Historically, I know San Diego State is not considered a “rival” by any stretch so that can’t be it. They don’t play in the Big Ten nor are they even in our region of the county for gosh sakes. So why is this game getting so much attention and build-up for apparently being nothing more than the last non-conference tune-up game before Big Ten play begins?
I do understand that the Aztecs are 3-0 this year and beat a 2-1 Washington State team at home and also went on the road to Army and beat the team that previously undefeated Northwestern just lost to on the road last week, so that’s pretty good I guess. But is that it?
Hhuuummh…let me think…what else could it be…let’s see here…ahh I got it! Al Borges!
How silly of me!
How could I have not remembered that the new Michigan offensive coordinator, Al Borges, was the offensive coordinator of the Aztecs only one season ago? And he’s the same man that was brought here to Michigan to install his pro-style offensive scheme and assist the transition from the spread to the west coast — or something in between.
So that explains all the attention. And I can certainly see why now that I’ve pealed back the orange a bit.
When Al Borges was offensive coordinator of the San Diego State Aztecs only one year ago, he commanded a squad that finished the 2010 season as the 16th most productive offensive team in the nation based on yards from scrimmage — only seven spots behind Michigan.
When we look at average points scored per game, San Diego State ranked 19th with a 35 point-a-game average. That placed them six spots ahead of Michigan and their 32.6 average. Close, but still more productive. And the Aztecs got it done mainly in the passing game.
San Diego was 12th overall in passing yards per game (301) where Michigan was 40th (255).
But that’s understandable; “they” didn’t have Denard Robinson. We did. So obviously, when it came to running the ball – thanks in much part to Denard Robinson – Michigan finished 13th overall in rushing yards per game (238) while San Diego was 48th (161).
So you see, it’s a big game because who could blame the Aztecs for wanting to get back at their old offensive coordinator and for wanting to show him first hand what he left behind on the west coast? And I would imagine there are some mixed feelings as well for Borges in facing his old team so soon after he left.
But such is life.
Yet, I still didn’t feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
I didn’t feel completely settled by the Al Borges connection alone and being the true investigative journalist I am (or believe I am) I continued to dig. And much to my surprise I discovered another previously little-known fact and was even more shocked to learn another bit of information about the upcoming game. Ready for this?
As it turns out there is a good reason Al Borges was cherry-picked from San Diego State and chosen to hold the same offensive coordinator position for the Michigan Wolverines…that reason is Brady Hoke.
Apparently, Brady Hoke was also on the Aztec staff last year – for the last two years even. And get this, his title…Head Football Coach!
Can you believe it? Brady Hoke was the head coach at San Diego State for two seasons before returning “home” to Michigan. Who knew!?
Which means, in a strange kind of way, that Brady Hoke is about to lead his Michigan troops into figurative battle against a group of individuals that Brady himself actually is primarily responsible for putting together.
In 2008, the season before Brady Hoke took command of the San Diego State program, the Aztecs finished their season ranked 114th in total defense out of 120 teams. They also gave up an averaging of roughly 460 yards-a-game. Not good at all…at all!
Being the defensive minded coach that the Hokester’ repeatedly makes no qualms about mentioning that he is, Brady’s first order of business was to get that Aztec defense fixed and fixed quickly. Which he did.
Under Hoke’s guidance, in 2009 the Aztec defense made a 40 spot improvement all the way up to 74th overall with the average of 382 yards against per contest. Not bad for one year.
When the 2010 season ended, again San Diego showed a marked improvement moving up another 30 spots to finish 44th overall in total defense. Another big improvement.
If by reputation alone, these results should have been expected. The man knows his defense and he knows what it takes to win…which is a foundation of sound defense.
After the Hoke left San Diego, the man selected to replace him as head coach turned out to be Rocky Long. Long was Brady Hoke’s defensive coordinator for two seasons and learned first-hand what focus and quality players can do to build success on the football field.
It’s now Long who will need to temper his Aztec team’s emotions and it’s Long who must work to keep his kids attention focused on the field Saturday because ultimately the game will be won or lost by the players.
Yet if there is one particular group involved in Saturday’s game that might be most entitled to carry some personal unresolved baggage onto the field, it might be the San Diego State players themselves as they are the ones who may have possibly felt cast aside by the events that transpired in January. Possibly.
And there will be some good players that side of the field too!
Although the Aztec passing attack ranks only 77th in total offense, their running game is rated 24th overall in total yards. And their leading rusher sophomore Ronnie Hillman is second in all of college football in yards per game with 166. Hillman also leads the nation as well with 8 touchdowns in his three games played.
Hillman was not originally recruited by Brady Hoke, but Brady was instrumental in keeping him committed to the San Diego program when the former coach Chuck Long was let go after the 2008 season.
Now Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison must design a game plane for their Michigan defense currently ranked 82nd in stopping the run. This will be the match-up to watch on Saturday that is for sure.
The game Saturday has all the makings of a flat-out grudge match. Both sides though are saying the right things about the game and have downplayed publicly the importance of this game in terms of more than just a plus-1 in the win column.
Brady Hoke has preached about “The Team” more times that can be counted, and that’s fine. It will be the best team that wins on Saturday. But something I’ve said all along is it takes a great leader to build a great team.
I look forward to seeing how Michigan’s “great leader” manages this game two days from now. I would expect for sure that regardless of the outcome, all parties involved will be relieved once the game ends. And hopefully, finally Brady Hoke and Michigan can get on to business as usual…the beginning of Big Ten schedule.