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Previewing the West Virginia 3-3-5 defense

How will West Virginia attack the Alabama offense using their newly installed 3-3-5 defense?


A request was made in our Preview of the WVU Defense for further explanation of the newly installed WVU 3-3-5 defense. I humbly admit that my knowledge of this particular defensive formation lacked in far too many areas to provide any real analysis, so I turned to football genius Chris Brown and he didn't disappoint. (Maybe RBR should see if he's available for hire?)

You can read the entire article here but I highlighted what I felt clarified many of the questions raised on how WVU could potentially handle gap assignment against our rather large offensive line. Indeed, the 3-3-5 is designed to attack gaps and disrupt the offensive lineman's rhythm. .

What I found troublesome is that the 30 Stack defense doesn't necessarily rely on talent to be effective but more on the speed of the front 7, especially linebackers and hybrid safeties/outside backers. And as we are all well aware, Alabama has struggled in the past against smaller, perhaps less talented, defensive lines who employ this technique

There are different styles of 3-3, and Strong’s was of the attacking variety. On just about every snap, his linemen were instructed to attack a gap — the space between offensive linemen — and get into the backfield to make things generally unpleasant for offenses. This is an important difference between the 3-3-5 and the 3-4. The traditional 3-4 is a two-gap defense, which means that the defensive linemen typically line up "heads up" on the offensive linemen and are responsible for the gaps to either side. This leaves the linebackers free to roam. In the 3-3-5, there are more stunts, and usually at least one linebacker is rushing. This means each player ends up responsible for one specific gap, though the player’s specific responsibility will change from play to play.

The 3-3-5 is designed to make both pass protection and run schemes (particularly zone-blocking schemes that heavily rely on double-team blocks) difficult to the point of futility.

The linebackers have varying assignments, from blitz to coverage, but they are still responsible for gaps. One important benefit of this type of defense is that it simplifies assignments for players: attack your gap and make a play. The problem is that it also puts a lot on the coaches to get the calls right. "Aggressive" might be a nice buzzword that implies a roving, attacking defense, but if that’s all it means, the team running it is going to lose a lot of games. It must be done intelligently.

335 Blitz

The attacking 3-3 utilizes a kind of intelligent chaos principle: players are told to attack gaps, stunt, blitz, and "fly around and play football," but each call has a reason. Every blitz, after taking account of the players’ assignments and movements, should put the defense in a tried-and-true front designed to stop specific offensive concepts.

So if a 3-3-5 coach calls an overload blitz to one side or tells the defensive line to slant one way or the other, it’s because the staff has crunched the numbers. They know, for example, that out of this specific formation, the offense runs to that direction 87.6 percent of the time. Put another way, this isn’t about aggressiveness at all; it’s about creating new defensive fronts in a way that sets a trap for the offense.

Fear not my gump cohorts, there is hope that Alabama won't be as confused regarding this controlled chaos as the article suggests..

The original "30 stack" 3-3-5 is no longer the defense of the future. As with most schemes, age has exposed many of its weaknesses, and many of its leading practitioners, like Charlie Strong, have moved on to other fronts and use it as only a subpackage. But in the age of pass-first and spread offenses, the principles underlying it — movement, disguise, aggressiveness, and an extreme focus on speed — are more important than ever.

If Alabama is able to pick up the blitzes and account for the free man who could come from any direction and/or at any time, the Alabama offense, especially the passing attack, may in-fact cover the enormous 26 point spread. The worry is will West Virginia be able to disrupt our blocking enough to the point of futility, placing pressure on the Alabama quarterback, whoever it may be at the time, to win the game with his inexperienced arm?

/pops some Tums...