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"Mustang" 3-2-6 Formation Dominant in LSU Victory, Tigers Now 3-0

Chief = "Mustang" Mastermind
Photo via ESPN
LSU starts off their home campaign with an impressive 29-7 victory over Mississippi State.

The offense was average and the quarterback play was better from Jordan Jefferson, despite the numbers not saying so.

But the defense dominated. This defense is really really really good. Like really good. And they have the best defensive formation in the country in the 3-2-6 dime package.

Or, what the defense identifies as the "Mustang" package.

The formation has transformed LSU's defense, making it almost a defensive form of the spread. This makes defense exciting, forcing sacks and turnovers left and right on the field.

I mentioned it before the game how much the formation would be run against eh Bulldogs. Defensive Coordinator John Chavis called it up every time, and, if I'm not mistaken, all LSU turnovers came out of  that set.

Dan Mullen after the game told me what he thought of all the different looks LSU gave him. He said his team expected it and they just didn't execute.

I also spoke with Morris Claiborne, Patrick Peterson, Stefoin Francois and Kelvin Sheppard after the game. They all pretty much had the same answer about the "Mustang" package.

It can't be stopped.

The formation is a complicated one. Sheppard said most of the credit should go to "The Chief."

"The schemes that he (Chavis) draws up are very hard to defend," said Sheppard. "It's all of us together working as a unit."

Francois also feels comfortable running a complicated scheme.

"With our speed, we blitz a lot," said Francois. "It causes confusion. Nobody can figure it out."

For those that don't understand what "3-2-6" actually stands for, the first number represents the number of defensive lineman on the field, the second number is linebackers and the third are defensive backs.

But the Bulldogs aren't the first victims. LSU had much success running the formation versus North Carolina.

Let's do what we do best at HKT, break down games, players and formations...

What the defensive lineman do. The "3" in the formation. 

The best thing about this group is their athleticism. And the formation is one that allows the defensive line to not have to think but just play.

With blitzes coming from all over the formation, all the LSU front three have to do is shoot their respected gap. It allows them to pin their ears back and forces offensive lineman to go one on one against the likes of Drake Nevis and company.

Because the formation is used on third down most of the time, LSU's depth at the position allows pass rushing specialists Sam Montgomery and Kiki Mingo to sub in with fresh legs. Montgomery and Mingo both said early last week that double-digit sacks for them this year is not out if the question.

What the linebackers do, the "2" in the formation.

In a formation such as the "Mustang," every player must not be fast but have to play fast. And no position is it more important to play fast in the formation than at linebacker.

The linebackers are the most important unit in this formation, because this is LSU's only unit that has very little depth.

It all starts with Sheppard, who is the starting "Mike" or middle linebacker in LSU's base 4-3 formation. Sheppard's responsibilities are rather simple as well, but very tough to execute.

Sheppard smiled when I asked him about this hit.
Photo via
It goes without question that Sheppard is the team's best tackler. He stays in the middle of the field on "Mustang" just in case the team runs the football and it gets to the second level. But when Chavis allowed him to blitz the A-Gap (the space between the guard and the center), Sheppard had a field day on Bulldog quarterbacks.  

I came into this season skeptical of Francois playing linebacker. Though he has not played a team that can pound the ball, he has held his own so far this year.

Chavis said at LSU Media Day about how much speed Francois and linebacker Ryan Baker possess for linebackers. In the formation, both do a great job of playing the other linebacker position opposite Sheppard. Baker is a slightly better tackler and Francois, being a former defensive back, is better in coverage.

Because the two defensive backs that cover the slot receivers blitz about half of the time, the linebackers have to cover the space vacated by the blitzing nickel or dime back. This requires a lot of running from linebackers.

"That's exactly what we do," Francois told me after a lengthy talk about the linebacker's responsibilities. "We have to cover a lot of ground. But we have the speed to do it."

This position is one that doesn't receive plenty of glamour. They hardly ever blitz and often have to stay disciplined in coverage in all situations.

What the defensive backs have to do, the "6" in the formation.

Ummmm....Where to start? There is so much that goes on in the secondary. To make it easy, let's start with Peterson, LSU's best player.

Anybody that watched "Hard Knocks" would know how badly the New York Jets wanted Darrelle Revis back in camp as soon as possible. They knew how much an elite lockdown corner can help a team.

The same goes for Peterson. Whenever Chavis "brings the house," Peterson will be the one who locks down the opposite team's best receiver with no safety help. Against MSU, he admitted that he "baited" the quarterback into making the throw for his first interception.

But hey, Peterson can help any defense. He knows it too.

The corner opposite Peterson is Claiborne. He has credited most of his success to Peterson this year. But both of his interceptions versus Mississippi State were both a byproduct of the "Mustang" defense.

His first interception came off another house blitz. LSU played straight man-to-man, zero coverage (no safety help). Claiborne told me after the game his man on the play stayed in the backfield. He then immediately ran back to help his other defenders in coverage. As the previous picture shows, the blitz got to Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf. He threw the ball up for grabs, and Claiborne's heady play earned himself an interception.

The safeties in this defense also play a critical role.

Strong safety Brandon Taylor's ability in the open field is astonishing for his size. What he lacks in pass coverage he makes up for in the running game. Taylor is one player who doesn't really benefit too much from the "Mustang" unless he blitzes.

LSU has started three different players at free safety. Jai Eugene started versus North Carolina, Craig Loston started his first career game versus Vanderbilt and Karnell Hatcher got the nod against Mississippi State.

Hands down the most productive player was Hatcher. He is a great tackler and seems to always be around the football. Loston has the most upside and Eugene is almost a lost cause. Expect every time #4 is on the field that Chavis rolls him deep pre-snap into Cover One because Eugune has been burned so badly during his time in the Bayou.

The free safety has to do a great job of not giving away his hand before the snap begins. He also has to be able to break quickly on the football while it's in the air.

The biggest beneficiary of the whole defense are the nickel and dime backs. The best part of this position is that it can be played by any defensive back. But the first name that comes to mind is Tyrann Mathieu.

Mathieu is lethal coming off the corner
Photo via IndiaTimes
Mathieu comes of the edge when called upon to blitz with no regard to human life. He is often times the blitzer. He nearly ended the game versus North Carolina and really lit a fire into Mississippi State. It doesn't even seems like he tries to tackle the quarterback. Instead, he just runs into the quarterback to force a massive collision.

The other defensive back has been played by numerous players. Ron Brooks, Derrick Bryant and even Peterson has played the dime/nickel position. They nickel and dime back pretty much have the same responsibility. It all depends on Chavis' call.

What's great about this defense.

With all the pre-snap movement that goes on, it is extremely difficult for quarterbacks to read and/or audible. Remember, T.J. Yates, Larry Smith and Relf all had experience going into their games against the Tigers.

"Mustang" has forced a majority of the Tigers sacks and turnovers this season. It always helps when an offensive line doesn't know where the pressure is coming from.

During the game versus Mississippi State, Chavis began to use the formation on first and second down. Mullen recognized the three man front, and, like every smart coach would do, called running plays.

LSU did surprisingly well against the run. They challenged bigger players at the point of the attack, and forced running plays backwards instead of forward.

Can any team exploit "Mustang" on LSU's schedule?

West Virginia, Auburn and Florida can all easily have success against the "Mustang" package. All three are way better offenses than what LSU has faced so far.

Richardson is not nice to linebackers.
Photo via
But Alabama can crush LSU if it tries "Mustang" on first and second down.

The first time I saw LSU run this formation was against Alabama last season in the first quarter. It worked, which still makes me scratch my head why Chavis didn't try it more often.

Maybe it was because Alabama's offensive line and Mark Ingram began crushing LSU in the running game in the second half. This year, the offense for the Crimson Tide is even better. They can easily get to the second level against any set for the Tigers, making Taylor, Francois and Baker having to tackle Trent Richardson and Ingram.

I'll take Bama's duo in that situation.

Arkansas is also a team fully capable to finding cracks in the system.

The Hogs have the best set of skill position players in the conference, barely edging out Alabama. In the passing game, if there was a weakness in "Mustang," it would be the middle of the field. Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell had a good chance to hit Chad Bumphis in the second half on a post but overthrew him.

D.J. Williams could be the best tight end in the conference. Wide receiver Joe Adams tore up Georgia on slants and drag routes as the number two receiver when he was in man coverage. And that Mallet guy isn't a bad gunslinger himself.

The LSU defense needs to keep on flying around to make plays. Every time I asked a defensive player about playing the 3-2-6, their eyes lit up.

If the Bayou Bengals can continue to force teams into 2nd & 3rd and long, the more Chavis can run this package. That means more turnovers, big plays and great field position for the Tigers.

Wow, I now I officially hate the word "Mustang." I feel like I just wrote a column about SMU Football


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