“Defenses always come around.”

I give Dennis Dodd credit — give me a lede with Joe Lee Dunn in it, and I’ll read the whole deal.

The seeds of college football’s most popular defense reside in the recesses of a 75-year-old coaching mind. Joe Lee Dunn’s time has largely come and gone, but the game owes the coaching veteran something more than a passing mention heading into the 2021 season.

It owes him a place in history.

Dunn is credited with helping refine the 3-3-5 “Stack” defense.

There’s a certain amount of throwing stuff up against the wall to see what sticks, but this does appear to be the defensive philosophy du jour:

A “hyper-light” box is a three-man front that breaks down modern spread defenses to an essence: stopping the run with as few people as possible. The fewer the better to defend the pass downfield.

Of course, this, just like about every strategy, has its tradeoffs.

The disadvantages?

Verticals: The best way to beat the Stack is for all the pass catchers to run straight streaks toward the end zone. “It always comes down to the four verts,” one former Big Ten defensive coordinator said. “How are we going to cover four verts?”

Pressure … or lack of it: With only three down linemen to confront, offensive lineman can outnumber the defense.

Stopping the run: With that many defenders at the second and third level, savvy offensive coordinators will simply run the ball and physically dominate.

Sure sounds like when you come back to it, the Jimmies and Joes still matter the most.  This, too, though.

“Obviously, they’re scoring more points [these days],” Long said. “It’s much more difficult to stop, partially because of rules. You can’t touch quarterbacks. … The rules are such that the defense could be aggressive enough to slow people down, but you can’t intimidate anymore. You have to be more finesse because very few people are lining up trying to pound the ball. Nobody’s patient.”



Filed under Strategery And Mechanics

21 responses to ““Defenses always come around.”

  1. The 3-3-5 is really a 4-man front because that 3rd linebacker typically has his hand in the dirt as a pass rushing specialist.

    The real problem for defenses is how tilted the rules are against the defense. Clean hits are now dirty and worthy of ejection. Receivers can practically do almost anything without getting called while defenders can’t put a hand on a player. Linemen can go downfield robbing LBs of their key run-pass read. One foot down with these athletes practically makes the field 6 feet wider. Holding is only called in the most egregious circumstances now. Finally, you can do everything right and have the QB get outside the pocket and intentionally ground the ball legally.

    No wonder everyone wants to play offense now, and coaches put their best athletes on offense.

    Now, get off my lawn.

    Liked by 8 people

    • HirsuteDawg

      Holding isn’t even called for the most egregious circumstances. Refs only use it when they are trying to keep things entertaining or to make sure their/the client wins.

      Liked by 2 people

    • miltondawg

      The college ineligible receiver downfield rule is, to me, one of the most frustrating things about the college game. There are a few factors as to why the RPO game in the NFL isn’t nearly as successful as in college, but the biggest is that in college the ineligible OL can in theory be three yards downfield. The bigger problem is that it isn’t uncommon at all to see OL in college engaged with a defender more than 3 yards down the field when there is a forward pass and the NFL is much stricter in the enforcement of their rule. If they’d enforce the rule like they do in the NFL and cut the downfield from 3 to 2 or even 1 yard, that would go a long way to even the playing field between offenses and defenses in college. Hell, even leaving it at three yards and strictly enforcing it with a 10 yard penalty rather than a five yard penalty would be better.

      Liked by 3 people

    • gastr1

      Your lawn is right on the money.


    • Great post. I like your lawn.

      The real problem for defenses is how tilted the rules are against the defense.

      Right on the money. I’ll add one important rule change, Illegal Use of Hands.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hogbody Spradlin

    There was a time when we thought nothing could ever stop the triple option (to his dying day Erk said it was the hardest to defend), but defenses caught up. But this is different. Like eethomas says above, the rules favor offense. Is there a willingness to change them to re-balance offense and defense?


    • Down Island Way

      Mr. Cine says “let the opponent meet the turf, pick up the body parts later”….


    • Biggen

      This is also my line of thinking. People keep saying “defenses will catch up”. I don’t think so. Not with the way the rules are crafted today.

      I like the NFL rule that requires two feet in bounds for completion. That would help the defense out some.

      Liked by 1 person

    • HS, I doubt they change any of the rules although I could see them bringing in the 2-feet down rule and the ineligible downfield. Holding and OPI just need to be enforced in accordance with the rules.


      • I would also say with OPI and ineligible downfield, they should make the penalties a loss of down as well. It’s worth it for linemen to push the envelope on going downfield. OPI should be the equivalent of a QB sack.


        • miltondawg

          Or on ineligible receiver downfield, actually just strictly enforce it and make the penalty 10 yards rather than 5 or as you mention 5 yards AND loss of down.


          • You could even go one step further and say that the offensive version of a defensive penalty that carries an automatic first down is a loss of down. Therefore, defensive holding (which I believe includes an automatic first down) would be a loss of down for the offense. A personal foul on the offense would carry a loss of down.

            Liked by 1 person

    • Gaskilldawg

      Hogbody, college football games provide good ratings as they are. The rules makers know 42-39 games appeal to more viewers than 17-14 games.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Derek

      Defenses never caught up. The teams that ran that offense stopped acquiring the talent those teams who were running NFL style offenses could acquire.

      Erk was right and remains so.

      The days of headhunting qbs and receivers is over. The only answer is three run stoppers an edge guy and a back 7 that can run and tackle. They ain’t changing the rules.


    • biggusrickus

      No, they’re not going to help defenses. As far as I can tell, most fans prefer shootouts to defensive struggles.


  3. I think the biggest change they need to make is the lineman down field rule. That is impossible for the defense and really not fair in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. rigger92

    I agree that the rules benefit the O, but really, if the current rules are enforced properly, there wouldn’t be such an advantage.

    Liked by 1 person