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Barry Odom’s Arkansas defense and how Ole Miss football can exploit it

Is there a secret to blowing up this scheme?

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Florida Gainesville Sun-USA TODAY NETWORK

It’s no secret Barry Odom’s Arkansas defense exposed Matt Corral last season by employing a 3-2-6 “drop 8” defense in a 33-21 win.

Odom guessed, rightfully so, the Ole Miss offense would rely too much on Matt Corral to make big plays down the field, and by featuring a sixth defensive back, Odom was able to capitalize off the pressure Corral felt to score on every drive. The normally efficient Corral threw six interceptions that day, and a few weeks later he struggled with LSU’s own version of the drop 8.

All offseason, we heard Corral had spent countless hours dissecting the drop 8 so that he could be prepared for games like this Saturday’s rematch against Arkansas. Louisville, Austin Peay, and Tulane each tried to attack him with variations of that defense. It didn’t work, as Corral used magnificent games against those inferior teams to launch a Heisman campaign that still has some hope remaining.

The question is, can he do it against the SEC’s best 3-2-6? Is he really better at understanding where that defense is susceptible and beating it?

While we don’t really have any way to answer that question yet, let’s take a look at what the defense is, what it succeeds against, and where it struggles.

So what is the 3-2-6?

The formation, also known as inverted Tampa 2, and somewhat recently brought back into prominence by Iowa State, makes a lot of sense in the era of wide open offenses that rely on getting the ball to playmakers in space. It also, theoretically, de-emphasizes defensive line recruiting, which is generally thought to be the most… um…. expensive recruiting around? Yes.

So here’s the basic look of this defense: obviously, there are three down linemen, two linebackers, and six defensive backs. This allows for easier matchups than when defensive coordinators try to force a 4-3 in covering four receivers. It also, in theory, defends a “tight end who is really just a big receiver” better than those which rely on figuring out what that TE will be doing on any given play.

When it is working, the five traditional in-the-box players force every play to the outside, allowing for safeties to clean things up. That’s what it does when it’s working.

When it’s not working, teams plow through it

Clearly, if the aforementioned five who are always in the box (often joined by one or more safeties) can’t get the ball to the outside, it can be disastrous. Think back to the Alabama game for Ole Miss or the UGA game for Arkansas. The Tide and Bulldogs feasted up the middle with its running game, and neither the Rebels nor the Razorbacks had an answer.

Ultimately, it’s obvious, right? If your five offensive linemen can adequately block, or at least account for, the five players they’ll see in the box every down, the defensive backs are the only ones who can possibly bring down your back. For Alabama and UGA, they’re going to take that trade every chance they can get. After all, UGA only attempted eleven passes and still managed to score 37 points. That’s pretty ideal for a defense trying to take on the 3-2-6.

So can the Rebels do it?

Well. Maybe. If the offensive line is able to dictate things on the line of scrimmage early in the game, here’s hoping Kiffin and Lebby rely heavily on Snoop Conner and Henry Parrish Jr. (as Jerrion Ealy is rumored to be out due to concussion protocol). Ole Miss fans have been clamoring for Snoop to play a lot more already this season, but this particular game is one in which he could prove pivotal. He’s the type of back who can punish Arkansas for playing with a lighter defensive unit.

As for when the Rebels do pass, which they’ll certainly be wont to do, Corral will need to take what is there. Generally, the 3-2-6 is excellent at preventing passes down the field, with the backs keeping everything in front of them. It’s susceptible to routes underneath, primarily due to the front three not typically getting adequate pressure, defensive backs having to prioritize receivers who clear out the field, and leaving check downs open in the flats. That’s not a fun offense to have to play, but hopefully it’s one in which Corral feels comfortable this season.