Monday Analysis: Third-Down Defense

By now, everyone has waxed poetic on the job the Texas defense did on Texas Tech on Monday night. But what we would like to focus on here is how well the Longhorns defended on third down.

Third downs are arguably the biggest downs in football. A team that converts its third downs usually has a great chance to win the game. Texas coaches, for instance, ask that the offense convert 45 percent of its third down opportunities.

So when looking at the way that Texas's defense dominated on Saturday, would it really be any great surprise to hear that they also dominated on third downs? Of course not. And dominate the Longhorns did, holding Texas Tech to 3-13 on third down plays, or a 23 percent conversion rate.

If you've been reading the Monday Analysis stories, you'll know that we call a long situation anything needing seven or more yards for a conversion. Medium situations are between four and six yards for a conversion, while short situations are any distances of three yards or smaller. Here's how the Red Raiders did on third downs, by situation.

Third-and-long: six plays, 28 yards, one conversion

Third-and-medium: six plays, 13 yards, two conversions

Third-and-short: one play, no yards, no conversions

Overall: 13 plays, 41 yards, three conversions

It should be noted that Texas's greatest accomplishment might not be the fact that Tech converted such a small percentage of its third downs. Instead, much of the Longhorns' job was done on the earlier two downs. Only once did Tech face a third-and-short, and three times, the Red Raiders faced third downs of 15 or more yards. On those three downs, Texas Tech essentially conceded defeat, running the ball once for a minus-1 yard gain, passing for four yards on a third-and-14 and throwing an incomplete pass on a third-and-25.

The Red Raiders did have two explosive plays, one a 16-yard pass and one 17-yard pass, both of which led to first downs. But other than those two plays, Tech's quarterbacks were 4-9 for 20 yards, converting once. Texas Tech did run the ball once, losing a yard, and was sacked another time for a loss of 13.

Just how important was that defense? The only time Texas Tech's offense scored, the Red Raiders didn't face a third down on the drive. Texas Tech made four of its 11 first downs on that drive, twice making big plays on first down and twice making first downs on second-and-mediums.

There's a reason coaches make such a big deal on third-down efficiency. Likewise, there's a reason that most great defensive performances come when a defense demonstrates an ability to get off the field following big third-down plays.


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