Alabama football improves third-down defense to beat Georgia, fix previous weakness

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

TUSCALOOSA — Georgia was well on its way to making a bad third-down defense even worse.

Alabama entered Saturday with what was already one of the worst third-down defenses in the SEC, allowing conversions 54% of the time. Then, the Bulldogs converted five of their nine third downs in the first half.

That changed as soon as the third quarter started. UA coach Nick Saban would argue that change has impact far beyond a win over Georgia.

Alabama’s defense, in allowing two conversions on seven attempts, shut the Bulldogs out in the second half to win 41-24 and reversed a few critical trends as they went.

Saban thinks third-down failures played a significant role in UA’s overall defensive struggles over the previous three weeks: allowing a Saban-era record 647 yards to Ole Miss and becoming the first UA defense since at least 2000 to allow more than 80 points in its first three games.

He points to third-down success as a way of limiting statistical output by sheer opportunity.

More important than the stops, were the fashion in which they came.

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The first half resembled UA’s more foundational problems of the three games prior. Georgia’s first two third-down conversions were products of isolating linebacker Dylan Moses, once against a running back with a head start and once against All-SEC caliber wide receiver George Pickens.

The Bulldogs were successful using the same route combination on a third down later in the half by finding a gap in front of deep safety Daniel Wright.

The third conversion was accomplished on a relatively simple mesh concept, also tasking the middle of UA’s defense with pass coverage. The final conversion, which went for a touchdown, saw cornerback Josh Jobe allow the receiver to get inside leverage, despite no interior safety help.

In the second half, it all changed.

Oct 17, 2020; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA; A swarm of Alabama defenders work to bring down Georgia running back Zamir White (3) during the second half of Alabama's 41-24 win over Georgia at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr/The Tuscaloosa News via USA TODAY Sports

If not for a run on third-and-1 moving the chains, Alabama would’ve stopped Georgia on its first four third downs, covering two pass attempts well and intercepting two more.

The first of those two interceptions, where Malachi Moore picked off a pass near the goal line, put Georgia away for good when combined with an ensuing touchdown.

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By then, the defense had gotten a taste of what it could be.

“We wanted to continue pressing on the pedal. Not give up, keep pushing,” inside linebacker Dylan Moses said.

That manifested itself in pass rush.

A stunt combination with linebackers Christian Harris and Will Anderson Jr. forced Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett IV to evade pressure, forcing him to throw the second interception.

Georgia’s final third-down attempt of the game was also forced short by pass rush.

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or bhudson@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson