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Blogging about college football by an Oklahoma Sooners fan.

Fixing the Sooners: Momentum killers

Landry Jones
In the last edition of "Fixing the Sooners," we dissected Oklahoma's offense from an efficiency standpoint. All in all, even though it "felt" like the O sputtered some a year ago, the results were pretty much in line with the team's performance in recent years.

So why the disconnect between what the eyes and numbers have to say? I chalk it up to what I consider offensive momentum. More appropriately, I chalk it up to offensive momentum killers.

Momentum Killers

I think of momentum killers as plays that prematurely end an offensive drive. They include:

  • any turnover;
  • failure to convert on third down in short-yardage situations (3 yards or fewer); and
  • dropped passes on third down.

I fully admit that these are somewhat crude measures. For example, if a quarterback throws a long interception on third down, does that really constitute a premature end to the drive? Yet, I do think they provide a general picture of an offense's propensity to shoot itself in the foot.

Turnovers

Turnovers: 2007-2011
Year INTs Fumbles Total Average/Gm
2007 9 11 20 1.4
2008 9 2 11 0.8
2009 15 11 26 2.0
2010 12 6 18 1.3
2011 16 13 29 2.2

This one should be pretty clear. The Sooners had more turnovers in 2011 than any of the previous four seasons. Given that they only played 13 games, they hit a per-game high in 2011 for the five-year period as well.

3rd and Short

3rd Down Conversions, 3 Yards or Fewer
Year Rush Att. Rush Conv. Pass At. Pass Conv. Total Conv. %
2007 34 24 31 16 61.5%
2008 39 25 22 11 59.0%
2009 33 22 16 7 59.2%
2010 58 39 23 11 61.7%
2011 37 20 29 16 54.5%

*Data courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Again, OU's performance in this metric declined in 2011 to its lowest point in the five-year period. The Sooners' ability to convert when running the ball in 3rd-and-short situations was particularly poor.

Drops on 3rd Down

I'd grant that this may seem a little arbitrary. I count these as momentum killers because unless Greg Davis is calling your plays, chances are good that your receivers are running routes past the sticks on 3rd down.

Maybe OU's 2011 season is coloring my judgment on this one. If you witnessed how many times a Sooner receiver dropped a catch that would have yielded a 1st down, though, you definitely get why I consider these momentum killers.

Unfortunately, I don't have the motivation at the moment to go back and tally these up for the entire year. However, I did get off my duff long enough to look back at OU's upset loss to Texas Tech, where drops seemed to play a large part in the Sooners' stumble. The results were eye-catching: Of OU's 17 offensive drives in the game, a total of six ended with dropped passes on 3rd down. Four such sequences occurred in the first half as Tech was racing out to a 24-7 halftime lead.

For all the bitching about how poorly OU's D handled Tech's vertical passing game that night, I'd contend the Sooners' stone hands likely did them in.

Conclusion

Given OU's propensity to kill its offensive momentum a season ago, how did the Sooners manage to keep up their level of offensive efficiency for the year?

The answer is big plays. Looking back at OU's Offensive FEI in 2011, the Sooners ranked 11th in the country in Explosive Drives, with 19.5 percent of their offensive drives averaging at least 10 yards per play. Meanwhile, OU was 87th in the nation in Methodical Drives – drives that span at least 10 plays – at 11.6 percent. Those numbers are essentially flipped from the year before (51st overall in Explosive, 11th in Methodical).

The ability to stretch the field and create big plays clearly benefits any offense. However, relying too heavily on explosive plays for your production runs the risk of games where teams get not nearly enough boom and way too much bust. Without the ability to competently manage extended drives, teams become susceptible to ending up on the wrong side of the big play curve. And you can't sustain offensive drives if you keep sabotaging them on your own.

Last season, OU learned the hard way the cost of tripping over its own feet.