The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

November 15, 2012

Sooners struggling to stop third down conversions

By John Shinn
CNHI NEWS SERVICE

NORMAN, Okla. — About 150 plays make up the average football game. Ask any player or coach, however, and it’s the 30 or so that happen on third down that dictate success or failure.

Drives flourish or flounder based on what happens on those plays.

“Yeah, it’s money down. It’s a lot more than just third down. Depends on what down and distance is; you kind of already know what’s coming sometimes. It’s the down that kind of makes or breaks the drive,” OU defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland said. “You stop it right there and the offense gets the ball, or you can give them another shot to try to score.”

The Sooners have been better this season than last season in just about every measurable defensive category. They’re giving up about 50 yards less per game, about 2.5 fewer points and 70 fewer passing yards.

Still, opponents are converting third downs at a higher rate. In last Saturday’s 42-34 victory over Baylor, the Bears converted 11 of 20. It marked the fourth time in nine games an OU opponent has converted at least 50 percent of its third downs.

Overall, Sooner opponents are converting third downs at a 41.5 percent success rate. The only Big 12 defenses having a worse time of it are Baylor (58.94), West Virginia (46.51) and Iowa State (41.82).

The struggles were obvious in OU’s loss to Kansas State. The Wildcats were 7-for-14 converting third downs when they stunned the Sooners 24-19 on Sept. 22.

Texas Tech went 9-for-15, yet the Sooners rolled to a 41-20 victory. Kansas went 12-for-24 on third down, but OU rolled to a 52-7 victory.

Mike Stoops blames himself for third-down issues last Saturday.

“The other night the run hurt us on third down. ... They weren’t going to throw it on third down. I should have been smarter than that. They weren’t throwing it. They were running it on third-and-10 when they’re down by 16,” he said. “Those are things that you’ve got to adjust to, and we were slow in adjusting in some ways.”

One of the reasons OU has fared better against spread offenses this season has been a lower risk bend-but-don’t-break defensive philosophy, designed to stop big offensive plays, even if it’s destined to turn in fewer game-changing defensive plays.

The drive Stoops zeroed in on was Baylor’s final drive of the game. The Sooners led by 16 points when the Bears went on a 19-play, 80-yard drive to score with 1:26 remaining. OU could live with giving up the points as long it forced Baylor to burn up the clock on the way down the field.

Saturday, however, getting off the field on third down is going to be critical when the 13th-ranked Sooners (7-2, 5-1) face West Virginia (5-4, 2-4) at 7 p.m. on Saturday at the Mountaineers’ Milan Puskar Stadium.

The Sooners, who are among the nation’s best offenses when it comes to converting third down (52.1 percent), need to keep the Mountaineers’ explosive offense on the sideline. Making some plays on third down is the key.