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Third-down defense will be key

As we get closer, and closer to the Cotton Bowl, the anticipation of one of the most exciting matchups in the bowl season continues to build. When the Sooners defense takes the field, they will be handed the challenge of slowing down one of the most dynamic players in the country, Johnny Manziel.

The Sooners rank seventh in the Big 12 in third-down defense.

A huge reason as to why Manziel was so effective this year was his ability to convert on third-downs. This season, he averaged 9.6 yards per play on third-down, which led the nation by a wide margin.

“They’re number one in the conference in third down conversions,” said linebackers coach Tim Kish. “There are a lot of things that we have to take care of on third-down to get off the field and get our offense on the field. That will be a big factor in the game.”

Defensively, the Sooners have struggled on third-downs this season. Opponents have converted third-downs, 41% of the time this year which ranks 71st in the nation. The Aggie offense however, is converting 55% of their third-down attempts, which leads the nation. For the Sooners to be successful on third-down, they must apply consistent pressure on Manziel. However, that’s something they’ve struggled to consistently do this season.

“It will be a huge part of the game,” said defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. “You give Manziel more opportunities to make plays, and then you’re going to be in a lot of trouble. We’re going to have to come up with some great plays on third-down.”

In the Aggies two losses this season to Florida and LSU, they were a combined 10-30 on third-downs. The key in those two games, was that both teams were able to apply consistent pressure on Manziel. Granted, the Sooners don’t have the skill on the defensive line that LSU and Florida have, but consistently getting pressure on Manziel like those two teams did might be the biggest key to this game.

In the Sooners two losses this season to Kansas State and Notre Dame, the defense was a combined 15-29 on third-downs. The Sooners cannot allow the Aggies to have long, withstanding drives like both the Wildcats and the Irish had.

“Every game you want to get off the field on third-down because regardless of who you’re playing, they’ll beat you if you keep giving them third-downs,” said defensive end R.J. Washington. “You have the Heisman winner, and if you give him a bunch of third- downs, it’s going to be a long, long day.”

What the Sooners cannot allow, is for the Aggies to have manageable third-down attempts. They must be able to force predictable passing situations and contain Manziel when they get them. What the Sooners decide to defensively will be very interesting. The key will be to successfully mix-up coverages and blitzes to keep Manziel guessing and off-balance.

Heisman winner, Johnny Manziel leads the nation with a 9.6 yard average on third down.

But, if the Sooners allow Manziel to have a field day, they will have to lean on the offense to try and outscore the Aggies.

If the Sooners can find a way to prevent long drives and get off the field on third downs, It will go a long way towards winning the game

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