PULLMAN -- The Washington State Cougars opened the season in the 30-stack, or 3-3-5, and stuck with throughout Saturday's matchup with Idaho State. It wasn't necessarily planned, and the stack won't be the base package all season, but based on the look Idaho State was giving and the Bengals' fondness of the pass, the 3-3-5 was the ideal counter.
We've gone over the stack before, and you can get caught up right here. Essentially, it's a counter to the spread, with one defensive lineman replaced by a defensive back. For WSU, that meant more Casey Locker.
The standard alignment looks like this.
On this play, the linebackers aren't showing blitz, the defensive ends -- Toni Pole and Travis Long -- are lined up square over the tackles and Anthony Laurenzi is head-up on the center. Deone Bucannon and Tyree Toomer are both 10 yards off the line of scrimmage, as well. This is the base 30-stack look.
Same formation, different alignment. This time, Sekope Kaufusi and Alex Hoffman-Ellis are showing blitz, sitting in the gaps between the ends and tackle. CJ Mizell is still at his normal spot. The left and right corners are in press, with Casey Locker sitting off the slot receiver and Tyree Toomer in the box where the SAM would normally be.
Kaufusi and Hoffman-Ellis did come on a blitz, and Mizzell joined them on a designed delay. Just moments later, here's what we saw.
The three guys in yellow are lost. This screen-capture is my favorite.
That big red circle is where all three linebackers ended up. Two of them -- Kaufusi and Hoffman-Ellis -- meet at the quarterback and smother him with their hair while Mizell makes sure nobody gets loose. Toomer has flat responsibility and is sitting in the passing lane, cutting off one, and perhaps two, of the routes to the far side. Both the nickel corner and right corner have their men covered, and a defensive back has the running back covered just out of frame at the bottom.
So why Bill Doba, you might be asking. As the final seconds were winding down, Vince mentioned how the defensive philosophy resembled Doba's back in the day. Not necessarily the alignment or packages, but the underlying philosophy. The theory, both then and on Saturday, is to bring pressure and ask questions later.
From the start, Washington State brought pressure, using the speed of the linebackers in a variety of different blitz packages. For the past few years, we've seen a lot of zone coverage on the back-end while the Cougars bring just four up front. But those days may be coming to an end.
"It's got to the point where we feel like that's gonna be part of who we are on defense a little bit. We got some linebackers and some guys that can run and blitz," Paul Wulff said. "I think it could be a strength. [But] we're not gonna necessarily be like that all the time."
The problem with blitzing, which we saw on Saturday, is leaving the cornerbacks and safeties exposed. The blitz package has to get home, and get home quickly, else the defense is liable to be gashed. And those corners, who spent most of the game on an island, were gashed at times.
However, let's not throw in the towel yet. Nolan Washington, Daniel Simmons, Anthony Carpenter and Damante Horton each have talent, and the coaches are confident in their ability to play on the island. When they were beat, it was typically because they were a fraction of a second late getting their head around on Saturday, which is a correctable mistake, and one that occurs when cornerbacks are adjusting to working primarily in man.
While the troubles of the secondary may be cause for concern, I'm more pleased with the philosophy. WSU has speedy linemen that can get off the ball quickly and get upfield, as well as linebackers that can move in space and a secondary with plenty of depth at the moment.
Whether it comes out of a 4-3 or the stack, bringing pressure should be a welcome change for the fans. If the secondary can hold up its end of the bargain, we might see some continued improvement out of the WSU defense this year.