Third Downs Could Be Key Friday

The question didn't give Auburn enough credit. In his Tuesday post-practice meeting with the media, Alabama Coach Nick Saban was asked about Auburn being successful on 52 per cent of its third down opportunities.

The actual number is 53.3 per cent.

Some statistics are played down. Not this one.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban called third down success "a critical statistic."

Auburn has faced 120 third down challenges and been successful on 64 to lead the Southeastern Conference in third down conversions.

"Offensively, you want to be able to keep the ball and keep drives alive and have possession of the ball," Saban said. "Any time you can have a seven-or-more play drive, you're changifn field position, even if you don't score."

There are reasons for Auburn's success on third down, the big one being quarterback Cameron Newton. Saban said, "One of the reasons they are very, very good on third downs is they do a good job of managing down and distance, they don't have a lot of third-and-longs. They are not afraid to run the ball third-and-five or less. And they are very athletic at quarterback, so sometimes even when the defense gets everyone covered, they still convert third downs. He can scramble or even scramble and make throws. That's a real bonus."

Even though Auburn has thrown the ball only 212 times, the fewest of any conference team, the Tigers are first in passing efficiency. Saban said that adds to the Tigers ability to be successful on third down.

"I think it's really key to being efficient on offense to be a good third down team," Saban said.

Alabama's offense is pretty good on third downs, too. Bama has converted on 56 of 125 opportunities, 44.8 per cent, which is fourth in the league.

There's another side to third down efficiency. The Tigers will be going up against an Alabama defense that has allowed only 36.7 per cent conversions (55-162), which is second best in the SEC. "You want to get off the field on third down," Saban said.

Auburn ranks only seventh in third down defense, allowing 55-144 for 38.2 per cent.

Alabama strong safety Mark Barron thinks Newton when he thinks of Auburn on third downs. "It's difficult when you have a quarterback that can run," Barron said. "That's when it gets more difficult to stop a team on third down because he can scramble and make things happen. I feel like the key to that is being physical.

"I'm sure it's going to be a great challenge."

As to the problem of Newton, Barron said, "I think the key to being successful against him is going to come down to being disciplined and executing the plan. I think as long as we do that, everything should be fine as far as being successful against that run."

BamaMag Top Stories