For the Alabama football offense, 3rd down is not the biggest problem


Third-down conversions have been a major issue for the Alabama football offense. More important is what happens on the early downs.

Perhaps the most widely known stat in college football is Alabama football and its third-down offense. The numbers are not good. While a respectable No. 49 in the FBS at 41.5 percent, the full season stat is misleading.

How important is third-down efficiency? That depends on other team performance factors, the most significant being how explosive is a team’s offense. Bust a bunch of big plays and third-downs matter less. Oklahoma is a good example – an explosive offense with a modest third-down conversion rate of 43.1 percent. For the record, the other CFB Playoff participants, Georgia and Clemson convert third-downs at 47.3 and 46.7 percent, respectively.

Against good defensive teams, the Crimson Tide’s third-down, offensive efficiency has been anemic. Check out these numbers:

  • Florida State: 3-16: 18.75 percent
  • LSU: 5-14; 35.7 percent
  • Mississippi State: 3-10; 30 percent
  • Auburn: 3-11; 27.2 percent
  • Combined: 14-51; 27.4 percent

What is needed to improve the Tide’s 3rd down efficiency?

As much as we armchair, college football gurus think otherwise, solutions are not simple. Against Clemson, up-the-gut power football must contend with two great defensive tackles. As in any game pairing two teams of comparable talent, the Alabama offense must take advantage of Clemson weaknesses.

Clemson is going to try to make Alabama football dependent on Jalen Hurts’ arm. They will load the box, often with more defenders than can be blocked. The Crimson Tide plan must adjust to the probable reality that on 3rd-and-long, Clemson will get to Jalen too quickly and too frequently.

If Alabama football can attack the edges of the Clemson defense successfully, running and throwing, Clemson’s defensive box will be less loaded. More important than third-down will be the Tide’s offensive efficiency on first and second down.

Alabama football cannot survive negative plays in the early downs. Looking back at the Auburn offensive meltdown, Alabama football fans are demanding more calls to the Tide running backs. The fans are correct. Against Clemson, continued over-reliance on called runs for Jalen will not work.

The Auburn Lesson

Fans remember the 3rd quarter drive against Auburn when the Tide relied on its running backs and marched down the field. That drive looked very similar to Bo Scarbrough’s success against Clemson last season. What we fans too quickly ignore is the next drive of the Auburn game.

On the next offensive possession, the Tide opened with a five-yard run by Bo. Bo was stuffed for no gain on second down. A third down screen to Bo gained four yards, another 3-and-out.

The third down call was a good one. After being stuffed on second down, the Alabama football staff believed a power run would not gain five yards. Unable to provide a clean pocket for Jalen on a passing down, the screen call made sense. It just didn’t work.

That is the potential dilemma for Monday night. How does the Tide avoid obvious passing downs? The key will be what happens on first and second down.

Next: Bama Hammer Staff Sugar Bowl Predictions

Using the pass to set up the run game could work against Clemson. That is if Jalen can make quick accurate throws.