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Alabama Football: Moving the Chains

Alabama football has accomplished three Southeastern Conference titles and three national championships under head coach Nick Saban. It’s known for its run game and defense, but the Crimson Tide has become a balanced program this season. Alabama’s third down offense struggled for seven years (2007-13), but it’s claimed success under Lane Kiffin.

Alabama’s offense was inconsistent on third down in all four seasons under offensive coordinator, Jim McElwain. The Crimson Tide captured an SEC title and a national championship in 2009, but accumulated a 39.2 percent rating on third down (lowest in the Saban era).

Saban witnessed improvement in Alabama’s third down offense from 2010-2013. The Crimson Tide increased its rating from 39.2 percent to 47.9 percent in 2012. Third down conversions is often coined as an overrated statistic, yet it plays a crucial role in the difference between a championship team and a regular bowl team.

2014 has been special for Alabama. It has a 3,000-yard passer (Blake Sims), a 1,000-yard receiver (Amari Cooper) and two running backs that are nearing 1,000 yards rushing (T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry). The Crimson Tide is an SEC champion and a No.1 overall seed in the College Football Playoff.

Success is bliss, but it’s even better when one recognizes where it stems from. Alabama’s offense has converted 54 percent on third down. It’s been stellar at Bryant-Denny Stadium, extending drives 57.7 percent of the time. The Crimson Tide has been potent against SEC defenses, accounting for a 58.2 percent average in seven games.

Alabama’s third down success: Huge Victories

Alabama vs. West Virginia- 9/16 (60 percent), Final Score: Alabama 33—West Virginia 23

Alabama vs. Florida- 12/16 (75 percent), Final Score: Alabama 42—Florida 21

Alabama vs. Texas A&M- 9/15 (60 percent), Final Score: Alabama 59—Texas A&M 0

Alabama vs. Tennessee- 11/15 (73 percent), Final Score: Alabama 34—Tennessee 20

Alabama vs. Missouri- 9/13 (69 percent), Final Score: Alabama 42—Missouri 13


Alabama’s third down success: Close Wins/Comeback victories

Alabama vs. LSU- 8/20 (40 percent), Final Score: Alabama 20—LSU 13 (OT)

Alabama vs. Mississippi State- 5/14 (35.7 percent), Final Score: Alabama 25—Miss. State 20

Alabama vs. Arkansas- 4/15 (26.7 percent), Final Score: Alabama 14—Arkansas 13


Alabama’s third down success: Tune up Games

Alabama vs. Florida Atlantic- 6/12 (50 percent), Final Score: Alabama 41—FAU 0

Alabama vs. Southern Mississippi- 7/11 (63.6 percent), Final Score: Alabama 52—Southern Miss 12

Alabama vs. Western Carolina- 9/14 (64.3 percent), Final Score: Alabama 48—W. Carolina 14

Alabama’s success on third downs results from its ability to gain positive yards on first and second down. Lane Kiffin’s play calling allows Alabama’s skill players to work well in space, creating short yardage situations on third down.

Senior quarterback Blake Sims delivered numerous third down conversions with his mobility. He engineered game-winning and game-saving drives against LSU, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Missouri and Auburn. Sims’s legs proved to be crucial in all five matchups.

Third down success becomes simple when a team averages better than three yards per play. Alabama’s generated 6.73 yards per play and 5.11 yards per carry on the ground.

Kiffin and the Crimson Tide will look to continue this success in postseason play, but for now let’s review on how much Alabama’s offense has progressed on third down.

Alabama’s Third Down Offense under Saban since 2008
Year Off. Coordinator ATTs/Conversions Percentage Record
2008 Jim McElwain 183-76 41.5% 12-2
2009 Jim McElwain 194-76 39.2% 14-0
2010 Jim McElwain 151-67 44.8% 10-3
2011 Jim McElwain 168-78 46.4% 12-1
2012 Doug Nussmeier 167-80 47.9% 13-1
2013 Doug Nussmeier 147-70 47.6% 11-2
2014 Lane Kiffin 186-100 54% 12-1

Stephen Smith is a 2015 graduate of the University of Alabama. He is a senior writer and reporter for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. He has covered Alabama football for 15 years and his knowledge and coverage of the Crimson Tide's program have made him among the most respected journalist in his field. Smith has been featured on ESPN and several other marquee outlets as an analyst.

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