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Tuesday, March 28, 2023

US Sports Football: TCU’s 3-3-5 and facing bigger personnel

Offensive trends are becoming clear and one thing is inevitable, you will face bigger personnel

There was much skepticism about a defense designed to stop the spread of the Big 12 being able to handle a punishing Big Ten run game. 

The first play momentarily confirmed that, but at least for the rest of the half, the Frogs were able to neutralize the massive Michigan OL and quickly fit their gaps and force the ball lateral where the Frogs’ speed could take over holding Michigan to short gains or losses.

TCU's defense is built for speed and was able to slow down Michigan's power in the first half.

They were a bend but don’t break defense.  While they gave up 221 yards, they were able to keep Michigan off pace holding them to 73 on the ground.  

Of course, the scoreboard went crazy in the second half.

TCU Head Coach Sonny Dykes was pleased with how his team hung in.  He said, 

“Every time we started to get on our heels a little bit defensively, all of a sudden it’d be a three and out. We get the ball back on offense, score and put a little distance between us and Michigan.”

The Frogs were opportunistic in taking two interceptions back for touchdowns and that arguably was the difference. 

Second half aside, there is a lot to learn from this game and the TCU defense.  With a trend back to bigger personnel on offense, many of the defenses that sprang up to stop the spread are being attacked in different ways.

TCU defensive coordinator Joe Gillespie did some good things throughout the game and as Coach Dykes noted, the Frogs made stops when they were desperately needed.

Maybe “spread defense” is not dead, it just needs to evolve.  The 3-3-5 is still a winning defense on all levels and as all good offenses or defenses are, it intends to maximize the talent available on any roster.

Linebacker coach at Iowa State Tyson Veidt explains why the Cylclones moved to the Odd Stack.  It started with Coach Matt Campbell identifying the best talent that he wanted on the field. Coach Veidt tells the story as well as the benefits they see in playing the defense.

Like Iowa State, it’s probably easier to find the linebacker type than it is to find the bigger, dominating DL.

But what will that look like against big personnel? Iowa State has had to play those types of teams, especially in facing their instate rival Iowa every year.

In this 22-personnel play, the Cyclones use their speed and athleticism against a double-tight I formation to come up with the stop as Coach Veidt illustrates:


As you know, facing big personnel is nothing new to the 3-3-5 defense.

Mike Moon, head coach at Oxnard Pacifica, used the 3-3-5 to help his team to a CIF State Championship in 2019.  He knows exactly what he is looking for in each position as he has certain criteria.  He explains it here:


Coach Moon is also faced with facing 12 personnel. A formation becoming popular as more bigger offensive bodies make their way onto the field is a spread-wing formation.  He explains how they align to defend it from the 3-3-5 here:


Rob Eggerling is the defensive coordinator at Southern Connecticut (NCAA D2) and uses the 3-3-5. He starts the design of his attack by defining a successful play.  He identifies the five elements here:


If you haven’t faced 21 in a while, you certainly need to prepare for it.  More and more teams are going back to these sets even if only in a package.  Here is how Coach Eggerling aligns against a 2-personnel Pro set:


Of course, any defense today has to be prepared to defend 11 Personnel.  A team may present a spread set and then bring the tight end in.  In this example, they play against a shift here and then redeclare their blitz. Coach Gillespie points out that once players declare their assignment, they keep it.  They can redeclare against a shift, but motion does not affect it. This keeps everyone assignment sound:


Looking back at last Saturday's game, there certainly was a lot of bend in the TCU defense.  In a game of this caliber, teams will score and gain yards and come up with big plays.  TCU came up with enough.  They also provided an example of how to utilize athletic players and get them running and using their speed and quickness.

Whether the 3-3-5 is for you starts with understanding your personnel and putting them in positions to utilize their talent successfully.  That is true no matter what defense you run.

We hope you took away some things from this game.  The presentations of these coaches we highlighted can be found in a bundle here - Coaching the Dynamic 3-3-5 Defense.

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