FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Love it or hate it, the unique 3-3-5 stack defense West Virginia runs is something that has worked pretty well for the majority of the time coordinator Jeff Casteel has been with the Mountaineers.
Could it be the key to slowing down Clemson on Wednesday night in the Discover Orange Bowl?
"Teams don't see a 3-3-5 stack defense from week to week," West Virginia defensive end Bruce Irvin said. "I think it will be the difference for Clemson. They never experienced playing against a defense like this. Their offensive line is going to think it's kinda funny being there won't be anybody lined up over the two guard. It's going to be a good challenge, and it's going to be a very interesting matchup between these two teams."
Casteel was asked about the evolution of this defense during media availability. When he first started at West Virginia, the Mountaineers played more of an eight-man front. But then-coach Rich Rodriguez wanted the odd-man formation, and Casteel went about learning it from Wake Forest.
"I think when we first came here, we thought that we'd be able to maybe get a niche in recruiting where we were having to go and recruit some of the three technique, so we thought it might be easier to get the tweener type kids, linebacker, the 6-foot-2, 185, 190, 200-pound kid and let them grow into 230, 235-pound kids that could run. So we tried to get a niche that way defensively along with Rich bringing in the spread and trying to get a niche offensively that way. It's kind of grown from that.
"We can morph into a lot of different things, I think, out of it. So it's been good to us. Over the last eight, nine, 10 years we've been fairly consistent. So it's been good for us."
The stack features three down linemen and five defensive backs, and generally is faster, though smaller, than a more traditional defense. They can do many different things, and mainly want to confuse offenses with the different looks they present. Critics complain there is not enough beef up front to control the line of scrimmage, but when executed properly, the stack has plenty of physical linemen who have to be sound in gap control.
Now, no post on Casteel would be complete without the request question about his relationship with coach Dana Holgorsen — who inherited this staff when he was promoted to head coach during the summer. When asked about the staff's adjustment to Holgorsen's personality, Casteel said, "From a defensive perspective, we're doing what we've done at West Virginia for eight, nine years, so I don't think any of that has really changed a great deal.
"In terms of offensively, the up-tempo and those things, I think we were accustomed to that. We had done that when Rich was here, and we did it with Coach (Bill Stewart), also changed the tempo a little bit. So I don't think any of those things have really been that big of an issue."