Rice football has a decent amount of success on third down last season, but a tick up in those situations needs to be a focal point entering 2018.
Unless your offense consistently finds a way to take the top of the defense, converting on third down is a key piece of any offensive gameplan. Every coach will have a variety of plays and formations at his disposal for the sole purpose of gaining those three, seven or even 15 necessary yards and moving the chains. Offenses that can’t consistently convert on third down have to rely on chunk plays to avoid the down entirely.
Rice converted on 39 percent of their third down conversions last season. The Owls were just behind the national average of 40 percent conversions. While that’s a step up from their defensive stop rate on third down it still leaves room for improvement.
The teams that consistently turned third downs into first down predominantly were successful running the football, and not just when they had to. 10 of the top 16 third down offenses ranked inside the top 25 in rushing. Teams that run the ball frequently and with success often put themselves into a manageable down and distance. They also have the practice and the poise to get the two yards they need by handing the ball off to a trustworthy running back and letting him lower his shoulder and plow through the line.
Building up the offensive line has already been one of head coach Mike Bloomgren’s focal points. He signed four offensive lineman in the 2018 class. He’s already begun building his 2019 class around guard Regan Riddle and tight end Jack Bradley.
The ability to get the tough yards will define success. It will make the arrival of the physical brutality meant to coincide with newfound culture of the intellectual brutality which is already beginning to bleed into this program’s DNA. Whether it’s on the ground behind the revamped offensive line or through the air, converting on third down is a must.