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November 14, 2012

UA defense looking for third-down answers

TUSCALOOSA | What was a season-long strength for the University of Alabama defense through the first eight games of the season -- third-down effectiveness -- has quickly become an area of concern the last two weeks for UA coach Nick Saban.

Texas A&M punctuated that concern with 11 conversions in 18 chances Saturday night in UA's first loss of the season.

"The past two weeks, lots of issues not getting off the field on third down, which hasn't been a real factor all year long," Saban said. "But in the last two weeks, we gave up 14 points in the second half against LSU, going 0-for-7 on third downs during that time and we started this game 0-for-7 on third down and got behind in the game and got behind because of it."

Against LSU, Alabama allowed third-down conversions at nearly as successful a clip (10 out of 20 chances.) In the second half, when the Crimson Tide's defense struggled most, the home Tigers converted seven of 11.

A week later, the issue did not subside. Both opponents exceeded what UA quarterback AJ McCarron said was the Crimson Tide's own goal as an offense (45 percent).

"We've got to get off the field on third downs. It falls back to executing and doing what we need to do, especially on third downs to get off the field," said senior safety Robert Lester. "Especially these two weeks, they've been fighting for those third downs, and they got 'em."

Entering the LSU game, opponents had converted 28 of 109 third downs on the season, roughly 25 percent, through eight games. Since, UA has allowed 21 of 38 (55.2 percent).

Several factors have contributed to the third-down problems. Missed tackles are among them.

"We've had more missed tackles, more yards after catch, after contact, the first missed tackle, especially on space plays," Saban added. "That's one thing we've always been is a really good tackling team with a good tackling secondary. That is something that we need to improve on."

Reach Chase Goodbread at chase@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0196.

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