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The 1-2-3's of the exotic 3-3-5 defense

The 1-2-3's of the exotic 3-3-5 defense

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) Wanting a defense to match the unpredictability of his innovative offense, former West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez decided on a scheme that would employ three linemen and five players in the secondary.

To get an idea of how it might work, he took his staff on a tour of the South.

The first stop was Wake Forest to get a look at defensive coordinator Dean Hood's 3-3-5 formation. Next, they went to South Carolina to talk with Gamecocks coordinator Charlie Strong, also using five defensive backs in his base defense.

After that, it was on to Mississippi State to see Joe Lee Dunn, widely credited as being the father of the 3-3-5.

Rodriguez and his coaches then headed back to Morgantown and started working on their own version of the defense.

``We started studying it, took what we wanted from everyone else's ideas and it evolved from there,'' said Tony Gibson, a member of Rodriguez's staff at West Virginia from 2001-07. ``We just kept building it.''

Rodriguez stuck with the 3-3-5 defense, bringing it with him to Arizona, where he's in his first year and Gibson is his assistant head coach.

They're not alone.

A handful of teams across the country are using the 3-3-5, a version of the more familiar nickel defense designed to keep up with the influx of spread offenses in college football.

Jeff Casteel, Rodriguez's former defensive coordinator at West Virginia, is in charge of running the five-defensive-backs system at Arizona.

Rocky Long used the 3-3-5 in two years as San Diego State's defensive coordinator and kept the scheme when he became the Aztecs' head coach in 2011.

The Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks have had success with it this year, beating Arkansas in Little Rock and playing close games against Auburn and Baylor.

Western Michigan also switched to the 3-3-5 this season, Arizona State coach Todd Graham has used it at times in his hybrid, multi-formation defense, and Wisconsin goes to it about 30 snaps per game.

``You can show people different looks,'' said Strong, now the head coach at Louisville. ``Because it's a balanced defense, they don't know where to attack you from and they don't know where you're attacking from.''

Unpredictability is part of the 3-3-5's appeal.

The defensive linemen in the 3-3-5 tend to be smaller and more mobile, their main objective not to rush up the field, but to tie up blockers so the linebackers and safeties can fill the gaps and make tackles.

The secondary typically features a pair of cornerbacks and a free safety with two other safeties - Arizona calls them spur and bandit - who are often hybrid strong safeties/outside linebackers who can stop the run, play the flats or cover tight ends in man coverage.

The point of it all is to make the defense difficult to decipher.

With so many skilled players lining up in a multitude of spots on the field, it can be hard for offensive players to keep track of their assignments, particularly on zone-blocking schemes and pass protection.

The 3-3-5 also allows for a seemingly unlimited number of blitz options, whether it's a linebacker on a stunt, safety up the middle or a cornerback charging in from the edge.

``That was kind of the whole intent of this thing when people started: Where are they going to bring their fourth or fifth guy from?'' Gibson said. ``Everybody in our defense, we have a blitz for them at some point, with the field corner being the exception. Everyone else could come.''

Part of what makes the 3-3-5 such a good fit against the spread is that adjustments from the sideline, whether in personnel or play-calling, are often quick and easy because there are so many athletic, interchangeable players on the field.

Where it can get into trouble is against power-running teams with big offensive lines that can push the smaller linemen of the 3-3-5 back.

If the linemen get knocked off their spots, the gaps, which are already bigger than usual because there are only three down linemen, can become larger or filled with 300-pound behemoths, which smaller linebackers and defensive backs certainly don't want to see.

The 3-3-5 also puts a lot of pressure on defensive players to think on their feet.

The defense is designed to allow athletic players to charge around the field and make plays, but it doesn't do any good if they're going fast without a purpose. The players have to know what their assignments are and the tendencies of the offense out of each formation or they'll end up getting burned for a big play.

``You have to be intelligent because even though it makes it hard on the offense, it's more complicated for us as a defense,'' Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland said. ``You have to be keyed in to your assignments and your adjustments with what the offense shows.''

The defense isn't for everyone.

West Virginia ditched it when Casteel left for Arizona, Strong didn't take it with him to Louisville and Dunn, now coaching at McMurray, never turned it into a big-time success.

San Diego State gave up 90 combined points in losses to San Jose State and Fresno State, and Arizona has struggled defensively in Rodriguez's first season - 111th in total defense at 480.50 yards allowed per game - though that may have as much to do with the Wildcats' lack of depth as their scheme.

Still, the 3-3-5 can be effective when it's clicking, a novel approach that's tough to prepare for and keeps the opposition off-balance.

In an era when offenses have had the upper hand, anything that keeps teams guessing is worth trying.

---

AP Sports Writer Gary Graves in Louisville, Ky., and freelancer Benjamin Worgull in Madison, Wisc., contributed to this story.

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Bradley Beal's phantom foul and the Wizards' most important rally of the season

Bradley Beal's phantom foul and the Wizards' most important rally of the season

After calling an inconsistent game throughout the night, the referees made a decision with five minutes to go in Game 4 that nearly altered the entire series between the Wizards and Raptors.

DeMar DeRozan was chasing a rebound on the baseline and ran into Bradley Beal. Beal, who had a team-high 31 points, was levied a sixth and final foul with the score tied. 

Beal had unloaded for 20 points in 12 minutes in the second half, but now the Wizards would have to close it out without their All-Star shooting guard. Somehow, they were able to seal the win and tie the series.

Beal heard the whistle as he laid on the ground. He immediately hopped up and unleashed a tantrum that nobody could blame him for.

He jumped up and down, screaming at the referees, who had just called by all accounts a questionable foul and in a key moment of a playoff game.

Both Beal and head coach Scott Brooks were incensed and with good reason.

“I was beyond emotional, beyond mad, frustrated," Beal said. "I honestly thought they were going to kick me out of the game I was so mad, but I was happy they didn’t do that."

Beal is probably lucky the referees didn't take offense to his reaction because it continued when he was on the bench. He walked past his teammates and leaned over with his hands on his knees, still furious. Then he returned to the sideline to yell at the refs. Center Ian Mahinmi helped convince him to step back and cool off.

Beal has made a major difference in this series. He averaged 14.0 points in the first two games, both losses. He has averaged 29.5 points in Games 3 and 4, two Wizards wins.

Getting him out of the game was a major break for the Raptors, but they couldn't take advantage. The Wizards closed the final five minutes on a 14-6 tear. John Wall stepped up to lead the charge with eight of those points.

The Wizards still had one star on the court and he played like one.

“Just go in attack mode," Wall said. "When Brad went out, I knew I had to do whatever it took... I just wanted to do whatever, so that we could advance to Game 5, tied 2-2.”

Once Beal composed himself, his confidence grew in his teammates. He and Wall feel comfortable playing without each other because they have done so often throughout their careers.

This year, Wall missed 41 games due to a left knee injury. Two years ago, Beal missed 27 games. Early on in his career, he had trouble staying healthy. Now he is an iron man who played in all 82 games during the 2017-18 regular season.

Beal has grown accustomed to being on the floor a lot, but he realized he can still affect the game from the sidelines.

"I just gathered my emotions, gathered my thoughts and told my team we were going to win, regardless. I knew if we still had John [Wall] in the game I loved our chances," Beal said. "Face the adversity that I had to overcome, just gather myself and be a leader, being vocal and keeping everyone encouraged in the game.”

Wall and others did the heavy lifting in the end. The Wizards used Kelly Oubre, Jr. as the shooting guard with Beal out and he made key plays down the stretch, including a steal on Kyle Lowry in the closing seconds.

The Wizards were thrown a significant curveball and they overcame it to put themselves in good position now having won two straight.

“You have to have resolve to win in this league," Brooks said. "You win playoff games and you win playoff series with having that. We have that, and we have to continue to have that because we have to win two more games and one of them has to be on the road."

When it comes to the officiating, the Wizards deserve credit for their resilience and restraint early in Game 4. The Raptors had 16 free throws in the first quarter compared to the Wizards' four. Washington perservered and ended up with more free throws (31) than the Raptors (30) did for the game.

In Game 1, the Wizards appeared to be affected by a lack of foul calls. That came was called loosely by the referees, while this one was officiated tightly. Though Beal went off, the Wizards for the most part stayed the course and were rewarded for it.

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The Wizards supplied all the highlights and fireworks; 5 must-see moments from Game 4

The Wizards supplied all the highlights and fireworks; 5 must-see moments from Game 4

WASHINGTON -- As the home team in a dire situation you have to take advantage, and that is exactly what the Washington Wizards did in their 106-98 win over the Toronto Raptors.

Highlight reel play after highlight reel play, the Wizards ignited the crowd with some of their best plays from the entire season to make it 2-2 in the series. Here are just a few of them:

1. John Wall collects posters in the first half

The first one was perhaps the best. Everything was going wrong for the Wizards, poor turnovers, bad shots, a three from Toronto. Then John Wall had enough. Not only did he fly past his defender Kyle Lowry, but he went up and slammed one home past the 7-foot Jonas Valanciunas. Up until that point, the Wizards were shooting 1-for-7.

Rinse and repeat, except this time Jakob Poeltl was Wall’s victim.

2. Wall to Beal alley-oop in transition

With the Wizards’ offense faltering, the Raptors remained on the verge of blowing the game open throughout the second quarter. But with a steal from Otto Porter Jr., Wall hung up the ball for Bradley Beal to slam home. The alley-oop kept the Wizards within single digits in the second with an uninspiring offensive effort.

3. Otto Porter breaks out of the half

A subdued offensive start to the game was due in part to the production from Porter. In the first half he went 0-for-4 with one point in nearly 17 minutes of action.

Throw that away in the second half. He broke out of halftime with back-to-back threes and 10 of the Wizards’ 26 in a monster 26-14 run to take the lead back in the third.

He finished the quarter with 10 points, an assist, and two blocks.

4. The Polish Hammer throwing it home

Are you convinced yet that Marcin Gortat’s new haircut is doing him some good? Gortat squeezed through two Raptors’ defenders, threw it down, gave a Goliath-type roar to the crowd before officially bringing the hammer down. 

5. Beal being called for his sixth foul of the game

Agree with the call or not, there is no denying that Beal’s removal from the game lit a fire underneath the Wizards. From that point Washington went on a 14-6 scoring run to end the game, closing out for the win.

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