -- we're not going to roll up 700 yards on them, but you have to do things that help you win the football game. That means convert on third down, run the football efficiently, takes your shots. Move the chains. Don't give them short-range opportunities. All the coach-speak every week."

Views: Borges understands what's on the line. That for this offense to actually show improvement it has to do it against an elite defense in tough conditions, and MSU will present that opportunity. Borges will not make excuses either if it doesn't happen. He acknowledged that the Wolverines are young at a lot of positions but "the other guys have young guys too. And now we've played seven games, so we should start doing some good things."

Like defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, Borges did not point the finger at his players after the Penn State game. Sure, there were chances to execute that the Wolverines did not take advantage of, but he knows he has to put them in the best spot to be successful, and if that means throwing more, or running more shot-gun/spread principles, so be it.

"A week ago against Penn State, we were pounding so much and we didn't do a good job, as you well know," he said. "We just wanted more variation here and there.

"We're not becoming a spread team. Get that out. But we're going to have that dimension in our offense. We're going to have the ability to take it sideline-to-sideline, and an ability to mow you over.

"In the final numbers, we had 446 yards accounted for in an under-center offense so we don't want to lose that. We had another 300 in the shotgun so that's good too. You have them both and in certain games, one is going to be better than the other."

News: Quarterback Devin Gardner has been making strides in every facet, and is a much-improved player since the season started.

Borges: "He took another step this week. He's just done a wonderful job standing in and throwing the ball. He's not making a lot of off-balanced throws. A few times he got flushed out of the pocket and he was a little indiscriminate on one or two plays.

"The confines of the pocket, when he has to step and throw, he was really good at Penn State, really good last week, it's been three weeks in a row of him working on that hard. He's taken that so seriously, and wants to be a good pocket passer. And the only way to be a good pocket passer is if you're unperturbed by the rush knowing that the rush is going to get you. He's been good. Really good."

Views: After throwing eight interceptions in four non-conference games, Gardner has just two in three league contests. He's had a pair of fumbles too, but his overall decision-making and accuracy has improved tremendously. In fact, he has boosted his completion percentage by almost five points, from 57.4 in September to 66.2 in three Big Ten contests. His pass efficiency rating has also risen dramatically, from 131.07 to 198.58.

This Gardner is far from perfect, but if the Gardner that has played the last three weeks shows up for the next five games, U-M should have a strong chance to win each outing.







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