Unique defense will challenge Missouri football team

Thursday, September 16, 2010 | 7:29 p.m. CDT; updated 9:40 p.m. CDT, Thursday, September 16, 2010

COLUMBIA — Call it what you want — the stack, the 3-3-5, the Mustang — but whatever you name it, San Diego State's defensive setup is different, and it's built to combat Missouri's spread offense.

Rocky Long, San Diego State's defensive coordinator, created the 3-3-5 when he was defensive coordinator at Oregon State.

In 1998, Long became the head coach of New Mexico. It was there that Long's 3-3-5 defense turned Brian Urlacher from an end-of-the-bench linebacker into a "Lobo" and the ninth pick of the 2000 NFL draft. 

The 3-3-5 lines up fairly normally with two cornerbacks, two safeties (called Warriors at San Diego State) and three linemen. But instead of four linebackers, Long's defense only plays three. That leaves an extra player on the field to fill in where needed — the Aztec, as the position is now called at San Diego State.

The Lobo position Urlacher played was equal parts linebacker and safety — a hybrid that perfectly matched Urlacher's rare combination of size, speed and aggressiveness.

Long resigned as the head coach of New Mexico in 2008 and he took his 3-3-5 defense to San Diego State.

The 3-3-5 combats offensive speed with versatility. While a normal defense will substitute players in and out of the game to match the opposing offense, Long's 3-3-5 can adapt to an offense without having to substitute players. All Long has to do is change the role of the Aztec, who can play at the line of scrimmage to stop the run or in the secondary to stop the pass. 

Missouri's spread offense has always had an advantage against typical defenses. Playing six defensive backs to stop Missouri's potent passing game, such as Arkansas did in the 2008 Cotton Bowl, allowed the Tigers to run the ball with Tony Temple, who ran for 281 yards on that New Year's Day. If a team plays four lineman and three linebackers, the Tigers can be expected to use plenty of five receiver sets and a pass-happy Missouri game plan.

But the 3-3-5 is something different, and Missouri coach Gary Pinkel acknowledged on Monday that it would be an early-season test for his team.

"This is a real good football team, which I expected it to be, and it's going to be a challenge for us," Pinkel said.

Pinkel-led teams have a reputation for being upset by nonconference teams. Losses to Troy in 2004 and New Mexico in 2005 or the close call in 2009 to Bowling Green have tainted Missouri seasons.

This season, Pinkel said he is treating nonconference games with a newfound respect. After Missouri dominated lower-division McNeese State, Pinkel said that he was "scared to death" entering the game.

With San Diego State's unique defensive scheme ahead, it's not surprising that several Missouri offensive players said this week's preparation featured more video study.

Missouri has seen the 3-3-5 before. In 2005, the Tigers registered 490 yards total offense in a 45-35 loss to Long and New Mexico. Brad Smith ran for 165 yards and threw for 248 more in that game, making Missouri's defense, not Long's, the problem for the Tigers. 



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