Alabama will likely get physical vs. West Virginia's 'weird' defense
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. _ Although the University of Alabama football team pretty much knows what to expect when it faces West Virginia on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2), the same isn’t necessary true for when the Crimson Tide has the ball.
West Virginia uses what’s commonly referred to as a 3-3-5 stack, an unusual defensive alignment that many high schools are adopting to try and counter spread, no-huddle attacks.
“They play a pretty weird defense to me,” junior wide receiver Amari Cooper said. “I’ve never went up against that type of defense.
“They play an odd defense with three down linemen and two guys have to come for a receiver to be hot. So it’s something we are going to work all this week and we will get use to it.”
In its base form the West Virginia defense will have three down linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs with an extra safety. It’s designed to be unpredictable and tough for the quarterback to read at the line of scrimmage.
Its staples are different blitz packages, more zone coverage in the secondary, and the three down linemen must clog the running lanes.
“It’s definitely something we haven’t seen,” senior right tackle Austin Shepherd said.
That last part might be a bit of a problem for West Virginia as its starting defensive linemen are smaller than what Alabama’s offensive line sees in practice: Redshirt junior Kyle Rose (6 foot 4, 294 pounds), senior Dontrill Hyman (6-4, 288), and redshirt sophomore Christian Brown (6-2, 285).
Probably the closest comparison to a recent opponent was Texas A&M’s defense last season. The Crimson Tide tallied 568 yards of total offense, including 234 rushing on 37 carries despite its longest carry being just 16 yards. At the time T.J. Yeldon’s 149 rushing yards were a career-high (now second to his 160 against Mississippi State).
It’s the scheme the Mountaineers used both before Dana Holgorsen was named head coach and during his first season in 2011. However, that was Jeff Casteel’s last season as defensive coordinator and the job has had a revolving door since.
Last year, West Virginia ranked 101st in total defense and 90th against the run in a 3-4 scheme. Tony Gibson has since been named the program’s fourth defensive coordinator in as many years and former Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley – who resigned after not being named the head coach in 2012 — was hired as Senior Associate Head Coach.
Bradley’s position group during practices is the defensive line.
“They have eight starters back on defense,” said Nick Saban, although one of the eight has been suspended for Saturday’s game. “I thought watching them in the spring they were much improved on the defensive side of the ball.”