It’s the question that’s plagued Alabama dating back to the postseason a year ago and continues to hamper the Crimson Tide offense this season.
Against good defenses, UA’s offense nosedives on third downs. That’s not particularly shocking considering that nearly every offense is going to underperform its statistical average against a good defense. But when Alabama faces a top 60 defense (ranked by yards allowed per play), the numbers are telling.
For the season, Alabama converted 61 of 147 third-down attempts (41.5 percent). Half of those games, however, came against top 60 defenses and the statistics tell the story. Against those teams, the offense converted just 29.3 percent (22 of 75). That includes games against No. 9 Auburn (3 of 11), No. 14 Florida State (3 of 16), No. 18 Fresno State (4 of 10), No. 26 LSU (5 of 14), No. 39 Mississippi State (3 of 10) and No. 50 Texas A&M (4 of 14). Those national rankings are measured by yards allowed per play.
It’s the same problem Alabama ended the season with a year ago and began the season with this year.
Against Washington and Clemson in the College Football Playoff last season and against Florida State to begin this season, Alabama’s third-down woes resulted from unfavorable down and distance. In those games, UA averaged 9.3 yards to do on third down.
Down and distance wasn’t as pronounced a problem in the last game against Auburn, in which the offense went 3 of 11 on third downs. Throw out a third-and-22, and the average distance to gain was third and five. Yet Alabama still only completed 22 percent of its third-down chances.
Asked what the key is to improving in that area and sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts gets simplistic. He said it’s execution.
That’s true of every play in a football game, but that’s as far as Hurts would go in his description.
“Just execution. That’s the key to the game,” Hurts said. “Execution, we’ve got to do a better job of it.”
And what does that entail exactly?
“Execution, fundamentals of the play,” Hurts said. “Like he says all the time and that’s the truth of it, you have to do your job.”
During his Friday night press conference, UA coach Nick Saban was asked how much time he’s spent since the Auburn game self scouting his team’s third-down tendencies on both sides of the ball. Due to his schedule and having to deal with an early signing period in recruiting, Saban said essentially none.
“You know, I’ve been recruiting every day, and I’ve been watching Clemson on the airplane,” Saban said. “I don’t know how many miles I went on the airplane. We are evaluating that. We did do a self scout on that and we will try to address it. But there’s only so much we can do. We’ve been really focused on recruiting for the last three weeks, and now we’ll go back and focus on football and hopefully we’ll do a better job in that area.”