Third downs getting worse for OU

Sooners can't get off the field, stay on it on final offensive try

When Samaje Perine took a swing pass from Trevor Knight late in the fourth quarter, it seemed as though a miracle had been performed.

Oklahoma was going to somehow escape Dallas with a victory, although neither the offense nor the defense really deserved one. The Sooners also converted a third down, something that has been a major issue since the Big 12 Conference season started – on offense and on defense.

“We recognize there’s some areas we’ve got to keep improving on,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “We had some mental breakdowns on third down on defense. We had some execution details on offense on third downs with receivers’ route running and spacing. . . . We need to execute better in a lot of those areas.”

Of the teams with at least one victory in the conference, Oklahoma (5-1, 2-1 Big 12) has the worst third-down defense. The Sooners have the third-worst offense, with only undefeated Baylor and Kansas to thank for keeping them out of the cellar.

During the past two games, Oklahoma is 8-for-29 on non-scoring third downs and 17-for-36 on stopping those third downs.

West Virginia was no special aberration, either. Oklahoma converted at 27.9 percent against Texas and TCU and is just 35.6 in Big 12 play on all third downs. It been getting progressively worse on offense for Oklahoma though.

West Virginia: 50 percent.

TCU: 39 percent.

Texas: 9 percent.

“It’s tough to play football when you only give yourself two downs,” co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “We’ve got to be better on third down.”

Oklahoma has allowed five conversions or 10 or more yards and has just one to their own ledger in Big 12 play. The Sooners have allowed Big 12 opponents to convert 13 times on 3rd-and-long (six yards or more) and have converted just five times themselves.

“It’s tough, especially when we get in long-distance situations and its one or two things that don’t happen in the right way,” defensive tackle Jordan Phillips said. “We haven’t been able to get off.”

Of Oklahoma’s 13 non-scoring third down conversions, six have been from two or fewer yards.

“I think that halfway through the season, I think that every football team has areas that they've got to improve areas of, and that's what we're working hard to do,” co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. “We're not going to sit here and pout like were the worst offense in the nation. That ain't the truth. And were not nearly as good as we need to be, either.”

Oklahoma won’t have much time to figure out its issues with Kansas State coming to Norman for an 11 a.m. kickoff Saturday.

The Wildcats boast the best third-down conversion rate in the conference and have allowed the fewest third-down conversions in Big 12 play. They’ve also faced the fewest but are ranked fourth (36 percent) in the conference in defensive conversions.

The Sooners might want to take note. They could learn something.

“They’ve done a good job getting into third-and-shorts more than some people and executing when they have,” Stoops said of Kansas State.

Offensive lineman Nila Kasitati said the Sooners’ issues aren’t just one problem. One player isn’t executing each time, but it’s always a different player. He said that has been frustrating, trying to fix multiple smaller issues that crop up instead of one consistent one.

The defense has had the same problem: One player not rotating fully in coverage or a blown man-to-man assignment.

Linebacker Jordan Evans said there was a lack of communication multiple times between he and safety Quentin Hayes that allowed Texas to convert over the middle on third down.

It’s a pervasive problem that Oklahoma hasn’t been able to correct.

“That happens, but it shouldn’t happen,” Stoops said.

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