All told, the University of Alabama’s third-down defense was not disastrous last fall. Allowing conversions 35.68 percent of the time ranked 35th nationally; although it was UA’s worst national finish in third-down defense since 2014, it was better the national median of 39.12.
However, in individual games, it proved problematic. LSU converted 53.33 percent of the time in beating Alabama; Michigan found itself within a possession of UA after three quarters in large part to converting on third down 44.44 percent of the time.
Wednesday brings UA 66 days away from its season opener against USC, if played as currently scheduled. A look at the 66 times UA allowed a third-down conversion shows where UA has the most room for improvement in 2020.
Where UA allowed most of its third-down conversions was on run plays with three or fewer yards to gain, where the opponent converted 23 of 36 times. That percentage (63.8 percent) is tied for ninth among SEC teams but close to the league average, giving UA limited room for improvement. But the real room for improvement lies in the defense keeping itself out of third-and-short situations.
Going into the LSU game last season, half of the UA’s defense’s third downs had the offense needing to gain five or fewer yards, when it was allowing a conversion 56.1 percent of the time; compare that to third downs of more than five yards to gain, when it was only allowing a conversion 14 percent of time.
That being the case, granting fewer third downs with between one and three yards to gain is where UA has room for improvement; it did so a total of 53 times last season.
Finding improvement in third-down passing defense will not be as easy. UA was a top 20 defense in both third-down completion percentage allowed (48.5, 17th nationally) and third-down quarterback rating allowed (93.57, 11th). UA’s opponents only converted 30 times in their 103 third-down passing attempts (29.1 percent).