The University of Mississippi offense is a piece of modern football art. It’s creative, it’s explosive, it’s entertaining and most importantly, it scores. Lane Kiffin’s renovation of the playbook paired with the emergence of Matt Corral has given the Rebels one of the nations top offenses. When in control of the ball, Ole Miss looks like a national title contender, but when the defense takes the field, it’s a completely different story. The Landsharks have allowed 119 combined points in their three SEC matchups this year. That’s a 40 points per game average. The Rebels suffer from a lack of scheme diversity, making their packages predictable and their playbook limited.
As their base defense, co-coordinators Chris Partridge and D.J. Durkin deploy a 3-2-6 look. This package, commonly known as the “dime” defense, puts an emphasis on stopping the pass by loading the field with six defensive backs, but leaves the box exposed to the run with just five bodies. Running against a five-man box immediately gives the offense an advantage in numbers, as they can man-block without worrying about leaving a free tackler. This is a look most teams show just a few times per game in must-pass scenarios. This is to ensure offenses can’t convert in third-and-long scenarios, but it is not uncommon to see Partridge and Durkin use this personnel grouping for an entire drive.
Despite being effective in prevent situations, the dime defense is inherently bad against the run. This allows offenses to confidently run the ball on early downs for four to six yards per carry, which sets up high percentage third down conversions. The Rebels overuse of this formation has hurt them accordingly, as they’ve allowed 782 rushing yards in their three SEC contests this season.
While Ole Miss currently sits at 5-1, they play a risky game by allowing teams to control the clock and eat up rushing yards, especially in a conference that has pulled almost half of all five-star running backs in the past four recruiting cycles. Running this formation as a base defense is a gamble.
Essentially, this is the coaching staff putting full faith in the offense and saying “Yes, we will concede points on long drives, but our offense can score fast and often.”
The idea behind this is that the six defensive backs will not allow big plays, forcing offenses to run long drives. While this gives the opponent complete control of the clock and a steady source of ground yards, it means that there are more chances for them to make a mistake and surrender a sack or a turnover. Getting behind the chains against dime defenses is rare, but very difficult to crawl back from. Despite having easy yards on the ground, the emphasis on the pass game makes it hard to pick up large chunk plays through the air. This is where the Ole Miss coaching staff is putting their trust in the offense. They’re okay if they surrender 40 points a game, as long as the defense is able to come up with one or two stops a game because there is an assumption that the offense is going to be able to put up points on every possession, successfully outscoring opponents.
While it may be tough for fans to turn on the TV every Saturday just to watch their team surrender control of the trenches, it is part of a deeper game plan which places little emphasis on the defense’s short term success. However, for this gameplan to work they need near perfect execution from their offense, and particularly their quarterback. So far, Matt Corral has come through on these expectations, gaining 2,178 yards from scrimmage and 22 touchdowns while throwing just one interception. In all honesty, this is the best Heisman case for Corral. While other players may match his talent level or statistics, there is not a player in college football who not only carries the responsibility of Corral, but also delivers.