How does Michigan handle play-calling during the game?

Submitted by artds on July 11th, 2012 at 9:41 AM

Below are some things I've been wondering about in-game play calling that I don't know the answer to...

Does Borges actually call EVERY play (aside from 4th-and-short-type decisions that Hoke makes)?

To what extent are the plays scripted?

Who is on the other end of Al's headset, and who is listening in? Assistant coaches? Backup quarterbacks? The NSA?

Who relays the play call to Denard? Do they just tell him a number that corresponds to a particular play on the play card he wears on his wrist?

Also, what's the backup plan in the event that Al's headset malfuntions suddenly during a game? Who would call the plays in that situation?


Blue in Seattle

July 11th, 2012 at 1:15 PM ^

Way to encourage contributions during the off season Blue in South Bend. While these questions may seem naive to you, the original post was pretty well written as to what was being asked, such that the "more knowledgeable" members such as yourself could have ignored it.

Fortunately you are balanced by members like Space Coyote.

To the OP I think in addition to the article posted about Al Borges below, you could also search through some of the transcribed press releases from the interviews during football season. I also recommend Brian's article on "controlled aggression" which goes into the "go for it" tactical approach of Hoke.

To summarize from the coordinator press conferences, which include multiple questions as to why Hoke doesn't wear a headset, I understand things to work like this; each coordinator is responsible for calling in the plays/formations. In the case of Borges, he specifically stated that he doesn't decide punt or no punt, he just gets the next offensive play call ready based on his distance to first down. Hoke is the one who sends in the punt team, or doesn't. If the offense stays out there the next play goes in. I assume if the punt team goes out, Hoke picks which of the few possible punt variations he wants. Same goes for field goals.

The best source for understanding how the headsets could impact the game, go read "if these walls could talk" by Jon Falk. Essentially, there are plenty of headsets, but if the entire system goes down, then there would be a pause to turn off the other teams headsets so there was parity for each coaching staff. That said, the headsets do cost quite a bit, the supply is not infinite, and Bo used his as a prop as much as a communication device, so the fact that Hoke does not wear a headset goes beyond just the jabs at, "how can you be in charge without wearing a headset?" personally I find Hoke's lack of headset as a great unique quality of his persona as well as an indication of how he does lead the players and coaches. If you watch his sideline behaviour you'll notice he's a big time grabber of people he wants to speak to or direct, and that includes Mattison frequently. From my experience with leading large groups of people in a noisy environment, it is actually easier to maintain perspective on the. It picture if you don't have the constant chatter of the play by play going on in your ear. And occasionally he does put on a headset if he really needs to speak directly to Borges.

I hope this helps. I apologize for the lack of links, but my perspective comes from the many great articles posted on this site, as well as my personal time watching the games and the glimpses of the sidelines. Off season is a great time to go back over the post game press conferences as well as reviewing your dvr'd games or just checking out the various Internet posted game I summaries in video.

I also think the lack of headset also helps Hoke be available to provide direct comment to a player when needed during the game. The Hagerup pep talk during the Ohio game is the most infamous, and was noted by a recruits father. If Hoke was a micro-manager, he would never have been able to drop how attention from the defensive play call to speak to Hagerup. That incident demonstrates strongly how much Hoke is like Patton as a Field General. His attention to a detail like, "make sure the punter is getting his confidence back up because he's needed!" which is only possible because he observed the defense is going out on the field and he has full confidence his second in command for defense knows what to call.

Good questions


July 12th, 2012 at 10:35 AM ^

Thanks for the informative response.

And for the record, I didn't mind the joke responses I got. It's to be expected with a wity bunch of posters like we have here. Many of them are very entertaining. I do find it odd though that some people negged my post, as I figured this board would be the most appropriate place on the whole interwebs to post a question about Michigan's play calling. If virtual reputation points mattered to me like they apparently do to the people who negged my post, I might even be angry. ; )


July 11th, 2012 at 9:51 AM ^

I would assume that Borges makes all the calls, except for a exceptions. If Hoke says go for it on 4th and 1 then Borges still tells the offense what play to run.

Didn't we use backup QBs to relay in from the sidelines which call was made? I would assume that the assistant coaches, backup QBs and the NSA are listening in.

If his headset malfunctions during a game, Al will be using semaphore flags to relay in the calls. (I made this up)





July 11th, 2012 at 10:18 AM ^

I believe that there are times when the team runs through a series of scripted plays, such as the start of the game or the half or the end of a game or half if they're trying to score quickly.

Space Coyote

July 11th, 2012 at 10:43 AM ^

In this article Borges talks a bit about it.  I believe I've read that he will deviate from the script early, say if it's third and long or something just isn't working, and maybe come back to it.  But you are generally correct that he essentially runs his first 17 or so plays scripted to see what the defense is giving him, etc.


July 11th, 2012 at 11:07 AM ^

My first double post ever.  God, that felt almost as good as pos-banging myself.  

Anyone else getting constant 504 Time-Out Errors, or is just my work connection?

El Jeffe

July 11th, 2012 at 11:36 AM ^

I think all of the questions the OP raises are interesting and I would like to know the answers myself. Y'all are just a bunch of wise-asses.

Having said that, here is my wise-ass contribution to the thread:

I think Heiko should ask Borges that right after he asks how many bubble screens are in the scripted portion of the game plan.


July 11th, 2012 at 12:41 PM ^

Coach and back ups all make a play call. Two to three may be dummy calls and one real call from a predetermined person, which switches throughout the game. If headset fails, in my experience cell phones work well. (this happened while I was coaching once)