The Mountaineer defense also is something the Bulldogs haven’t seen all season. West Virginia, under defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, runs a system that’s so strange that the two teams can’t even agree on what to call it.
Georgia’s coaches refer to it as a 3-5-3, meaning three defensive linemen, five linebackers and three defensive backs. The Mountaineers say they play a 3-3-5 and consider five of their starters defensive backs.
“They look like linebackers to us,” Bulldog offensive coordinator Neil Callaway said. “I think what it allows them to do is put a lot of speed on the field defensively.”
The Mountaineers lead the Big East in total defense (293.5 yards per game allowed) and scoring defense (16.3) and are eighth and 10th in the national standings of those categories.
“It’s just different from anybody we’ve seen,” Coach Mark Richt said. “Thankfully, we’ve had time to practice and prepare for it.”
West Virginia’s alignment allows them to bring eight players near the line of scrimmage in running situations and drop eight into coverage on passing situations without changing personnel. The Mountaineers are 13th in nation in rushing defense (99.3), but offensive tackle Dennis Roland said this week that Richt has told them to prepare to run the ball Monday.
Neutralizing nose guard Ernest Hunter, a 300-pound senior, will be the key to that, Callaway said. Hunter has only 22 tackles this year but was a first-team All-Big East selection because he clogs up the middle of the field so effectively.
“He’s a big strong guy. He doesn’t give much ground,” Georgia center Russ Tanner said. “He has some quick moves from one side to the other. Any head-up nose usually gets a double team. It doesn’t matter who the guy is. You’re going to have two guys on him with the scheme.”