Tre Williams (30) is a junior linebacker for Auburn.
Auburn, Ala.--Going into the 2016 football season Auburn coach Gus Malzahn mentioned it would be important for his Tigers to become more productive on third downs.
With three games in the books the Tigers have made a major improvement in that area defensively and the numbers are down slightly on offense.
Last season Auburn’s defense allowed opponents to convert 44.9 percent of their third down opportunities. That ranked 13th in the SEC with only South Carolina having more problems on third down plays. Tennessee led the league at 27.6 percent last year.
This season opponents are converting just 27.1 percent of their third down opportunities against a defense coordinated by newcomer Kevin Steele, who notes he has seen improvement with this part of his group’s play.
Against Texas A&M in game three the Aggies converted just two of 15 third down plays. “Obviously, an 87 percent success rate on third down when there is 15 of them is hard to do,” Steele said. “That was progress.”
An area where the Auburn defense needs to improve this week is forcing turnovers, Steele said. Through three games the Tigers have come up with just one interception and one fumble.
“It’s just going to have to be a priority now,” junior linebacker Tre Williams said. “We really haven’t gotten many takeaways in the last three games.”
Auburn’s offense converted just 6-17 third downs vs. Texas A&M, which for the season dropped the success rate to 40.6. That is down slightly from 2015 when the Tigers ranked sixth in the SEC at 41.3 percent. Arkansas led all SEC teams in 2016 with a 46.9 percent conversion rate.
The Tigers, who are off from practice on Monday, will resume preparations on Tuesday for LSU, which is ranked 17th/18th in the major polls. The Bayou Bengals, who are 2-1 overall and 1-0 in the SEC, have been strong defensively on third downs, allowing opponents to convert just 11-46 (23.9 percent). LSU’s offense is 16-37 (43.2 percent) on third down conversions.
Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. CDT on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The contest will be televised on ESPN.