3-3-5: Atypical defense takes TCU to national title game

tcu defense
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

FORT WORTH, Texas — Sonny Dykes needed only about five minutes with Joe Gillespie to know that he wanted the defensive coordinator who wields an atypical 3-3-5 base scheme on his staff at TCU.

While utilizing the unorthodox lineup with three linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs, the Horned Frogs have played fast and free all the way to the national championship game in Dykes’ first season as their head coach.

“There’s still six people in the box,” said linebacker Johnny Hodges, who leads TCU with 81 tackles even after missing a game. “I guess it’s a little different. … From the outside eye, it might seem a little tough and hard to understand, but as a player it’s pretty easy to kind of gel into get and get used it.”

Fellow linebacker Dee Winters, a former high school receiver, had three tackles for loss and one of the Horned Frogs’ two interception returns for touchdowns in the College Football Playoff semifinal win over Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl. Dylan Horton, the 275-pound tackle who is the team’s sacks leader with 10 1/2 after four against the Wolverines, was a safety in high school when he was about 70 pounds lighter.

TCU (13-1) gets a chance Monday night to win its first national championship since its 1938 team run by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Davey O’Brien. The Frogs take on defending champ Georgia (14-0) at SoFi Stadium in suburban Los Angeles.

Was it Gillespie’s scheme or the coach himself that impressed the offensive-minded Dykes? Actually, it was a little of both after his SMU teams struggled the past three years against Tulsa, which had Gillespie as its defensive coordinator and didn’t run the more typical 4-3-4 scheme.

“Scheme catches your eye,” Dykes said. “When you’re in this business, you see a lot of film and you watch teams and you go, boy, that team looks really well-coached. … It was a difficult scheme to score points against, move the ball against consistently.”

Dykes and the Mustangs were 1-2 against Gillespie, held below their impressive season averages for total offense each time and reaching their season scoring average only once.

Iowa State is the only other team with a similar defensive scheme in the Big 12, a league filled with high-powered offenses. The Cyclones were easily the conference’s best defense, allowing 286 yards and 20 points a game this season.

The Frogs have long utilized five defensive backs with success in a 4-2-5 system with Gary Patterson, the former DC who won a school-record 181 games in 21 seasons as head coach. His departure from the school with four games left in the 2021 season came amid struggles on defense.

TCU has allowed 395 total yards and 26.4 points per game this season, significant improvements after giving up nearly 462 yards and 35 points a game while going 5-7 in 2021.

“It’s been quite the journey, from the time that we got here and the installation of the new defense,” Gillespie said. “You knew you had some good football players … I think the biggest deal at this point is that they’ve just done a tremendous job of really locking in and embracing the newness of everything.”

Horton said defensive linemen have different responsibilities in this scheme with only three of them in the game.

“We kind of have to hold gaps a little longer and double teams a little bit longer,” he said.

That allows the linebackers to run free a bit more; in the Fiesta Bowl, Winters had seven solo tackles and the pick-6.

“I think it’s just simplifying the defense, allowing us to play fast, just flying around,” Winters said. “Coach Gillespie preaches that we’re going to make mistakes, it’s inevitable. But he wants us to go out there and have fun. And he constantly reminds us at the end of the day it’s football and just play fast.”

The 51-year-old Gillespie spent the past seven seasons at Tulsa, the first four as linebackers coach before becoming defensive coordinator. That was his first college job, after 20 seasons at Stephenville High School in his Texas hometown, where he was an assistant for 13 years before becoming the head coach.

Dykes describes him as a great communicator with no ego and a coach with a bright future.

“He’s like a father figure. You just hope you can get coached by someone like him,” said Hodges, a junior transfer from Navy. “What you see on the field is how he acts, he always tries to stay calm and collected.”

Even with players flying to the ball from all over the field.

Georgia extends contract for AD Josh Brooks, plans two new football practice fields

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ATHENS, Ga. – On the heels of a second straight national football championship, Georgia has rewarded athletic director Josh Brooks a contract extension that ties him to the Bulldogs through at least 2029.

The athletic association board, wrapping up its annual spring meeting Friday at a resort on Lake Oconee, also announced plans for a new track and field facility that will free up space for two more football practice fields.

Brooks’ new contract will increase his salary to $1.025 million a year, with annual raises of $100,000.

The 42-year-old Brooks, who took over the athletic department in 2021 after Greg McGarity retired, called the Georgia job “a dream for me” and said he hopes to spend the rest of his career in Athens.

“I am extremely grateful,” Brooks said. “I got into this business 20-plus years ago as a student equipment manager. My first job at Louisiana-Monroe was making $20,000 a year in football operations.”

The Georgia board approved a fiscal 2024 budget of $175.2 million, a nearly 8% increase from the most recent budget of $162.2 million and the sign of a prosperous program that is flush with money after its success on the gridiron.

The school received approval to move forward with its preliminary plans for a new track and field facility, which will be built across the street from the complex hosting the soccer and and softball teams.

The current track stadium is located adjacent to the Butts-Mehre athletic facility, which hosts the practice fields and training facilities for the football program.

Georgia lost a chunk of its outdoor fields when it built a new indoor practice facility. After the new track and field stadium is completed, the current space will be converted to two full-length, grass football practice fields at the request of coach Kirby Smart.

“He wants to find efficient ways to practice, and there is a lot of truth to the issues we’ve had with our current practice fields,” Brooks said. “There is a lot of strain on our turf facilities staff to keep that field in great shape when half the day it is getting shade, so that has been a challenge as well. For our football program, it is better to practice on grass fields than (artificial) turf, so to be able to have two side-by-side grass fields is huge. It makes for a much more efficient practice.”

The new track and field complex, which will continue to be named Spec Towns Track, will also include an indoor facility, the first of its kind in the state of Georgia.

Iowa AD Gary Barta announces retirement after 17 years at Big Ten school

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa athletic director Gary Barta will retire on August 1 after 17 years at the university, the school announced Friday.

Barta, 59, is one of the longest-tenured athletic directors in a Power Five conference. He was hired by Iowa in 2006 after being the AD at Wyoming.

An interim director will be announced next week, Iowa said.

In September, Iowa hired former Ball State athletic director Beth Goetz to be deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer, putting her in position to possibly succeed Barta.

“It has been an absolute privilege and honor to serve in this role the past 17 years,” Barta said in a statement. “This decision didn’t come suddenly, nor did it come without significant thought, discussion, and prayer.”

“That said, I’m confident this is the right time for me and for my family.”

Iowa won four NCAA national team titles and 27 Big Ten team titles during Barta’s tenure. The women’s basketball team is coming off an appearance in the national championship game and the wrestling team is coming off a second-place finish at the NCAA championships.

Barta served as the chairman of the College Football Playoff committee in 2020 and 2021.

He faced heavy criticism over more than $11 million in settlements for lawsuits in recent years alleging racial and sexual discrimination within the athletic department.

Lawsuits filed by former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and associate athletics director Jane Meyer led to a $6.5 million payout.

Iowa had to pay $400,000 as part of a Title IX lawsuit brought by athletes after it cut four sports in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the agreement, Iowa reinstated the women’s swimming and diving program and add another women’s sport.

Iowa added women’s wrestling, the first among Power Five schools to compete this year.

A lawsuit brought by former football players alleging racial discrimination within the program was settled for $4.2 million last March, which prompted state auditor Rob Sand to call for Barta’s ouster.

“Gary Barta’s departure is a long time coming given the four different lawsuits for discrimination that cost Iowa more than $11 million,” Sand posted on Twitter.

The university did not allow taxpayer money to be used for the settlement with the former players.

Barta led Iowa through $380 million of facility upgrades, including renovation of Kinnick Stadium, the construction of a new football facility, a basketball practice facility and a training center for the wrestling teams.

Under Barta, Iowa has had just one head football coach (Kirk Ferentz), women’s basketball coach (Lisa Bluder) and wrestling coach (Tom Brands). All were in place when he arrived.

Barta has also come under scrutiny for allowing Ferentz to employee his son, Brian Ferentz, as offensive coordinator. To comply with the university’s nepotism policy, Brian Ferentz reports to Barta.