Borges eyes turnover margin

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges doesn't care about most statistics. But, there is one he puts stock in.

"If you can take care of the ball and get more turnovers than you give up, you've got a great chance to win," Borges said. "It's one of those statistics that's relevant to winning."

This season the Wolverines have put a focus on winning the turnover battle, and it has paid off, securing Michigan a plus-6 turnover margin. It's a huge improvement. The Wolverines ended the 2010 season with a minus-10 turnover margin, and they finished with a minus-12 turnover margin in 2009.

"Our turnovers have not been so egregious -- that for the most part hasn't lost us but two football games -- and it can always get better," Borges said. "If there's one turnover, that's too many, as far as I'm concerned."

Borges said he's most concerned about Michigan's interceptions. Junior quarterback Denard Robinson has thrown 14, including two games with three apiece.

Robinson had one interception in the Wolverines' 45-17 win over Nebraska, but Borges said it was an athletic play that forced a tip, and the Michigan defense was able to prevent that turnover from hurting too much.

Preparing for rivalry games

Michigan coach Brady Hoke has been clear that this week will resemble other weeks, even though it's a rivalry week. Another aspect of that, for Borges, is allowing players to prepare how they have all season.

Throughout the year, Robinson has said he gets a little excitable at the beginning of big games. When Borges would see that in warmups, he'd pull Robinson aside to say something to try and help calm his nerves. However, Borges said he hasn't had to do that recently.

"You don't want to be so analytical that you read into something that's not there," Borges said. "Unless I think there's an issue, I let the guys prepare how they prepare. Some guys like to put their heads through lockers. Some guys don't say a word."

Senior center David Molk head butts freshman center Jack Miller after every coin toss. And redshirt sophomore offensive tackle Taylor Lewan throws Robinson in the air before every game.

But for Borges, the biggest thing is letting players prepare how they see fit.

"If they're focused, you've got to let them be themselves," Borges said. "Don't put the fire out."

Defensive improvements

Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has emphasized players swarming to the ball. For him, defensive football is mostly effort.

But along with the effort and scheme change, Mattison placed a heavy focus on scoring defense. This year the Wolverines are eighth nationally, giving up just over 16 points a game. Michigan finished 107th in scoring defense last season.

"That's how you judge a defense," Mattison said. "If you can play great red-zone defense. If you can give me a place to stand and not let them in the end zone, then you have a chance to be a good defense. Our guys have bought into that."

The Wolverines have jumped to the 14th spot nationally in total defense, giving up 316 yards per game. But in red zone defense Michigan is second overall, trailing just Alabama. In 29 red zone opportunities, opponents have scored only 19 times.

Like Borges, Mattison doesn't consider himself a stats guy. He did say that at the end of the season the coaches would sit down and look at season-total statistics. At that point, they won't just be looking across the Big Ten though, they'll look at the national statistics.

"I look at who ended up being the best," Mattison said. "Now that's what we're shooting for."

Chantel Jennings covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. She can be reached at jenningsespn@gmail.com or or on Twitter @chanteljennings.