NORMAN — There were 141 plays from scrimmage in Oklahoma’s 36-20 loss to Texas. But in truth there were 33 plays that were really the difference.
Those were the amount of third downs in the game. It was third down where OU repeatedly lost on both sides of the ball.
The Sooners converted just 2 of 13. Texas went 13 for 20.
“Obviously, third-down conversions were not good for us, and just simply moving the football,” OU quarterback Blake Bell said. “We need to be better at getting positive plays on first and second so we stay out of as many 3rd-and-longs and 3rd-and-mediums as we can. Overall, we did not play well as an offense.”
Running the ball more effectively and more frequently would obviously help. OU faced third-and-six or longer on seven of those third downs.
But Bell was at his worst Saturday in third-down situations. He completed just one of eight passes on third down for 12 yards. The only completion caused the chains to move. He hit running back Brennan Clay for 12-yard completion on OU’s first possession.
But he also threw a pair of third-down interceptions — one of which was returned for a touchdown — and was sacked three times.
Texas didn’t have those problems.
Quarterback Case McCoy was at his best in those situations. McCoy threw for 190 yards on the day, but 129 yards came on third-down completions. He was 8 for 10 in those situations. He did have one pass picked off by OU defensive end Geneo Grissom that was returned 54 yards for a touchdown, but McCoy also hit Marcus Johnson for a 59 yard touchdown pass midway through the second quarter.
As far as the Sooners’ defense is concerned, there’s a chance the third-down struggles can be written off as having an awful day.
“Their attitude and effort was stronger than our attitude and our effort throughout the course of today. That’s really what’s going to happen in a game like this. We’ve got to get our edge back and play better,” OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said.
Through six games, opponents have converted 35.6 percent (32 of 90) of their third downs against the Sooners.
The offensive problems, however, did not suddenly crop up Saturday at the Cotton Bowl. Over the last three games, the Sooners have converted just 10 of 40 third downs. In the first three conference games, it’s 10 of 43.
The inability to convert them is the biggest reason OU has combined for just four offensive touchdowns against West Virginia (1), TCU (2) and Texas (1).
At times, you can get away with some third-down struggles by converting some big plays. OU had few Saturday. Only three of its 59 plays went for more than 20 yards.
“In offensive football, you gotta have big plays. Your skill guys have to make big plays. Your quarterback has to be able to convert things on third down,” OU offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “At the end of the day, we didn’t do any of those things.”
Where that leaves the offense heading into this coming Saturday’s game at Kansas (2-3, 0-2) is up to the coaching staff.
But the performance in the Red River Rivalry showed how bad the problem can get and just how impotent OU’s offense can look because of it.
The Sooners simply cannot win if they cannot convert third downs. The defense might be improved, but Texas exposed them as a unit capable of giving up big plays.
The Sooners have to start putting some drives together. Saturday against Texas the overwhelming majority were wrecked once the yard marker flipped to third down.
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