Through the first three games of the season, much of the focus on the Oklahoma Sooners has been on a defense that has smothered the Sooners' first three opponents.
For the past several years, Oklahoma has been defined by an explosive offense, but this year, the group is almost an afterthought. The Sooners' defense has been that impressive, completely stealing the spotlight from a unit that has been very good itself.
The Sooners are averaging 44.7 points per game and 490 yards of total offense. It's been fairly balanced as well—196.7 on the ground and 293.3 through the air. OU also has just four turnovers in the first three games, two fumbles and two interceptions, one of which deflected off a wide receiver's hands.
However, there is still plenty of room for improvements that could arguably make the Sooners the team to beat later in the season. One big area for improvement is the Sooners' conversion rate on third down.
Right now, the Sooners are converting just 38.4 percent of their third downs through the first three games. There are plenty of factors that go into a failed conversion attempt, from a great defensive play to poor passes, missed blocks, dropped balls or miscommunications. All of those have happened for the Sooners this year, but the biggest problem doesn't actually happen on third down.
“It's something we've talked about and are working on,” OU coach Bob Stoops said about the Sooners' poor conversion rate. “We have to watch the situations we get in on third down too. We're a lot more successful when it's third and short, third and medium. You don't want to be in many third and longs because around the country, the percentage for anyone isn't very good. Some of it goes back to first and second down too. There are some of those series we can be better and cleaner.”
The numbers are pretty staggering to support what Stoops said at his press conference on Monday. Of the Sooners' 39 third downs this year, 34 (87.2 percent) have been third and medium or third and long, at least four yards to gain. 20 of those (51.3 percent) were third and longs, at least eight yards to gain.
The Sooners are converting just 32.4 percent on third downs of at least four yards to gain and just 20 percent on third and longs. Most of those 20 third and longs have been incomplete passes, a natural growing pain of quarterback Trevor Knight's development and a new receiving corps.
On the flip side, the Sooners have had just five third downs of three yards or less—just one in each of the past two games—and have converted four of them. It's obviously much easier to convert a third down of three yards or less, but the Sooners just aren't doing enough to put themselves in position to have that yardage be the majority of their third downs.
So far, the OU offense has been a boom or bust of sorts. While the Sooners are converting just 38.4 percent on third down, their 39 third down attempts are tied for 18th fewest in the nation. Oklahoma has had five drives without a single third down attempt this year.
The Oklahoma offense has been very good, but if it wants to get out of the shadow of its fellow Sooners on the other side of the ball and be elite, it will have to be much better on third down going forward.