What situational weakness Alabama football can exploit vs Auburn defense in Iron Bowl

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

Defensive regression from Auburn football was a fair expectation after it had three defenders selected in the first two rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft. The lapse has been particularly severe in one specific aspect that No. 1 Alabama is well-positioned to exploit Saturday.

Auburn has allowed opponents to convert 53.2% of their third downs, ranking 13th in the SEC and 118th nationally out of 127 teams. The situational struggles mesh with a situational success for Alabama’s offense, as the Crimson Tide ranks third nationally in third-down conversion rate at 58.44%. 

Auburn is not drastically worse against the run or the pass, and the same can be said for short- and long-distance situations.

Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) attempts to fend off a tackle by Auburn defensive back Jeremiah Dinson (20) during the Iron Bowl in Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019. Auburn defeated Alabama 48-45. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

The true damage comes in how often Auburn allows third-down conversions to become much bigger than a new set of downs.

In Auburn’s first game against Kentucky, the Wildcats racked up 42.7% of their total yards on third downs, despite third downs making up 24.3% of total offensive plays.

Last week, Tennessee — one of the least explosive offenses in the SEC, 10th in plays of 20 yards or more — had five such plays against Auburn, three of them coming on third down. For the season, of the 26 plays of 20 yards or more Auburn allowed, nearly half of them (11) have come on third down.

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Auburn is still sixth in the SEC in yards per play allowed and third in scoring defense, largely due to defensive pressure that has forced seven interceptions and 22 pass breakups.

“I mean, for the secondary, I just feel like we got to do a better job challenging receivers,” Auburn defensive back Smoke Monday said after last week’s game. "I feel like we just gave too much cushion every now and then. I feel like if we tighten it up, we’ll be one of the best secondaries in the country.”

In scouting Auburn’s defense, Alabama sees more of the problematic pressures than it does the situational flaws.

“They do a little bit of everything,” UA quarterback Mac Jones said. “In crunch time, (Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele) is gonna call great plays, we saw that last year. He likes to heat up the quarterback a little bit. Everyone's philosophy is gonna change game to game, but from a structural standpoint, all the people on their defense know where to line up, they know how to cover people and how to make plays, and he obviously probably is the mastermind behind that.”

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson