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Oklahoma State football: Stopping third downs

by Berry Tramel Published: December 26, 2012

Mike Gundy says OSU’s defensive collapses in the second half of the season can be contributed to failing to defend the pass on third down, primarily 3rd-and-4 to 3rd-and-8. Medium-range yardage.

“We couldn’t stop OU’s two inside receivers, couldn’t put pressure on Landry Jones, so we got gashed,” Gundy said of a 51-48 overtime loss in Bedlam. “For the most part, nobody’s really been able to run the ball on us. But the way we contest those throws needs to be better.”

Gundy says there’s a standard percentage for getting off the field in such situations. Defenses ought to be successful approximately 60 percent of the time on 3rd-and-4, rising to about 75 percent of the time on 3rd-and-8.

“If we were defending those throws better, with everything else we did on defense, we’d have been pretty good,” Gundy said.

So how did OSU do in such situations? The Cowboys weren’t dominant on defense in September and October, but November is when troubles really rose. The Cowboys lost 44-30 at Kansas State, won 55-34 at home against West Virginia and 59-21 against Texas Tech, lost at OU and then lost 41-34 at Baylor.

In those five games, OSU allowed teams to convert 12 of 28 third downs via the pass when needing anywhere from four to eight yards. That’s 42 percent. According to Gundy’s chart, that’s too high. Somewhere in the 30s should be mainstream.

Part of the problem is that teams were successful in different ways. OU never even tried to run the ball on 3rd-and-longer-than-3. But Baylor converted four third downs by running the ball in such a situation, including two with quarterback Nick Florence.

The problem Gundy addressed really was an OU and Baylor phenomenon. The Cowboy defense was fine against West Virginia, Kansas State and Texas Tech. K-State converted just one third down longer than three yards, in eight tries. West Virginia was 4-of-12. Texas Tech was 3-of-14.

This was an after-Thanksgiving problem, which could mean a quirk in scheduling — Baylor and OU rank among the top four offenses in the league, along with OSU and West Virginia — or a calendar twist. It’s possible the Cowboys were just beat up, like with cornerback  Brod Brown, and trying to scrape things together.

Purdue’s offense in the Heart of Dallas Bowl doesn’t figure to rival OU’s or  Baylor’s, and perhaps the Cowboys can heal up. Gundy clearly was right about the OU and Baylor games. The Bears converted three of four third downs when passing on 3rd-and-4 through 3rd-and-8, and 3-of-6 against OU in the same situation.


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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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