Third-down conversions are one of the most-talked-about stats when discussing how to beat Alabama. Keep Jalen Hurts and the offense off the field by converting third downs. Sounds simple enough, right?
Alabama’s defense has done well on third downs this season; the Tide ranks 14th nationally in third-down conversion defense at 30.9 percent. But the performance in that department in the past two games have caused concern for Nick Saban.
Two weeks ago, LSU was 9-of-19 on third down, which helped the Tigers enjoy an eight-minute time-of-possession advantage on the Tide. LSU ran 63 plays and Alabama 60. This past Saturday, Mississippi State was 8-of-15, ran 16 more plays than the Tide (73 to 57) and had the ball for almost 18 more minutes.
“I️ think we need to play the run better, but I️ also think we played two teams that were committed to being able to run the ball and they ran the ball better than we liked,” Saban said Monday. “At the end of the day, when you do the stats on the last game, they had 3.5 or 3.8 yards per carry, which is not really that bad. They just did it a lot, and what creates those situations – and I’m going to go back to it again, which nobody seems to have the same concern about – is when you have them third-and-7 and when you have them third-and-8, when you have them third-and-9, when you play teams that run the ball like that, you’ve got to get off the field so you don’t give them a new set of downs so they (can’t) keep 3- and 4- and 5-yarding you to death.
“And when you have teams that can create extra gaps because the quarterback runs, it’s difficult. Could we have executed better and done better on some of those things? Absolutely. Did they have a good scheme and a good plan, run the ball, shrink the game, play slow? Yes, they did. You can’t give them extra possessions.”
Saban specifically mentioned the first possession of the game.
“We go three-and-out right off the bat, jump over the (punt-block) shield and that gives them extra possessions,” he said. “Then that turns into 10-12 extra plays and changes the field position. So, all these things contribute to giving the other team extra opportunities.”
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