October 21, 2008

Third down often crucial for Cats

Kansas State is better on third down than it was through seven games in either of the previous two seasons under Ron Prince. But that might only benefit the Wildcats on Saturday if they inch toward third-and-short situations against an Oklahoma defense that has proven absolutely stingy in giving up midrange or double-digit yardage on the decisive play often relied upon to keep drives alive. It could certainly be one trend to watch when the Wildcats face the fourth-ranked Sooners at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

The Wildcats are currently tied for 33rd and alone at ninth in the Big 12 in converting on 40 of 90 (44.4 percent) third down opportunities this season. But against Big 12 teams that figure has dropped to 14 of 39 (35.9 percent) as the Wildcats come off a 3-for-15 effort on third downs in a 14-13 loss at Colorado last weekend.

Although the Wildcats have been good all season in going 22 of 30 (73.3 percent) on third-and-short (1 to 4 yards), five of those failed opportunities have come in the Big 12.

Meanwhile, the Wildcats have struggled in converting on third-and-midrange (5 to 8 yards) just four of 12 times dating back to the fourth quarter against Louisiana, and have converted on just three of 24 third-and-long (9 or more yards) situations dating back to the fourth quarter against Montana State.

"Honestly, we just haven't been able to convert in some key situations," quarterback Josh Freeman said on Monday.

It isn't a particularly comforting scenario for the Wildcats, 4-3 overall and 1-2 in the Big 12, as they face Oklahoma, 6-1 and 2-1, which ranks No. 7 nationally and tops in the Big 12 in allowing opponents to convert on only 29 of 102 (28.4 percent) of their third downs.

In games against Baylor, then-No. 5 Texas and then-No. 15 Kansas, the Sooners forced their league foes to have to gain at least five yards on 28 of 40 (70 percent) third downs. So far in the Big 12, the Sooners have surrendered a first down only six times under such a third-and-distance circumstance.

In short, that means a team needing five or more yards will pick-up the first down about twice in every 10 third downs against the Sooners.

Kansas and quarterback Todd Reesing weren't so fortunate. Reesing completed only one of six passes with one interception, three sacks and one first down on nine third downs when the Jayhawks needed five or more yards during a 45-31 loss to the Sooners last weekend.

"We were not very good on third down like we have been all year," Reesing said. "They played almost flawless ball and we had some mistakes. In the end, that's what it comes down to. They just didn't make the mistakes."

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