UT quarterback Tyrone Swoopes (18) warms up before the start of the Orange-White Scrimmage at Royal-Memorial Stadium in Austin on April 18, 2015.Lukas Keapproth/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Football

Texas’ notable number: Third-down conversions — and the number 18

Posted September 29th, 2016

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Every week this fall, we’re looking at a number related to Texas football. Today’s notable number is 18.

Eighteen is the number worn on the jerseys of quarterback Tyrone Swoopes and safety Kevin Vaccaro. Eighteen is the amount of points that Swoopes, Chris Warren III and D’Onta Foreman have each been responsible for this season. Earl Campbell also ran for 18 touchdowns during his 1977 Heisman Trophy campaign.

Eighteen also represents the number of third-down attempts that Texas has converted this fall.

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Texas has converted 18 of its 45 third-down tries, and the Longhorns have picked up three additional firsts on third-down penalties. While great for baseball, that .400 batting average ranks in a tie for 65th among the nation’s 128 teams. In the Big 12, only Iowa State (.356) and Kansas (.314) have a worse success rate on third downs.

Over its 45 third-down attempts, Texas has needed to gain an average of 7.4 yards. If you discount the abnormally-long attempts — two 3rd-and-33s and a 3rd-and-25 — that average dips to 5.8 yards.

“We can be better,” offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert said. “I think we’ve been up and down with that, and (we’re) just trying to be better and execute at a higher level. Make sure we’ve got schematically what we want to do on third down, and try not to be in third-and-long, that’s the key.”

Warren and John Burt both expressed confidence in the third-down options in Texas’ playbook, with Warren noting that “some of those plays are third-down go-to plays.” Gilbert has given Warren’s running backs and Burt’s wide receivers an equal chance to move the chains.

Texas has run the football on 22 of its 45 third-down attempts, while passes have been called 23 times. Texas picked up the necessary yardage on 12 of those 22 third-down runs. The Longhorns were successful on only six of its 23 passing plays (four of which have resulted in sacks).

“We have many plays in our playbook that we can call in any kind of situation that if executed right, can move the ball forward,” Burt said. “Really, it’s just a matter of executing it. That’s the only issue.”

While Texas’ third-down numbers are pedestrian, the Longhorns have performed better in the red zone. Texas is 8 of 11 on third-down tries inside an opponent’s 20, where a miss can mean the difference between a touchdown and a field goal. (NFL analyst Michael Lombardi recently referred to these attempts as “four-point plays”). Texas has converted four third-down red zone tries into touchdowns.

“When we get into the red zone, we expect to score,” left tackle Connor Williams said. “It’s hand-in-the ground, time to dig people out and run the ball.”

Texas will face an Oklahoma State defense that’s allowing 417.8 yards per game, but there is no guarantee the Longhorns will improve their third-down numbers. The Cowboys have failed to make stops in only 19 of the 57 third-down attempts against them. Only 38 defenses across the country have produced better results than that .333 percentage.

PAST NOTABLE NUMBERS

Aug. 31: 4, and Texas’ new receivers

Sept. 8: 14, and Texas’ 18 Wheeler

Sept. 15: 21, and Texas’ penalties

Sept. 22: 12, and post-bye wins

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