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Examining the astonishing third-quarter struggles for the Texas offense

The Longhorns offensive attack is the worst in the country coming out of halftime.

Ronald Martinez

Among the areas that have helped contribute to the historically bad 2-4 start for the Texas Longhorns, massive struggles in the third quarter offensively and defensively have been a primary culprit.

Of the two sides of the ball, the struggles of the offense have been much more pronounced over than the absolute defensive meltdown against BYU that was exacerbated by short fields on the third and fourth touchdown drives of the quarter by the Cougars.

ESPN pulled some of the statistics for the third quarter and the ineptitude of the Texas offense coming out of halftime is staggering:

  • Over four straight scoreless third quarters, the last 14 consecutive drives have ended with punts. At least none of them have ended with turnovers, right? The last third-quarter touchdown came against BYU, but the drive occurred after the Cougars had blown the game open with scores on four consecutive possessions.
  • Of 22 drives in the third quarter, 17 of them have ended in punts and 10 have gone three and out.
  • The touchdown rate for Texas on drives in the third quarter is 9%, with an 86% punting rate. Both of those numbers are the worst in the FBS.

There aren't many answers from the team. Senior wide receiver John Harris didn't have any idea on Monday what's going on.

"They might try to do something different this week, but I couldn't explain to you why we have the third quarter slump," he said. "That was frustrating for us too, in the third quarter. We struggled on third down whenever we moved the ball so well in the first half. So hopefully we can do something in practice to work on that. Just more coming out in the third quarter when we're tired and stuff and maybe picking up the tempo in practice. But I don't have an answer for the reason why we do that in the third quarter."

Sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes didn't have an answer either.

Same for head coach Charlie Strong.

"I haven't," Strong said when asked if he's been able to identify the problem.

"I wish I could. I don't know what it is. But we have to do a little something because, you're right, that third quarter is sitting there, and we're just not getting anything out of it. Even on defense they move the ball some on us, and it's not so much that we're relaxing. It's just come back out and just play the game. There is 30 minutes of football left, and we've got to continue to play."

Strong does think that some of it falls on Swoopes to get the offense jump-started.

"You look at the first half of Oklahoma, and we were driving the football and moving the ball and making all the right plays," he said. "Then you come into that third quarter and it kind of stalls. You say look, Tyrone, we've got to get this thing going. The only way it's going to get going is you have to get going."

Overall, however, the passing hasn't really been the biggest problem, though the first drive of the second half against North Texas resulted in the only other third-quarter touchdown drive for Texas other than that score against BYU.

The completion percentage over the season is just under 60% and there haven't been any interceptions, but passing the ball in the third quarter hasn't resulted in many yards per attempt -- just 5.2. Producing big plays has also been an issue, as the Horns have generated only one pass of 25 or more yards in the third quarter.

In looking further at the situational statistics, a lot of the problem falls on the running game -- the Longhorns are averaging only three yards per carry in the third quarter, the lowest of any quarter. As a result of that poor average, Texas has gained only eight first downs on the ground and has only three runs of 10 or more yards.

Those problems suggest that the adjustments defenses are making coming out of halftime are more effective than the adjustments being made by the Texas offense, but pure lack of execution, most specifically by the offensive line and Swoopes are surely part of the equation as well.

The numbers are simply too terrible for there not to be plenty of blame to pass around.

Tempo may be part of the solution in the third quarter to make things easier for Swoopes -- he admitted this week he feels more comfortable and it reduces the complexity of the defensive looks. Texas is going three and out on 45% of third-quarter possessions, anyway, so what's the worst that could happen? The defense gets a minute less rest coming out of halftime?

In any case, the bottom line is that it's up to Watson to find play-calling answers, up to the offensive line to execute better in the running game, and up to Swoopes to "get it going," as Strong would say.

Perhaps more pop passes help make that happen or maybe Watson even needs to break out a perimeter run or trick play to pick up that chunk yardage that could help get the offense moving.

Strong talked this week about getting off to a strong start against Iowa State, but the a bigger key for the rest of the season is whether the Horns can shake those third-quarter blues.