MORGANTOWN, WV. – Much has been said about Tony Gibson’s 3-3-5 defense (also known as the odd stack) this season, especially after the Mountaineers loss to Oklahoma this past weekend. Many have questioned Gibson’s noticeable lack of pressure on passing downs as well as the Mountaineers inability to contain mobile quarterbacks.
Despite all of the questions, the odd stack is a very effective defense, one that Gibson should not even consider going away from. But it does require the right personnel. For those that may not understand the scheme behind implementing the odd stack let’s take a look at why it is effective and why the Mountaineers have seemingly struggled this season.
The odd stack allows teams to get their most athletic players on the field at one time. It allows you to get to a 50 front (5-3, 5-2), or to a 40 (4-4, 4-3) front, and allows you to bring pressure from all areas. It creates different opportunities to disguise coverages. Remember two years ago when the Mountaineers blitzed Baylor 47 times? That was a direct result of the odd stack and its ability to disguise.
The best part about the odd stack is it takes away the blocking angles of the offense and forces you to use simplified blocking schemes and more 2 for 2 which creates mismatches. 2 for 2 meaning the center and guard usually double the nose and then head to the middle linebacker (or MIKE).
This allows the other two inside linebackers a clear gap to the backfield.
The odd stack also allows Gibson to recruit a much wider variety of athletes, especially at the linebacker position.
A prototypical OLB in the 3-3-5 can play inside, outside, and a pass rush defensive end. It allows you to have 3 “safety” athletic players that can cover, set the edge, or fill the alley.
The key to the odd stack is to have a nose guard that demands a double team and is a force in the middle. Aside from WVUs lack of depth and experience at LB that is the key component they are missing. True freshman Lamonte McDougle has played very well at the nose position this season. However, his lack of experience early on allowed opposing centers and or guards to take on McDougle without demanding that double team, again something that is paramount to the odd stack’s success.
Historically if you look at the success WVU has had in the odd stack, it all starts with the nose guard and inside linebackers. Long being injured hurt, and (Al-Rasheed)Benton is a true SAM currently playing at the MIKE position. If you have Long, Benton, and a true Mike that’s a good set.
So why does it matter that Benton is currently at the MIKE and not the SAM? Well Benton is more of a SAM type athlete, he can fill a hole and can play contain from that position, which is why Long is so dangerous as well playing at the WILL. If WVU had a bruiser that could fill A gap or scrape B gap that makes their (SAM and WILL) jobs easier. Case in point when Oklahoma’s RB trucked Benton in the hole on Saturday, a much bigger linebacker, one who would also be able to play as a down lineman would have been better equipped to take on that hit.
SO why it isn’t working for WVU? Well to be bluntly honest, WVU simply does not have the players this year. They are very young and there’s not a lot of game experience outside of Long, Benton, Askew-Henry, and White.
It really shows when there are check downs or communication breakdowns, it’s due to the lack of knowledge and exposure to the defense and how Gibson calls it.
So if the Mountaineers are not equipped to run the 3-3-5 why not go to a 4 man front? Recruiting is the answer. Gibson tends toward bigger nose tackles and taller, more lean defensive ends because that is what the odd stack calls for. There simply aren’t enough big defensive linemen to make that type of permanent change. It would also require taking someone out of the defensive secondary, likely a linebacker.
So then you ask well why not a 3-4, well the odd stack brings another body in the box which is utilized to stop the run. the WILL, MIKE, SAM, Spur, and Bandit all can act as linebackers and essentially are in the odd stack.
Unfortunately for Gibson, it doesn’t matter what defense he would run this year, and he can draw up as many schemes as he wants, at the end of the day, we just don’t have the players or depth to utilize Gibson’s coaching style and the real intangibles the odd-stack requires.
To further the recruiting angle, if you look at the defensive depth chart, 7 of 22 on the two deep chart are seniors, 2 of those 7 are starters.
Five starters are transfers, and three are freshman. So you are asking guys to come together in one year to run the most complex defense in college football, make quick calls, disguise coverages, and trust in each other to do each other’s job. It’s tough… it’s a tough job for them and for the coaches.
The good news for WVU is that they are young and will have a year under their belt with Gibson after this year.
Lastly, you can’t blame the defense for quick three and outs. The total lack of confidence in the running game (which has carried WVU the last three years), and the youthfulness of the team makes it tough for the defense to be successful. West Virginia will be fine and Gibson is the man for the job. His guys would die for him and that type of relationship doesn’t happen every day at the collegiate level.
-Written by Joey Yurish, BGS Analyst
Featured image courtesy Jeff Ruff, BGS Photographer