John Hoover

John E. Hoover: In this Red River Rivalry, it’s all about third down and red zone performance

John E. Hoover: In this Red River Rivalry, it’s all about third down and red zone performance

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger (11) celebrates after scoring on a touchdown run against Oklahoma on the opening drive of the Big 12 Conference championship NCAA college football game on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)

DALLAS — A handful of truths seem immutable when it comes to the Oklahoma-Texas rivalry.

One, the winner will have more rushing yards. That trend stood firm in 18 of the last 20 meetings (one was a tie) and was broken only last year when the Sooners outrushed the Longhorns 222-177 and still lost 48-45. Historically bad defenses notwithstanding, the winning team always runs the football better than the loser.

Two, when Oklahoma and Texas play, an experienced quarterback almost always beats an inexperienced quarterback. If one QB is making his first Red River Rivalry appearance while his counterpart has extensive experience in the game, the more seasoned quarterback prevails. Since 1990, the record of the QB who’s played in this game before is 14-2-1. It’s first-timer Jalen Hurts versus old hand Sam Ehlinger this year, but Hurts, of course, can certainly buck that trend having been in some real fires outside the Cotton Bowl.

But one other statistic germane to the 2019 state fair turf war stands out: third down.

When Texas has the football, it’ll be strength on strength. The Longhorns rank second nationally in third down percentage, converting 56.6 percent of the time (43-of-76).

Oklahoma, meanwhile, ranks fifth in the country in third down defense, yielding a conversion just 24.6 percent of the time (16-of-65).

It stands to reason that if UT’s offense stays on the field and converts on third down, the Longhorns will win, while if the OU defense get off the field by forcing punts or even field goals, the Sooners will win.

“That’s critical. It’s critical,” Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley said. “That’s an area Texas has been extremely good. And it’s an area we’ve been extremely good. That’ll be a huge part of this game. Going to have two good offenses on the field. Are you able to stay on the field? Defense is able to get those off the field and get the other team the ball back. It’s going to be a big factor I think on all sides. And it always is. Not anything new. It’ll certainly be a little bit of strength vs. strength there. As far as kind of how the teams have played up to this point, it’ll be a fairly impactful stat when we look at it after the game.”

On the other side of the equation, Oklahoma has a pronounced advantage. OU’s offense ranks fourth nationally in converting third-down chances at 55.6 percent (25-of-45), while Texas’ defense is a pedestrian 89th in FBS rankings at 40.3 percent (29-of-72).

Another stat trend could come into play as well: Texas has produced touchdowns on 16-of-18 red zone trips, an impressive 88.9 percent, while Oklahoma has crossed the end zone just 22 times in 29 red zone possessions, or 75.9 percent. Texas hasn’t even attempted a field goal from the red zone, while Oklahoma has kicked it six times.

 “What gets lost in the game of football is how difficult it is to score in the red zone when the field is that compressed,” said Texas coach Tom Herman. “There’s gonna be two extra hats at the line of scrimmage in the run game, and when you’re throwing the football, you’ve only got to defend a few yards. So it is extremely difficult. … We don’t like kicking field goals in the red zone, so we’re gonna pull out all the stops, if you will, to score touchdowns down there.”

The Sooners had college football’s worst red zone defense last season, but have been much better so far this year. In just 12 trips into the OU red zone, opponents have scored just seven touchdowns. Texas has allowed 20 trips into the red zone and yielded 12 TDs.

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Formerly co-host of “Further Review” and “The Franchise Drive,” columnist John E. Hoover is a college football insider on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover co-hosts The Franchise “Inside OU” Podcast with Brady Trantham and Rufus Alexander, and the Locked oN Sooners podcast on the Locked oN Podcast Network. He also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his YouTube channel at YouTube.com/c/JohnHoover, and his personal page at johnehoover.com.

John Hoover
@JohnEHoover

John Hoover wrote for the Tulsa World for 24 years before joining The Franchise, where he was co-host of "Further Review" and "The Franchise Drive." Now he's The Franchise college football insider: Oklahoma's state Heisman rep, a voter in the FWAA Super 16 poll, an FWAA media access liaison, and a Big 12 writer at Sporting News and Lindy's preseason magazine. In his time at the World, Hoover won numerous writing and reporting awards, including in 2011 National Beat Writer of the Year from the Associated Press Sports Editors for his work covering the Oklahoma Sooners. From 2012 to 2016, Hoover was the World's lead sports columnist and won national awards in 2012 and 2014 from the National Athletic Trainers Association for reporting on sports medicine and in 2015 won first place in sports columns from the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists. After receiving a journalism degree from East Central University, Hoover worked at newspapers in Ada, Okmulgee, Tahlequah and Waynesville, Mo. He played football at Ada High School and grew up in North Pole, Alaska. Hoover and his family live in Broken Arrow.

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