Texas excels on third and fourth down

October, 1, 2012
10/01/12
8:00
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AUSTIN, Texas -- The Longhorns have an offense that is still in its infancy, and, as such, it wobbled on its first and second steps all night against Oklahoma State.

Through the first three quarters Saturday, with the OSU defense still relatively fresh, Texas made more than five yards on first down only four times in 17 tries.

By third down, however, Texas had found is footing and its stride. The Longhorns converted 9 of 17 third downs. That's not quite the 60 percent clip the offense had boasted coming into the game. But add to that a 3-for-3 effort on fourth down and the numbers are there.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
Brett Deering/Getty ImagesDavid Ash and the Texas offense held the ball for 36:36 against the Cowboys.
Of course it was the last of those conversions -- a fourth-and-6 -- that proved to be the biggest. But it might have been the 11 previous conversions that allowed the final fourth-down conversion to work.

First, Texas had confidence because it had been there and done that.

"You have got to see it and see it happen out there on the field," said co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. "When the entire offense came out there [on the final drive], I thought those guys had poise. They seemed to operate really flawlessly in what we were giving them play-wise."

Second, Oklahoma State, because of what had happened on previous conversion attempts, did not have confidence.

"It really does grind on you, particularly the fourth-down play," said OSU defensive coordinator Bill Young. "The offense played well enough to keep us in the game, and if we make that stop, we win."

The Cowboys didn't make that play or plenty of others. On four of Texas' five scoring drives it was 5-of-7 in converting third downs. After the two misses on third down, Texas went for it on fourth down and kept the drive alive.

Now before labeling Mack Brown the new Riverboat Gambler of the Big 12 -- sorry, Tommy Tuberville -- it has to be understood that Texas' hand is forced.

The Longhorns have little faith in kicker Nick Jordan. The freshman is at just 43 percent on field goal attempts. So when Texas nears or crosses the 50-yard line it has become four-down territory, and that philosophy might not change against West Virginia. The Mountaineers' defense is unquestionably porous. So much so that a third down, let alone a fourth, could be a rare occasion. But on those drives in which Texas is faced with a third or fourth down, it will almost assuredly step on the gas rather than pausing.

Baylor converted on 11 of 16 third downs and was 1-of-1 on fourth downs against WVU. Before that WVU had allowed a commendable 42 percent of third downs to be converted. But before the Baylor game, the Mountaineers had not played an offense capable of controlling the game.

Texas, with its ability to keep drives alive on third and fourth downs, has become that type of offense. That might be one piece of hope the Longhorns hold close as they investigate the stats posted by the Mountaineers. The theory being: Texas can grind out drives, keeping the ball away from Geno Smith as much as possible. Not only could that keep West Virginia in check offensively, as much as a team that scored 70 could be kept in check, but it also wears down the Mountaineers' defense.

That was the MO used by Texas against Oklahoma State. The Longhorns ground out yard after yard and converted third down after third down through the first two quarters. By the time the second half came around, the Cowboys no longer had the juice to stop Texas.

"The biggest mistake that we made in my opinion is third downs in the first half," said OSU coach Mike Gundy.

Those mistakes led to Texas holding the ball for 36:36. And they led to two scoring drives in the fourth quarter in which Texas knifed straight through the defense, averaging nearly 10 yards per play and, of course, converting on fourth down when it mattered most.

Carter Strickland | email

Reporter, HornsNation

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