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Inside the Numbers: Texas can’t overcome another slow start

Opening drives have been a nightmare for the Longhorns this year, forcing the team to consistently play from behind.

NCAA Football: Texas at Oklahoma State Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

The Texas Longhorns struggled against the Oklahoma State Cowboys and still managed to erase a 17-point deficit, but how did they get there in the first place?

When you look at the statistics for the game, a trend emerges — Oklahoma State managed to put the Texas in a hole early and the Horns were not able to recover. Specifically, the opening drive by the Cowboys and the inability to the Longhorns defense to get off of the field defensively led to its downfall.

10-20 (50% third-down conversions)

Third downs were clearly the story defensively, and statistically the poorest in the Tom Herman era. Allowing Oklahoma State to convert 10 of its 20 attempts is the highest total since Week 8 of the 2016 season and the highest percentage since Week 11 of that same year. In the last two games, the Baylor Bears and the Oklahoma State Cowboys are a combined 28 of 37, or a 48.64% conversion rate.

The Cowboys managed to convert on third downs of five yards or longer five times, including a 3rd and 9 to set up a touchdown on their opening drive and scoring on a 3rd and goal from the 10. Oklahoma State’s top receivers, Tylan Wallace and Dillon Stoner, feasted on the money down, combining for six receptions for 88 yards. Even on two occasions when Texas managed to stop the Cowboys on third down, the Cowboys scored on the ensuing fourth-down attempt.

OSU’s opening possession: 4 plays, 53 yards, TD

A year after boasting one of the best defenses in the nation, Todd Orlando’s crew has struggled with consistency and has been downright bad to open games. On the opponent’s opening drives this year, Texas has allowed 404 yards, five touchdowns, and a field goal, meaning opponents have scored on six of eight opening drives this year.

The only two drives that did not end in a score were Tulsa and Kansas State, with a Caden Sterns interceptions and a punt, respectively.

Adding insult to injury, Texas often chooses to put its defense out there first and put itself in a hole early. Texas has won the toss and deferred to the second half on five occasions, allowing 239 yards, three touchdowns, and a field goal.

As tough as it is to start behind like that, the Texas offense has not done enough to help the defense out in those situations. In the three games that the Texas offense has taken the field first, the Longhorns’ opening drives ended with two punts and a field goal.

Time of possession: Oklahoma State + 8:56

When a team manages to convert on so many third downs, the time of possession margin will swing in their direction. However, this has been a key indicator of success for the Longhorns in 2018.

The only two times Texas has lost the time of possession battle this season are in its two losses, and its two ugliest wins — Baylor and Kansas State — feature its slimmest positive time of possession margins. In its other four games, when Texas has either won comfortably or enjoyed a large lead, Texas is +8:43 in time of possession.

These are key areas that Texas needs to clean up as they welcome the West Virginia Mountaineers into Austin Saturday. In spite of the tough loss, the Longhorns still have their goals ahead of them, with a win over West Virginia, Texas will still be in the driver’s seat to play in the Big 12 Championship game.