Coaching The West Coast Quarterback, By Al Borges

Submitted by CRex on January 26th, 2012 at 11:04 PM


As you may or may not be aware, our offensive coordinator wrote a book.  I finally got my hands on it thanks to Michigan's ILL Department and wrote up a short summary/review of it.  Take from it what you will.
Title: Coaching The West Coast Quarterback
Author: Borges, Alan.  Borges, Keith.
Publisher: Coaches Choice
Published: 2002
ISBN: 1-58518-341-5
Length: 120 pages
What This Book Is:
This is the kind of book I'd expect a high school offensive coordinator to be reading, along with giving his quarterbacks a copy of it.  It does assume you already know the fundamentals and as such is light on the drills.  The book tells you what kind of stance the quarterback should be in, but doesn't provide instruction for how to correct a quarterback's stance.  That's left for other instructional videos (Borges also made a series of videos that carry the same title as this book).
What This Book Isn't:
This isn't some magical key into the mind of Al Borges. This book is written solely about the West Coast offense, long before the rise of the Gulf Coast offense (see snoopblue's diary on the Gulf Coast Offense).  
Still Borges spent a lot of time on the West Coast and the West Coast offense definitely played a formative role in how Al Borges does things.  Plus the book has value by itself, if you're a coach, it's worth at the very least paging through it.
Interesting Random Fact:
The only copy Michigan's ILL service could find is from the Library of Congress.  So we don't own a copy of the book, nor does any other B1G school.  
Preface and Chapter 1, The Fundamentals of QB Play:
The book opens up with a lot of the stand lines about what you want in a quarterback.  You know standard stuff like leader on and off the field, toughness, etc.  The most interesting part here I found were the quotes:
'Intelligence is important, but a great work ethic can overcome much of what some players lack in natural "smarts."'
'He [the QB] should know exactly how his coach thinks and be able to regurgitate it verbally at the drop of hat.'
The first quotation pretty much sums up Jason Campbell.  At the risk of taking too much from a single sentence in the book, it does show a willingess to engage in development projects with high schools who have the talent and work ethic but no the smarts.  The second quote is fairly standard, as every OC out there wants to mind meld with his QBs, but not ever coach uses regurgitate in their writing.  Another point for Coach Borges.
One interesting comment though that did come out of this section is:
"Keep in mind that the quarterback does not look over 6' 4" and 6' 5" linemen.  He is seeing and throwing through windows in the pass rush."  
In other words, good line play can compensate for a shorter quarterback.  Assuming the line knows where the QB is looking, it is their job to clear guys out of Denard's field of vision.  Clearly it helps if the QB is taller, but in the book Borges specific states he values mobility over the QB standing tall and looking over linemen.  An interesting fact to trot out next time you're stuck around family who want to complain about Denard being a midget.
Also in this section Borges covers the "Sprint Out" concept. Throughout the entire book, he stresses the idea of a mobile quarterback that can add an extra threat with his legs as being desirable.  Although he does seem to be talking about more about a Tate Forcier kind of quarterback: pass first, use your legs to buy time, and then run for a few yards if needed.  Also throwing the ball away is stressed as something that should be done as opposed to forcing the pass.  You can tell the book was definitely written before the rise of the quarterbacks like Denard.  The overall tone of the book though does suggest that even if we get RoboMorris, he'll be running more frequently than RoboHenne did.
We even get a little bit of option ball out in the book.  Although it is merely two pages tacked on to the end of the capture on fundamentals.  The main take away on the option is that "When executed precisely, the option can be low-risk and very productive."  He only covers the speed and dive options though in this book.
Chapter 2, Philosophy of the Passing Game:
One of the concepts that Borges mentions here is that half the passing yards should come through the air and half the passing yards should come via yards after catch.  So who knows, the days of the tiny little slot ninjas with cloaking devices might not be over.  Borges also stresses the concept though of always having a deep threat wide reciever who on any play can be hit for 6 points.  In terms of WRs Borges has three:
Hands Guy:  Dependable at catching the ball.
Deep Threat: Can get six points
Route Runner: Most likely to be open.  
From there the book goes into a review of the Delta, Flood, Option, China, Crossing, and One on One concepts.  Also overthrowing or "putting it where only the good guy can get it" is stressed.  So Denard's overthrows are actually a sign he is learning from Borges, although accuracy would be even better.
As an interesting side, Borges estimates that if the defense rushes six that it is unlikely for them to all remain blocked for more than 3 seconds.  So if you are trying to raise a young quarterback run some drills to make reads and release within 3 seconds.  
Chapter 3, Reading and Understanding
Chapter 3 is the diagram heavy chapter of the book.  Covering reading the defense, hot routes, and the like.  The most interesting part starts on page 40 with the contours of the defense.  The contour of a defense is created by drawing a line from the one side of the field to other, connecting the defensive backs.  So if all the safeties and corners are at the same depth you would have a flat line.  As they move up or down you get peaks and valleys.  The quarterback can guess the style of defensive coverage (three deep, two deep, man, etc) based on how the defensive backs are lined up.  Although Borges does point out that a good defense will always run out of the same contour or change on purpose to bait the quarterback.  A defense will poor coaching will tip its hand by changing the contour of the defense depending on the called play.
A good example of this would be when we'd push Kovacs up and create a contour that suggests we're blitzing Kovacs.  We of course did just that with great success, but other times we'd have Kovacs drop and set him up for a pick.  This might also help shed some light on the whole "Martin drops into coverage" thing we tried.  You blitz Kovacs and then the QB throws in the direction of the blitz reflexively, but Martin is there to swat the ball.  
In this chapter Borges also covers the different defensive aligments (4-3, Bear, etc) and their weaknesses.  A common theme here is Borges seems to view a lot of the defensive sets as vulernable to inside-out.  That is a runningback or tight end moving out and catching the ball, possibly with WRs to block and create a screen.  As mentioned in snoopblue's review of the Gulf Coast offense, Borges likes throwing to running backs.  Here we see the same theme covered repeatedly.  Earlier when talking about receivers Borges stressed that you must have a running back with good hands.
Borges also discusses how a defender who is backpedaling and flatfooted is always a threat because the QB never knows how well he'll jump.  Borges really stresses you have to force the defenders into some kind of lateral movement that creates either a leading or trailing window for the ball.  Consider for a moment on the bubble screen, if the DB doesn't backpedal off the WR (because they plan to play bump, bail or kick), you're left with a defender who is flatfooted, which Borges hates.  Coupled with his love of inside-out, I can understand why he might have some objection to the bubble screen, if that area of the field is weak Borges appears to prefer to send a TE or a RB into it and throw to them.  Take that for what you will and of course keep in mind the age of this book.
If you were lurking around the board earlier in the season you might remember a few debates on how our DBs always seemed to be a step behind the WRs.  Some of the other posters did an excellent job explaining trail coverages.  On page 69 of the book Borges provides a great rundown of both DB and Safety play techinques, including trail and robber.  Someone with more patience than myself and access to the torrents from two years ago should consider going back and checking to see if we were frequently changing defensive contours (thus tipping our hand) and if we altered techinques frequently.  Borges specifically mentions good defensives will frequently vary techinques.  Each techinque has a set counter the WR can undertake, so good defenses will alter them.  Bad defenses will not and thus make it easy for the WRs to adjust.
So a defense that rarely changes contours (or changes them to bait) but frequently changes techniques (bump, bail, engage, kick, backet, etc) is a well coached defense.  Defenses that do the opposite are not.  I think next year I'm going to watch a lot of Michigan games and then Arizona games and see if I can spot the difference and thus prove that Gibson is a terrible, terrible, coach.
Last Third Of the Book:
The last third of the book is a specific breakdown of various routes, the footwork involved in them, and the theory behind audibles.  I'll gloss over it as it is mostly mechanics.  Once again though definitely something to have any future QB you are trying to raise read.
One interesting section is on page 103 where Borges breaks down third down decision making.  He does not say anything like "center it for a punt and play defense", so we're definitely out of the DeBord era for what it is worth.  Here also is where Borges stresses he expects the QB to be able to run for 3 or 4 years and get the first down.  However you only run if you have a clear lane, scrambling is solely to buy time for the pass.  I'd imagine his time around Denard may have made him rethink that last bit.  
The final thing of note is on page 105 where he talks about the 4 minute offense and how to bleed the clock while moving to score (and ensure the other team won't get a chance for a rebuttal).  Borges gets real specific including that the team should unpile as slowly as possible after the running play to further bleed the clock.  Definitely interesting as you never hear the talking heads on TV discuss the 4 minute offense.  
The book concludes with some basic QB drills like scramble drills and throwing from your needs.  Borges does mention footwork is much more important than arm motion.  This helps explain why Campbell had a horrible throwing motion but always was good at planting his feet and aligning his shoulders. 
As I said this isn't like some super deep look at the mind of Al Borges or what he'll do here.  This is a fairly straightforward "Here is how you run the West Coast Offense" text.  That being said I'd encourage picking it up solely for Chapters 2 and 3.  Read those two chapters, understand the diagrams, and you'll definitely increase your knowledge of the game.    It's not that hard of a book to wrap your head around and you'll walk away with a greater appreciation for it.  
By the way if you're a current student, staff, or faculty member, consider taking a moment to fill out a request that the library buy the book.  The book itself goes for 20 dollars on Amazon or takes 3.5 weeks to get via ILL (and I'm holding the current copy of it, so you're out of luck).  If a bunch of us request it, perhaps the library will buy a copy.   


One Inch Woody…

January 26th, 2012 at 11:21 PM ^

I'm pretty sure Borges ran bubble screens at SDSU, but to be honest, they are one of the most dangerous plays to run if you have press on the outside. That tunnel screen thing that we did was similar except Gallon would start the route showing a Go route, causing the DB to back off, but then would come back for the ball. 

Honestly, I think both the offense and defense will improve vastly next year. The offense will improve because the receivers will finally, maybe, you know, understand the concept of a route tree. Denard will finally be able to call audibles that won't have as many go-nowhere plays like this year. Don't forget Touissant. The defense also seemed a little like a one-trick pony until the Ohio game, in which we tried something new and it didn't work. Perhaps with our vastly improved linebacking crew, we can do more baiting and technique variation. Very rarely did I see pre-snap motion for the corners this year, but that should change next year. Also, I expect to see more linebacker blitzes from the base set. If Campbell and Pipkins can control the line and take up blockers (2 each maybe? We've seen the destruction Campbell can make with only 1 blocker against him) the linebackers will be free to wreak havoc.


January 28th, 2012 at 10:53 AM ^

were good against pressure.  

I'm betting Denard is the reason we don't bubble.  He's 50/50 with his accuracy on screen throws.  

It also appears that Borges prefers to get behind a loaded box as opposed to around it.  Actually I think he is ahead of the curve on that thinking.  A philosphy that may pay huge dividends when we get a taller, pocket-passer type like Morris.


January 26th, 2012 at 11:27 PM ^

Nice job on the review.  I'd like to read it myself, though I'm guessing it is not available for my Kindle...

I've read a couple books about more of the Bill Walsh style west coast offenses, and one thing I've noticed is how they always seem to emphasize things like option routes, QBs who can hit the receivers in stride to generate YAC, snaps from under center (so that the QB never has to take his eyes off the defense), and stretching the field horizontally.  So I find it very interesting to see a WCO guy like Borges running an offense with a shotgun QB who lacks pinpoint accuracy, no option routes, and looking to stretch the field vertically with a deep-threat.  I think that displays a pretty impressive ability to adapt to the talent available.



January 27th, 2012 at 1:11 AM ^

yup! i sure hope Denard improves. im tired of holding my breath everytime he drops back to throw. and be happy the ball hit the ground rather than in the other teams hands. i do thinkbour defense will be fine. we'll miss martin and van bergan. but mattison will find ways to put pressure on opposing qbs. okus everybody will have a year under the new coach and schemes. i think we could go 9-3 or 10-2 again. with losses to Alabama and to ohio.


January 27th, 2012 at 9:19 AM ^

I wonder if Heiko can get back in Borges's good graces by mentioning the book. I think it'd be interesting to see if Al had ideas he'd add now, a revision 2, with how much footbal has changed in the last 10 years.

Or I guess, more correctly, I'd like to know what book Al would like to write now, since he already wrote a WCO book.

Thanks for the review


January 27th, 2012 at 12:09 PM ^

I didn't even know this existed.   This is Diarist of the Week material, which is becoming old hat to you, even when the word "Korean" doesn't appear in a post.

  • Somehow Brian has to get his hands on those videos.  The Calvin video from before was always interesting, and now that he's the new OC, I imagine this would be too.
  • Quote 1- while it IS true of all QB coaches, I think it really shows how reads and precision are really important in this offense. And why guys improve greatly in it when they've had time and know exactly what the coach wants, without even being told.  It gives high hopes for Denard next year, because he'll have it all down.  And I would imagine any new guy, of any style, should be given some time because they'll struggle.
  • Quote 2- Part of the passing between thing is that a QB doesn't have to be an immobile giant...but part of it is the developement of linemen from just really big guys to extremely tall really big guys. Other than the rare giant like the Virginia Tech QB, even your tall QBs aren't going to be seeing over linemen anymore. It's amazed me to see linemen become basketball players with weight.
  • 2, pt 2- But it also does show that the idea that we want trees passing the ball isn't how Borges has even done it. He wants mobile guys. But pass first guys, not run first guys.
  • West Coast Offenses live and die with RBs catching the ball. For all the MANBALL, I'm more expect to see us try and get a Roger Craig type.
  • Love the 4 minute offense stuff.
  • The footwork vs. arm motion explains why we kept hearing Denard talk about footwork footwork footwork...and how when he gets that down, he could be pretty deadly with his arm as well as his legs.


January 27th, 2012 at 5:59 PM ^

The concept and practice of the 4-minute offense made me sit up and read more carefully. 

I've long been a fan of ball-control time-of-possession ... but now that I see that stuff about the 4-minute Offense it makes me think maybe my love for ToP was really centered on the ability to move the chains when absolutely a must.  And when you're up by 2 with the ball and 3:48 left on the clock the ability to get a couple first downs is critical.

* * *

The tall-QB thing made me think of Arizona State's departing QB Brock Osweiler, who is -- what? -- 6'10" I think?  Osweiler was pretty good ... but I don't think his height per se was the key.  I saw him in a few games and the guy could move well enough to keep a play going, or get the first down when nobody was open.  Sometimes enough is all that's needed.


January 27th, 2012 at 4:07 PM ^

Kudos to the OP for tracking down the book and posting all this.

Related to this -- does anyone have any more details on the presentation Borges gave at the recent Michigan coaches clinic? (The one where Dantonio had his little hissy fit.) According to this write-up, Borges talked about "how to blend a conventional and spread offensive attack." I'd be curious to hear more about how Borges tried to blend concepts from both approaches in the offense this year -- what lessons he learned, etc.


January 28th, 2012 at 12:10 AM ^

"One of the concepts that Borges mentions here is that half the passing yards should come through the air and half the passing yards should come via yards after catch."


That is textbook WC Offense....from Jerry Rice to Wes Welker... guys catching short passes, slants, out and goes, curl unders etc.  and making major YAC because of the combination of the route + 1 foot in front of the numbers accurate throw in perfect timing + combo route schemes clearing out space..

Which is why accuracy is so important in this offense... if Denard can improve more in this area next season...look out cause that will really open the offense to YAC (think Gallon vs ND on that long pass in the final drive...hit in stride and major YAC)

I became a big Alan Borges fan this season...IMO he is the best OC Michigan has had since Moeller...and before that Fritz Crisler... guy is a Schemologist.

Thanks for posting this review C.


January 28th, 2012 at 12:28 PM ^

I too came to admire Borges as this season progressed and we got an opportunity to see him in action.  His pressers on MGoVideo were just great.

I have to confess I reacted rather negatively to the Sugar Bowl because it appeared to me at the time that Borges had reverted back in that game.  Other posts here on MGoBlog have helped me better understand some of what actually took place that game.

National signing day coming up ... spring ball around the corner ... can't wait for the fall.


January 29th, 2012 at 2:53 AM ^

and watched the West Coast Offense my whole life, the phylosophy of RAC yards is exactly why I never understood why people said RR's spread and the WCO are entirely different in their passing schemes, and receivers have a hard time adjusting from one to the other.  The WCO uses the short passing game to supplement the running game, and they use a ton of 3 and 5 step drops.  RR's spread also uses shorter routes and 3 step drops.  And having played receiver, I know there are only so many routes you can run when your QB is supposed to have the ball out of his hand 2-3 seconds after the snap.


In fact, the bubble screen being a staple of RR's spread and Al flat out refusing to run it (even though it's very much a part of some WCO's) gave me the feeling, however unreasonable, that he did it on purpose out of spite.

SF Wolverine

January 28th, 2012 at 7:06 PM ^

to seeing what he can do with another year of teaching Denard.  His instincts and reads were somewhat better this year, but still sometimes very, very off. Second year under Borges could result in a significant uptick in both categories.  If so, this will be a very dangerous offense.

Swayze Howell Sheen

January 30th, 2012 at 9:47 AM ^

I do however remember hearing about the Philadelphia Eagles using a 4-minute offense a few years back; in fact, the announcers were talking about how many different types of situations they prepared for w.r.t. such a thing. The point was that when you are down with X minutes on the clock, and need a long drive to win, it's better to figure out your pace and make sure the other team doesn't get the ball back with a lot of time on the clock.