ANN ARBOR — Al Borges pinpointed the one variable that made the difference for the Michigan football team’s offense.
“We executed,” Michigan’s offensive coordinator said.
When it came to posting more than 600 yards in its final game of the regular season, Borges believed it was as simple as that. Execution, however, was something the Wolverines couldn’t do in the previous four weeks.
Now, Michigan (7-5) faces Kansas State (7-5) in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Dec. 28 in Tempe, Ariz. After it floundered through most of November, Michigan posted its highest offensive total since mid-October in its regular-season finale against Ohio State. The question now becomes: how do the Wolverines carry that momentum into their bowl game, after nearly a month between games?
Michigan’s offense, Borges said, needs to find its consistency.
“We did perform better, and that’s promising,” Borges said. “But when you don’t play for a month, that’s a long time between games. We’ll see if there’s some carryover there.”
Against the Buckeyes, the Wolverines were 8 of 14 on third-down conversions; in the previous four games, they were a combined 12 of 60. They ran the ball 35 times for 152 yards; in the previous four games, they ran for a combined 160 yards, including losses to Michigan State and Nebraska in which they finished with a total of minus-69 yards rushing. Devin Gardner’s 451 yards passing against Ohio State was more than 60 percent of Michigan’s total offense against Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Iowa.
Against the Buckeyes, the Wolverines posted 603 yards in a game that came down to the final minute.
“Everything is different when you execute,” Borges said. “We came out and played. [Last month] I said, ‘there’s a good offense there, somewhere. When it’s gonna come out, I’m not sure.’ It hadn’t for a while. All of the sudden, we went out and we caught the ball when we threw it to us and we made some big plays in the open field and made some nice runs.
“We executed. That’s the difference. Nothing more, nothing less. Not game-planning. Not play-calling. We executed.”
However, Borges conceded this much: Gardner suffered an injury against Ohio State, which changed how Michigan called its two-point conversion play in the final minute of the 42-41 loss to the Buckeyes.
Borges would not elaborate further on the play.
“Next question,” he said, curtly.
Yet one thing the Wolverines could face next weekend in Arizona is the possibility of starting an untested quarterback. Gardner has sat out the first week and a half of bowl practices because of turf toe, which could render him questionable for the game. True freshman Shane Morris has been practicing with the starting offense.
“I like his development,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said of Morris, who has five completions for 65 yards in four games. “He has a better understanding of the offense. Fundamentally and footwork-wise, the coverage aspect, going from one read to another read, I think it’s all improved.”
If, in fact, Morris does start in nine days against Kansas State, he’ll have to command an offense that faces the challenge of being consistent.
“We were just too up-and-down,” Borges said. “It’s the way it’s been all year. We’ll show up and play real well, then all of the sudden we don’t. We’re still finding that ingredient that keeps us consistent, and hopefully it will carry over to the bowl game.”