“Third time is a charm” is not a phrase that has served Oklahoma football well lately.
It’s not like third down has been an issue all season, but it was an area of concern at various times during the season on both offense and defense. And in the past two weeks, it’s become a problem of massive proportions on the offensive side.
In Oklahoma’s last two games in West Virginia and at home against state rival Oklahoma State, the Sooners have successfully moved to third on just 2 of 25 attempts. That’s a staggering conversion percentage of 8.0 percent.
What’s really disturbing is that the recent third-down incapacity came so suddenly. In the first eight games of the season, OU was in third place nearly 46 percent of the time. That number is now down to 40 percent, ranking 56th among FBS teams.
One way to avoid third-down distress is to avoid everything Oklahoma did together to start the game with Oklahoma State. The Sooners had six consecutive drives to start the game without ever reaching a third down ball. But then at the other end of the same game were six consecutive OU possessions to end the contest, each ending in a three-and-out.
Brent Venables Explanation in the post-game interview session following the Bedlam win was that the offense needs to do better on first and second down in order to put themselves in a more manageable position on third down. That’s the standard answer, but the truth with Oklahoma in last weekend’s Oklahoma State game was that most third-down errors were five yards or fewer from the first down.
“It was a different group of positions and a different person in every single (third down) scenario,” said offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby of Oklahoma State’s third-down game errors. “I think that’s maybe the most frustrating part.”
You can imagine how frustrating the Sooners’ third-down struggles were for Venables, Lebby and the coaching staff, but that frustration is shared equally by the OU offensive players.
“If you don’t execute on first and second down, it’s the same as third down,” Quarterback said Dillion Gabriel. “You have to perform, up close.”
The Sooners head to Texas Tech this Thanksgiving weekend, where they likely won’t find much relief from their recent third-place woes. Converting third downs is a crucial part of staying on the field and maintaining drives. Texas Tech is ranked 65th nationally in third-down defense.
The OU offense needs to be way better on third downs against the Red Raiders, who have an offense that can strike quickly from across the field and light up the scoreboard. They don’t want to give Texas Tech more offensive possessions than necessary.
While the Sooners will focus on improving third descent on offense, they also need to capitalize on Texas Tech’s similar struggles in third descent. The Red Raiders are bottom of the Big 12 and 96th nationally in third-down conversions with a success rate of just 36 percent.