Ian Boyd checks out the 8-3 defense, sort of a bastard child of the 3-4, and likes what he sees.
The branding of modern varieties of the 3-4 as the 8-3 reverses that trend by defining the defense around the eight players standing up in the defensive backfield.
Teams relying on these types of schemes, such as Boise State, BYU, West Virginia, or now Missouri can play eight-man coverages, any number of four-man rush/seven-man coverage zone or man defenses, zone blitz, or bring the heat and back it up with man coverage and zero deep help.
The goal in finding and developing personnel is to find players that can perform as many roles in the defensive backfield as possible and having positional rules that will allow players to compartmentalize and play in multiple defenses.
The obvious advantage of having eight defenders standing up before the snap is that it’s hard for the offense to know exactly what you’re going to be doing. So long as an 8-3 defense has simplified rules and a compartmentalized approach, in which players learn a few different roles in the defense and fill them in different calls, it’s possible to throw a lot of different defenses at the offense.
The approach is to turn traditional defensive scheming on its head.
The natural response of many defensive coaches against the spread is to recruit speed and find ways to play sound defense while hoping for the offense to shoot itself in the foot or turn the ball over at some point along the way to the end zone.
The more skilled spread attacks are totally unafraid of this approach since it allows them to zero in on weaknesses, put defenders in conflict with the option, and do exactly what they practice every day to do. It’s becoming less and less of a good bet that college players will be unable to sustain drives if you hole up and dare them to come after you unless you are recruiting NFL athletes at most positions.
The 8-3 is going to find more and more usage from defensive coaches that prefer to attack the offense, dictate what they’re able to do, and try to see if college players can handle facing a defense that forces them to think through both their own options as well as those of the defensive coordinator.
Making a HUNH offense think about what the defense is doing… that’ll slow things down more than a 10-second substitution rule.
There is a catch, though. (There’s always a catch.)
While the spread looks to use space and options to attack their opponent rather than size up front, the 8-3 defense eschews trying to “line up sound and make ‘em beat us” and instead looks to win on a mental level through disguise, dictation, and disruption.
It’s ultimately a 3-4 defense in terms of positions on the field and pre-snap alignment, but instead of matching power up front with two-gapping DL, the 8-3 is defined by the eight stand-up players will shift around to assume different roles. [Emphasis added.]
The 8-3 sounds like a great way to put a spread offense on its heels, mentally speaking, but a power offense would be licking its chops. This puts me in mind somewhat with what John Thompson did with his defensive linemen before the snap when he was Spurrier’s defensive coordinator. That lasted one season.
Don’t get me wrong. I think there’s definitely something to this. But as a base defensive scheme in the SEC, even with all the offensive evolution we’ve witnessed over the past three of four seasons, I’m not sure how the 8-3 would hold up through a complete season. I guess I’ll need to watch Missouri’s defense more carefully this year.