There is no more important down in the game of football than third down. Offensive drives are defined by converted or failed third down conversions. Third down also carries with it a huge amount of momentum. Defenses either have to stay on the field and compose themselves for a whole new gambit of situations that come with a 1st and 10; or they get to trot off the field, high five their teammates, and sit down.

In last Saturday’s game against ISU, Texas was able to capitalize on crucial third down situations faced by both the offense and defense with great team play. Texas’ defense was able to stop 10 of 19 third downs, including two that ended with turnovers. The offense struggled on third down by converting only 5 of the 13 opportunities; however, if you exclude Texas’ cursed (for whatever reason) third quarter, the Horns converted 5 of 9.

Midway through the second quarter, Texas found themselves down 21-14 with a drive beginning at their own 28-yard line. Seven plays later and 33 yards down the field, Tyrone Swoopes and the Texas offense found themselves in a critical 3rd and 3 situation. Outside of field goal range, Texas needed to convert on the 3rd down or be forced to punt on the next play. Lining up in a ‘pistol’ set with the tight end right, Texas ran a passing play that sent all four eligible receivers in routes, leaving the offensive line in empty protection. Texas handled the four man rush and Tyrone Swoopes completed the only third down of a 9-play 72-yard drive (fig 1).

Posted Image

Later in the game (just over 6 minutes left in the third quarter), Texas lined up in the same formation facing a 3rd and 9. Texas’ last two drives had resulted in consecutive 3-and-outs and after driving nearly 30 yards, the Longhorns needed to sustain their drive. With the score tied 28-28, Texas ran nearly the exact same play, however, this time ISU decided to bring pressure and not allow Swoopes to have all day to throw. Lining up in a three man front, ISU blitzed two linebackers creating a five man rush that forced an errant throw (fig 2).

Posted Image

As this amazing game progressed and the teams were tied again, Texas created a huge chance that turned the momentum of the game. As Iowa State took their first possession of the fourth quarter, Texas terrorized the ISU offensive line and put the Cyclones in a tough 3rd and 17. The redshirt junior, Richardson, organized his offense into a two-by-two spread formation and found himself facing a six-man defensive front. Texas had beat up this offense the last two plays with a sack and a tackle for loss, both by blitzing, so it must not have been surprising to Richardson to see what appeared to be another stunt. Texas bailed out at the last moment, rushing only four and caused the quarterback to make the wrong anticipatory throw. Duke Thomas intercepted the pass and the Longhorn offense took full advantage of that sudden change to take the lead 38-31 (fig 3).

Posted Image

Players and coaches often call third down the ‘money down’ because that’s where a team can really cash in. This game is more than just failed or converted downs; each play brings with it a swell of emotions that may affect one player too much and cause the whole team to collapse. Charlie Strong consistently emphasizes third down because of this importance. Expect to hear more about Texas’ third down efficiency in the next couple of weeks.