NORMAN — 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 that 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.”