The only thing that should concern Texas about UTEP's defense is that the Miners run a defense I can't recall a Mack Brown Texas team having ever faced before: the 3-3-5. There's only a handful of teams that run this defense at the D1 level, the most prominent being West Virginia. It’s more popular at the high school level than the collegiate level.
It was born partly out of necessity. It's easier to find little guys who can run than big guys who can run. Not every team has a Gerald McCoy or Roy Miller on their roster. If your defensive tackle is 6'2" 250, you need to find a defense that will allow him to play. It wasn't invented to combat the spread, but a lot of high schools use it for just that purpose.
The alignment of this defense consists of three down lineman lined head up over the center and tackles. If it's the Stack, the linebackers will then be 'stacked' behind the down linemen. The secondary consists of two strong safeties, two corners and one free safety.
The defensive linemen can be assigned two gaps, or they can be slanted to either side. Because UTEP is an attacking defense, the linemen will mostly likely be slanted. If the lineman is slanted, then the linebacker stacked behind him has the other gap. The strong safeties have outside contain responsibility, and the free safety is the safety valve. The corners most important job is pass defense, particularly man.
The standard pass defense is three deep zone with the corners and free safety having deep thirds, and the five other defenders having underneath zones. UTEP will play a lot of man though with all their blitzing.
1. More speed on the field. You have eight guys who can run to the ball. It helps prevent big plays in the running game, and gives the defense an extra man who can get into an advantageous pursuit angle if an opponent does bust through.
2. Don't need to substitute personnel against certain formations. Versatility is the name of the game. You can get eight players in the box or drop eight without making any substitutions. Change your front or your coverage with the same eleven guys on the field.
3. The confusion it causes for QBs and offensive linemen. Because hardly anyone runs it, it can be difficult for offenses to prepare. Pre-snap reads become more difficult for the QB because the defense is either balanced and not shaded to one particular side of the formation, or they are constantly shifting around with pre-snap motion. Because there are more second level players, it can be hard for the offensive linemen to reach them. And because any linebacker can rush the QB through any gap, it can lead to mistakes in pass protection.
1. The defensive linemen are usually undersized and thus might have a hard time covering both gaps or holding off a double team. The defense is certainly more effective at stopping outside running plays than it is inside plays because both guards are uncovered.
2. The two tight end sets are tough for safeties in the run game. Most safeties will have a hard time matching up against a larger tight end.
3. If you don’t have good corners who can play man, you’re going to give up big plays in the passing game. Mack Brown said UTEP blitzed about 75% of the time against Buffalo, and they gave up a lot of big plays in the passing game. So I’m not sure they have the cover guys to pull this defense off yet.
So what does Texas need to do?
1. Chris Hall needs to have a great game preventing the UTEP nose from getting penetration. If he can handle the nose one on one, we have a greater chance of success in the running game.
2. Colt McCoy needs to make the correct reads. UTEP will do a lot of shifting so McCoy needs to understand which defenders are actual keys and which ones are false keys.
3. Greg Davis needs to give them different looks. Don't let them get comfortable against one formation.
4. Be patient in the running game.