Mike Breske is up to some old tricks with Washington State’s new defense this Fall and he’s plugging in a veteran and a newbie to make it work. In the 3-4, the defense has the same amount of “in-the-box” defenders as in the 4-3, but the idea is much different. The concept of a 3-4 incorporates one more “athletic” defender on the field to use in coverage or out in space. Since the Cougs will actually be using their defensive ends at the Buck (or 4th linebacker position) at least a good portion of the time, the idea of an extra “athletic” defender goes by the wayside. However, the way the Cougar defense is constructed (with the inexperience at linebacker and a thin D-line because of the loss of Laurenzi) Travis Long and Logan Mayes are perfect for the role. They are more on the athletic side anyway and will also be able to plug in and rotate with the End positions, making it difficult for opposing coordinators to figure out where they will line up on any given down. Since Long will likely be the forerunner for offensive awareness, this is an extra piece they will have to figure out on a down-by-down basis.
A major advantage of the 3-4 is that you can send 2 blitzers instead of 1 and get the same 5 man rush as when you send 1 in the 4-3. The offensive line, while blocking the same 5 guys, now has to figure out where two extra bodies are coming from. This complicates things from an offensive standpoint because if Long or Mayes are in the game, you basically have defensive ends rushing from odd angles to get to your qb, and the idea of strategically double teaming or chipping (a player going out on a route taking a piece of a defender just to bother them) either one goes out the window.
Countless times over the past 3-4 seasons, I have seen the Cougars send 2 to 3 linebackers into the backfield, only to realize that our defensive backfield was incapable of giving them time to get to the quarterback. This resulted in touchdowns more often than not and it really didn’t matter where the offense was at, at the time. Now, the Cougars don’t have to send the farm to get the same “pressure”. It doesn’t even particularly matter if we get to the qb as much as that he has to think about and account for an extra body coming at him from a non-stationary angle just like the O-line does, but also has to find an extra body in coverage.
Of course all of this is taken with the knowledge that it’s all in theory until execution of the concept is made by each player on almost every down. Also, the difference in athleticism gap between the Cougs and the rest of the Pac-12 is still pretty wide, especially in the front 7. Not as wide as the it has been, but the loss of Kaufusi, Laurenzi and Mizell who were all every down players, really hinders the development of the Cougar defense. It’s also important to note that the difference between our defensive front 7 and the offensive front 7’s that we will face is even wider. We’ve heard good things about the replacements, but let’s not kid ourselves too much. A running back is playing linebacker, an offensive lineman is playing big downs on defense, we may have 2 freshman starters at linebacker (they probably should be redshirting and getting stronger this year) and the front 7 is littered with plug-and-play players that are going to be playing a majority of the downs. Tough to expect a decent transition to a new scheme under those conditions.
The biggest downfall for the Cougs is that there are bigger lanes that need to be filled against a running game, there are some really good running backs in the Pac-12 and that’s always been a Cougar thorn anyway because we don’t get the stoutest D-linemen to come out to Pullman. Still, with the passing nature of most of the teams we will be facing, it’s more important to be able to slow down the pass, so hopefully it works out that we can create enough turnovers and stop enough drives to give the offense a chance. In theory, because of the nature of the defense and its scheme, the move to the 3-4 actually gives us a chance to do that.