The 1-2-3’s of the exotic 3-3-5 defense

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TUCSON, ARIZ. (AP) - Wanting a defense to match the unpredictability of his innovative offense, former West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez decided on a scheme that would employ three linemen and five players in the secondary.

To get an idea of how it might work, he took his staff on a tour of the South.

The first stop was Wake Forest to get a look at defensive coordinator Dean Hood’s 3-3-5 formation. Next, they went to South Carolina to talk with Gamecocks coordinator Charlie Strong, also using five defensive backs in his base defense.

After that, it was on to Mississippi State to see Joe Lee Dunn, widely credited as being the father of the 3-3-5.

Rodriguez and his coaches then headed back to Morgantown and started working on their own version of the defense.

“We started studying it, took what we wanted from everyone else’s ideas and it evolved from there,” said Tony Gibson, a member of Rodriguez’s staff at West Virginia from 2001-07. “We just kept building it.”

Rodriguez stuck with the 3-3-5 defense, bringing it with him to Arizona, where he’s in his first year and Gibson is his assistant head coach.

They’re not alone.

A handful of teams across the country are using the 3-3-5, a version of the more familiar nickel defense designed to keep up with the influx of spread offenses in college football.

Jeff Casteel, Rodriguez’s former defensive coordinator at West Virginia, is in charge of running the five-defensive-backs system at Arizona.

Rocky Long used the 3-3-5 in two years as San Diego State’s defensive coordinator and kept the scheme when he became the Aztecs’ head coach in 2011.

The Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks have had success with it this year, beating Arkansas in Little Rock and playing close games against Auburn and Baylor.

Western Michigan also switched to the 3-3-5 this season, Arizona State coach Todd Graham has used it at times in his hybrid, multi-formation defense, and Wisconsin goes to it about 30 snaps per game.

“You can show people different looks,” said Strong, now the head coach at Louisville. “Because it’s a balanced defense, they don’t know where to attack you from and they don’t know where you’re attacking from.”

Unpredictability is part of the 3-3-5’s appeal.

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