Texas dealing with first possession, third down woes on defense

Kobe Boyce (Will Gallagher/IT)
Kobe Boyce (Will Gallagher/IT)

Though Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s defense has put in good performances this year, holding five opponents to less than three scores, it leaves a lot to be desired at the beginning of games and on third down.

Texas has not been successful getting off the field early, allowing scoring drives in opponents’ first possessions in 6-out-of-8 games. That issue reared itself again in Stillwater with Oklahoma State jumping out to a quick 7-0 lead after Taylor Cornelius found Tylan Wallace for a 40-yard score.

On Monday, Texas head coach Tom Herman said he didn’t know why his defense had early-game struggles, but noted he was going to discuss that topic with Orlando later that evening. On Wednesday, Orlando was able to quickly pinpoint why the Longhorn defense starts so slow.

“It’s been simply this; some missed opportunities to make plays,” Orlando said. “More critically, it’s third down.”

Opponents are 6-of-7 on third down against Texas on their first possession this year. Maryland and Oklahoma didn’t face a third down opportunity. USC converted two, Baylor converted three with one being a touchdown pass, and Oklahoma State converted its only opportunity one play before a touchdown pass. The only stop came against TCU, which led to a field goal.

Orlando said his plan for Oklahoma State was to stop the run game and to stop wide receiver Tylan Wallace.

“We didn’t do either,” Orlando said. “In the beginning of the game, we had chances to get off the field on third down and didn’t get that accomplished.”

Texas’ allows opposing offenses to convert third downs at a rate of 39 percent, while converting its own third down opportunities 43 percent of the time. Texas’ third down defense ranks No. 67 in the country, just behind in-state schools Rice, UTSA, and UTEP.

West Virginia converts 45 percent of its third down opportunities on offense, good for No. 25 in the country. The Mountaineers allow opponents to convert 36 percent of their chances. It’s worth noting that Texas has 41 more third down conversion chances and 28 more third down stop chances than the Mountaineers.

While WVU has good numbers on money downs, it has not been extremely successful in its opening drives. Two of WVU’s seven first possessions ended in interceptions by quarterback Will Grier. Two have ended in punts while the remaining three ended with scoring plays.

The most recent Mountaineer touchdown came in their last outing against Baylor on a 53-yard pass.

Both Texas and West Virginia have put together poor performances in recent weeks. Texas’ came against Oklahoma State, while WVU’s was against Iowa State.

Orlando’s defense draws a lot of influence from the Iowa State defense that limited WVU to 14 points and 152 yards of total offense on 42 plays.

Orlando said ISU confused Grier and made it difficult for him to find throwing lanes against the Cyclone’s drop-eight coverages, saying they did a good job of “plastering on receivers.” They also were successful in a metric Texas must improve in to hold up against the Mountaineer offense.

“In my opinion, they got tackles for loss and sacks, and WVU had some penalties,” Orlando said. “(WVU) kept getting pushed back into second and long and it eventually became third and long, and they won the third down battle.”