Defining the Defense

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers implemented a new wrinkle in their defense last Saturday, and we're still struggling with what to call it.

The name of Mizzou's new defensive formation has yet to be decided upon, but what's not up for debate is how successful it was. Thanks to the wrinkle, the Tigers were able to put the clamps on the high-powered Indiana offense in the second half of Saturday's game. But just how effective was this change? Let's take a look at the numbers.

In the first half, Indiana's offense was able to gain 244 total yards on our defense, a very respectable output. After switching defenses at halftime, The Tigers were able to hold the Hoosiers to 200 total yards. That may not seem like a substantial difference, but a closer look reveals that half of Indiana's second half yards came on two plays. Take away Tre Roberson's 31 yard pass to Nick Stoner and his 68 yard pass to Shane Wynn and their total drops to 101 total yards. That's a 143 yard difference, which isn't too shabby.

So what exactly is this defense that stifled one of the nation's most effective offenses? Unsurprisingly, Chris Brown of Smart Football probably put it best:

The 3-3-5 defense starts with three down linemen, three true linebackers stacked behind those linemen, and five defensive backs. Those five include three in the traditional mold and two hybrid strong safeties/outside linebackers that can patrol the flats, blitz, stop the run or even cover receivers or tight ends in man coverage.

He goes on to explain the fundamentals behind this defensive concept:

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.

You can read more about the 3-3-5 and its roots in Brown's Grantland article here.

Steckel has said that the point of the formation shift was confusion. His goal was to field a defensive line that could befuddle the offense and shift the balance in Mizzou's favor, which definitely happened. Missouri's defensive linemen set up camp in Indiana's backfield and made themselves at home, but one of the biggest reasons for this has nothing at all to do with the formation. It has to do with our depth chart.

The smaller line allows Steckel to be a bit more flexible with what players he has on the field. Using this formation, Mizzou fielded seven different defensive lineman combinations that rotated constantly. Starting with the first series of the second half, our DL rotation went as such:

End Nose End
Michael Sam Matt Hoch Shane Ray
Harold Brantley (!!!) Lucas Vincent Kony Ealy
Sam Hoch Ray
Sam Vincent Ray
Ealy Vincent Sam
Markus Golden Hoch Ealy
Ealy Hoch Ray
Sam Hoch Ray
Sam Hoch Ealy
Sam Vincent Ealy

Substitutions came during nearly every lull in play, whether it was the beginning of a new defensive series or a stoppage in play due to an Indiana first down. This strategy helped keep the Tiger defenders fresh so they could continue to wreak havoc in the Hoosier backfield.

Steckel played coy when asked about how much his defense will utilize this wrinkle going forward, but its success will likely mean that this won't be the last we've seen of it. Because of this, we need to give this puppy an official name.

What do you think Tiger fans, what should we call our new defense?

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