The Texas Longhorns are now suffering through a three-game losing streak after the 2-0 start at Darrell K. Royal—Texas Memorial Stadium, and aside from being away from home, the losses have one thing in common—horrendous defense from the ‘Horns.
Texas’ inability to get off the field on third down is no exception.
In the two victories over Notre Dame and UTEP, Texas’ defense allowed conversions on only 30 percent of third downs (10-33). Seven of those conversions came at the hands of the Fighting Irish, who converted 44 percent of third down attempts.
In the first two losses against California and Oklahoma State, the defense took a minor step back in this regard, as the Golden Bears and Cowboys each converted 7-15 (47%).
Collectively, this effort slotted the ‘Horns at 69th nationally in third down conversions allowed entering the Cotton Bowl after failing to get off the field on 24-61 attempts (39%). That mediocre ranking was significantly aided by the defensive performance against a one-dimensional UTEP squad that converted only 3-17 on third down.
Unfortunately for Charlie Strong, his first game as the defensive play-caller after demoting Vance Bedford became Texas’ worst defensive showing of the season. Not only did Oklahoma chew the ‘Horns’ defense up for 672 yards—the fifth-most yards allowed in Texas’ storied history—but the Sooners converting 8-14 third down attempts played a significant role in the ultimate outcome.
The 57-percent conversion rate for was the highest Texas’ defense suffered through this season, but when the conversions materialized proved to be the Longhorns’ downfall.
Fast forward to 3:07 remaining in the third quarter. The Sooners intercepted Shane Buechele in the red zone on third down and the Baker Mayfield’s offense trotted back out with a 35-27 lead. Prior to this point, Strong’s defense had allowed conversions on 3-7 third down attempts, which isn’t ideal, but was progress for a defense that’s struggled mightily since week three.
Courtesy of a Mayfield 16-yard run on 3rd and 6 and a Samaje Perine two-yard gain on 3rd and 1, the Sooners would string together a 13-play drive that chewed up 93 yards and 6:27 off the clock, ending in a touchdown to give Oklahoma a 42-27 edge.
Following an answer from Texas, the Sooners, again, had their way with the Longhorns’ defense, executing a 15-play, 60-yard drive that saw three third down conversions through the air before a Joe Mixon fumbled pitch on an option finally halted Oklahoma. But by this point, Oklahoma was in field goal range and left Texas with little time to work after running 7:58 off the clock following a made field goal giving the Sooners a 45-34 lead with 2:36 to play.
When Texas actually found a way to get off the field, it often came at the expense of another Oklahoma highlight touchdown before the defense ever had a chance for a third down stop.
In total, Oklahoma faced a third down on three of its seven scoring drives, with the exceptions being deep connections through the air for touchdowns and a short field following a Texas fumble. On the only three scoring drives that required a third down, Texas allowed Oklahoma to convert 6-7 attempts, with the lone stop coming on the above-noted Mixon fumble.
To make matters worse for Texas, the defense had opportunities to capitalize on third down fumbles twice on the final two drives, but weren’t able to and instead, Oklahoma added three points and took critical ticks off the clock.
In a game that would come down to a single possession, getting off the field on even one of these opportunities could have meant Texas comes out on top, whether it be by keeping Oklahoma from scoring or having more time for the offense to score down the stretch.
In what became a historically poor defensive performance, Texas’ defense found another way to hurt itself with the game still in reach—this time; by way of numerous struggles on third down. And the worst part—the Sooners just looking more physical and determined on many of these third downs.
Now entering the portion of the season where literally every game becomes a must-win if Strong home’s to be Texas’ head coach in 2017, his defensive to-do list is only getting longer.