Friday, October 21, 2005

Cougar Chicanery | by Jay

The 3-3-5 defense is as unusual as it is enigmatic. The three down linemen, three linebackers, two cornerbacks and free safety all line up close to where they would in more traditional defenses. But where the 3-3-5 differs is in the presence of two special "roving" safeties, whose makeup can be described as part outside linebacker and part strong safety.

These "KAT" safeties (as they are called in the BYU version of the 3-3-5) can rush the quarterback, drop back into coverage or even defend against the run if needed. The result is a defense that is very flexible, capable of rushing between three and eight players at any time, and blitzing from various angles.

From this article in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette:

For offenses, Weis said the defense leaves the possibility for big plays, but it also could end up with a lot of linebackers sprinting around the opponent’s backfield.

“If you hit it right, you have an opportunity for plays,” Weis said. “But the other thing is in terms of hitting it wrong, you could have a lot of people free.”

Part of recognizing it, Weis said, comes from junior quarterback Brady Quinn. He needs to be able to pick up the different defensive fronts BYU will throw at the No. 9 Irish.

Otherwise, it could be a long day.

Another way the players might prepare, besides the tape they’ll watch this week, is through video games.

While Walker hadn’t thought of it, “NCAA Football ’06” does have a 3-3-5 defensive scheme among its defensive packages and other coaches have said in the past that video games will occasionally help players pick things up quicker.

While fellow running back Travis Thomas scoffed at the suggestion, Walker seemed to think about it.

“Yeah, that might not be a bad idea,” Walker said. “See how it works.”
Bob Morton talked a little bit about it:
“It really demands that extra focus,” Irish center Bob Morton said. “So it really has been easy to get our nose back in the books, watch the film and try and perfect things as much as we can.”

Morton added that the offense usually focuses only on its own problems and goals. But this week players have been forced to master BYU’s “exotic” defense, which relies heavily on blitzing.

“Run or pass, their blitzes are designed to pose problems,” Morton said. “Their coach (Bronco Mendenhall) has them everywhere and has done so for a few years. We really have to make sure we’re gap responsible.”
Here's an example of one of the hazards of the 3-3-5 if you're not prepared for it. Stills are from last year's opening-game debacle.

In the first frame, that's the pre-snap defensive look.

In the second frame, you can see that the DB over Stovall has moved down and is now giving a blitz look. So now you have possibly three guys rushing the passer on the weak side.

In the third frame, see how the three rushers on the left side outnumbered the two OL, and meanwhile, you have your RB in blitz pick-up to the right and an extra OL blocking no one. Quinn didn't get sacked here but he got hit as he threw it, and we never had a shot.

This is a great example of how ill-prepared we were for our first game last year. I'm not sure who was at fault. It's Diedrick's system so some fault should lie on his shoulders, but at the same time, I think the RB Wilson got confused. As you can see, we had six blockers get beaten by five pass rushers. That should never happen, especially when you have the talent advantage that Notre Dame has.

The good news for tomorrow? We're fairly familiar with the scheme. South Carolina used it when Weis was an assistant there, and Latina mentioned the other day he went up against it once or twice a year in the SEC. And despite the exotic nature of their scheme, the Cougs aren't exactly world-beaters on defense, ranking 53rd in scoring (25 ppg) and 79th against the pass (241.3 ypg).

Last year, we didn't scheme against the 3-3-5 very well at all -- only 285 yards, and a scant 11 yards rushing on 21 carries. (This, against a team that ended up being ranked 59th nationally against the run, and gave up an average of 377 yards overall). Tomorrow, I think we can expect much better.

Lastly, I was doing a little googling on the BYU defense, and this popped up. Check out book #6. I couldn't figure out why the 3-3-5 would show up in a list like that, but then it hit me: since it's so risky, if you screw up the 3-3-5, you might as well gouge your eyes out.