Third downs key for Alabama against LSU
Nick Saban, whose memory is long to begin with, doesn't easily forget the details of his defense's struggles. That's why when the players watched film and met Sunday night an emphasis was placed on getting off the field on third down.
LSU converted 50 percent (10 of 20) of its third downs against the University of Alabama in the 2012 meeting, and the Tigers are better this season. It's a stat firmly ingrained in Nick Saban's memory, therefore the players are aware of it, too.
On third downs this season LSU converts 57.6 percent of the time, ranking second nationally. On the other hand Alabama is holding opponents to a 29.6 percent conversion rate, which ranks seventh nationally.
In this strength against strength match-up, Alabama knows getting third down stops will be a big factor.
"We spoke yesterday and there was an emphasis on getting off-the-field on third down and in the red zone," sophomore linebacker Denzel Devall said. "That's going to be a big thing we're working on this week and hopefully we'll improve and show what we have on Saturday."
Mettenberger came into his own during last season's meeting, throwing for 298 yards and a touchdown on 24 of 35 passing. Prior to Alabama, Mettenberger averaged 177 yards passing a game and had seven touchdowns to four interceptions.
He completed 9 of 14 passes on third down against Alabama, converting eight first downs with no interceptions, and he was sacked twice, including on the final play of the game.
This season Mettenberger averages 277 yards passing a game and has three 300-yard passing games.
To get better results Alabama plans a mixture of disguising coverages to confuse Mettenberger and getting a consistent pass rush.
"You like to try to disguise what you're doing so that he can't really anticipate where to go with the ball before he gets it in his hand," Saban said. You'd also like to be able to pressure him and affect him in the pocket as much as possible. If you have to do that, by playing single coverage with those skill guys, you're putting a lot of pressure on the secondary guys. I think it's a combination of all of the above. I really do.
"If he knows what you're doing before you do it, he's going to have a really good chance of getting the ball in the right place at the right time. A lot of the timing routes they run are really difficult to defend. It's bang bang. Last year we had close coverage on several occasions and he got the ball right in there where he needed to. I think we need to do all of the above, but I also think that fundamentally covering guys the way you need to so that even when they catch it, they can't catch it and run with it, because they've made a lot of big plays catching the ball and making guys miss and turning those maybe short catches into big plays. We missed a few tackles on them last year that contributed to a couple of big plays.
All those things are going to be important in terms of being able to be effective on third down or on all their passing, actually."
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