To comprehend what Colt McCoy and the Texas offense were able to do on third down last season you would need to strap on some crampons and scale Mount Everest or bike across the Alps and Pyrenees for 23 days with Lance Armstrong.
It wasn't just that Texas finished third nationally in third-down conversions in 2008 (95 of 173, 55 percent). It was how the Longhorns did it. There were 59 times last season that Colt McCoy and the first-team offense faced third-and-7 or longer.
The dreaded third-and-long. It's one thing to pull off third-and-2 or third-and-3. But third-and-7 or longer? From this point forward in this article we will call third-and-7 or longer "third-and-long."
So here it is: Texas converted "third-and-long" 28 of 59 times or 48 percent.
There was a third-and-25 converted with a 44-yard pass play from McCoy to Malcolm Williams against Texas Tech. There was a 22-yard pass to Quan Cosby on third-and-17 at Kansas, and a 22-yard pass to James Kirkendoll on third-and-14 against Oklahoma State.
So I asked Greg Davis if he was surprised at how often Colt and Co. cheated fourth-down by converting third-and-long.
"In our quality control what we consider championship level is if you can convert 33 percent of third-and-7 or longer," said offensive coordinator Greg Davis. "And last year we were off the chart at converting 7-plus. It's hard to count on that. You work towards it, but it's hard to count on it."
Let that marinate for a second - 33 percent is considered "championship level" and Texas converted third-and-long 48 PERCENT OF THE TIME in 2008.
You want to know if Colt McCoy and Co. were clutch on offense? Throw this 48 percent conversion rate on top of the pile that already includes McCoy's Walter Camp national player of the year award; more fourth-quarter comebacks (7) than VY (6) and more second-half comebacks (10) than VY (8); McCoy's 32-7 record as a starter with the possibility of becoming the NCAA's all-time victory leader at QB in 2009.
"Colt's ability to make plays with his feet, you can't put a price tag on how valuable that is," Davis said. "If the defense has everyone covered up down the field, he can break the pocket and go get you a first down. And then Quan (Cosby) and Jordan (Shipley) were able to make yards after the catch. All those things contributed."
Third down is survival time. You either keep the drive alive or tell your defense to get the ball back.
But even when fourth-down rolled around, Texas was No. 1 nationally in 2008, converting 13 of 16 (81.3 percent). McCoy was 5-of-7 converting fourth down when he ran or threw the ball.
"We just have a lot of trust in each other as an offense that we can make a play to keep a drive alive," McCoy said. "It's not just me. It's the line blocking, the receivers catching or the backs running the ball. It's a credit to the entire offense."
Texas was more successful converting third-and-long last season (48 percent) than 105 teams in Division I-A were converting all of their third downs.
And you could see the trust grow with the receivers who are returning for the 2009 season based on McCoy's success in throwing to those players on third or fourth down.
WHO DO YOU TRUST?
You want to know how much Colt McCoy trusts Jordan Shipley? Shipley led the team last year with 24 passes thrown to him on third down. Texas converted 19 of those 24 (79.2 percent). Shipley also led Texas with 10 conversions of "third-and-long."
McCoy threw to Quan Cosby 17 times on third down last season, and converted 14 times (82.4 percent). Cosby was second in converting third-and-long with seven.
McCoy threw to Chris Ogbonnaya 14 times on third down last season, converting six times (42.9 percent).
As the season wore on, McCoy turned increasingly to Brandon Collins on third down, throwing to Collins 12 times and converting eight times (66.7 percent). Four of those conversions were "third-and-long," including a third-and-9 and third-and-8 against Texas A&M and third-and-8 against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
We all know McCoy and Shipley have a special bond, dating back to their childhoods because their fathers were roommates at Abilene Christian as football players. And by now most everyone knows McCoy picked up Collins at his apartment at 5:30 a.m. in the off-season to make sure Collins didn't miss any 6 a.m. workouts.
Kirkendoll feels like making clutch catches on third- and fourth-down last season, especially a key fourth-and-3 catch on UT's game-winning drive against Ohio State, helped him earn McCoy's trust going forward. McCoy agrees.
"James is solid," McCoy said. "He had a great year last year, and his role is probably going to increase a little bit this year. He is playing really well and is consistent. He runs great routes and gets open. In our offense, when you have a guy that you can count on like that for every play, it really helps.
"Fourth-and-three, you have to make it in the Fiesta Bowl, and he comes up with a big play. That gains a lot of trust from a quarterback's perspective. I think at that point, he earned a lot of respect from our team. He is smart enough to play all three receiver positions on the field, so we will be able to use him a lot of different ways."
Here's a look back at some of the key third-down conversions from last year game by game:
Team third-down conversions: 7 of 14
Colt running or throwing on third-down: 4 of 7
Third-and-long (7 yards or longer): McCoy hit Shipley for a 9-yard TD on third-and-goal from the 9 in the second quarter for a 21-3 lead.
Fourth down: 1 of 1 (Shipley converts 4th-and-2 on a fake field goal by running right up the middle)
Team third-down conversions: 1 of 6
Colt running or throwing to convert third-down:0-of-4 (Only game in 2008 when Colt didn't throw or run to convert a third down.)
Third-and-long (7 yards or longer):0 for 3
Notable third-down play:McCoy was intercepted in the end zone on third-and-8 from the UTEP 14 when Dan Buckner appeared to run a bad route. (This play probably set Buckner back an entire year from a trust standpoint with McCoy.)
Fourth down: 0 of 0
Team third-down conversions: 7 of 12
Colt running or throwing to convert third-down: 6 of 8 (all with his arm)
Third and long (7 yards or longer): 3-of-3 (One of these third downs was converted by John Chiles)
Notable third-down play: Colt converted his first five third downs against Rice, including third-and-12 from the Rice 40 on a 35-yard pass to Quan Cosby, but Cosby fumbled into the end zone on the play and Rice recovered for a touchback.
Three third-down conversions by McCoy came on a second-quarter scoring drive that put Texas up 14-3 and included third-and-7, third-and-6 and third-and-4.
Fourth down: 3 of 3
Team third-down conversions: 7 of 12
Colt running or throwing to convert third-down: 4 of 5
Third and long (7 yards or longer): 1 of 4 (Colt's only failed attempt came on a 4-yard pass to Peter Ullman on 3rd and 22. The one conversion was a pass interference penalty on Arkansas. The other attempts were by John Chiles.)
Notable third-down play: Two of his four conversions were running - on third-and-1 on a drive that ended with a McCoy 5-yard TD run; and on third-and-1 from the UT 38 that helped sustain a drive culminating in a 13-yard TD pass to Quan Cosby in the third quarter putting Texas up 38-3.
Fourth down: 0 of 0
Team third-down conversions: 9 of 16
Colt running or throwing to convert third-down: 5 of 9
Third and long (7 yards or longer): 1 of 6 (Colt's only conversion was an 11-yard pass to Jordan Shipley on third-and-9, but the drive ended in a punt. One failed conversion came with John Chiles in the game.)
Notable third-down play: McCoy's first conversion on third-and- 6 from the UT 35 was one of the most memorable of the season. Colt threw what turned out to be a 65-yard TD pass to Chris Ogbonnaya in which McCoy's whole body except for his feet were ahead of the line of scrimmage when it looked like McCoy would run, only to dump off a pass to CO, who went the distance.
One of McCoy's failed conversions (on 3rd and 8 from the CU 31) resulted in an interception. It was his second pass to be intercepted on third down in the season, the first coming at UTEP. This time, McCoy took the blame.
Fourth down: 1 of 1
Team third-down conversions: 6 of 13
Colt running or throwing to convert third-down: 5 of 10 (2 of 2 in the fourth quarter)
Third and long (7 yards or longer): 1 of 4
Notable third-down play: UT had third-and-8 from the OU 38 when McCoy hit Shipley for 37 yards to the 1 (the play Quan Cosby re-arranged Lendy Holmes' gray matter). That set up a 1-yard TD run by Cody Johnson that put Texas up for good, 38-35 with 7:37 left in the game.
The other conversion in the fourth quarter came on third-and-4 from the UT 26 as McCoy hit Chris Ogbonnaya for 10 yards and a first down, keeping alive a 6-play, 80-yard drive to a 2-yard Cody Johnson TD that put Texas up 45-35.
Fourth down: 0-of-0 ( OU was 0-of-3)
Team third-down conversions: 10 of 12
Colt running or throwing to convert third-down: 8 of 10
Third and long (7 yards or longer): Colt was 3 of 5, including a 32-yard TD pass on third-and-12 to Malcolm Williams, who went high over senior safety William Moore for one of the best TD catches of the season (and a 21-0 lead).
Notable third-down play: Williams TD catch was the notable third-down play. But this game produced mind-boggling results on third down. McCoy's first six conversions led to four touchdowns and a 35-0 lead in the second quarter. Colt's last conversion came on third-and-4 from the M9 on a middle pass to Brandon Collins for 5 yards, setting up a Cody Johnson 1-yard TD run for a 49-17 lead with 10:52 left in the game.
Team third-down conversions: 11 of 14
Colt running or throwing to convert third-down: 11 of 13 (Crazy numbers again for McCoy. But he also had an interception and a fumble in the game. McCoy has six turnovers in three games against the Cowboys, the only Big 12 South team he's yet to have a clean game against.)
Third and long (7 yards or longer): 4 of 4 (McCoy converted third-and-14 from the UT 27 on a 22-yard pass to Kirkendoll on drive that ended in a punt. ... McCoy hit Shipley for 15 yards on third-and-8 from the UT9 on a drive that went 11 plays and 93 yards for a 7-0 lead with 1:47 in the first quarter. McCoy also converted third-and-5 on that drive.)
Notable third-down play: Undoubtedly the biggest conversion of the game came on third-and-9 from the OSU 26 on a 20-yard pass to Shipley for a first down that helped Texas whittle two minutes off the clock in a four-point game. Texas failed to score despite having first-and-goal from the OSU 6, but the Cowboys didn't get the ball back until there were 33 seconds left on the clock from their own 1. Three straight big passes got OSU to the Texas 49 with eight sconds left. But Zac Robinson's deep pass to Dez Bryant on the game's final play was broken up by Curtis Brown.
Fourth down: 0-of-1 (Incomplete pass on fourth-and-goal from McCoy to Ogbonnaya in the fourth quarter, up 28-24.) OSU was 2-of-3
At TEXAS TECH
Team third-down conversions: 4 of 12
Colt running or throwing to convert third-down: 2 of 10
Third and long (7 yards or longer): 1 of 8
Notable third-down play: The only two conversions came on a 44-yard pass to Malcolm Williams on third-and-25 from the UT39, helping set up a field goal that cut Tech's lead to 22-6 at the half.
The other came on 3rd and 5 from the UT 25 on a 14-yard pass to Brandon Collins to the UT39. It kept alive UT's go-ahead drive of 11 plays, 80 yards in 4:16, putting Texas up 33-32 with 1:29 left to play.
Fourth down: 1-of-1; Colt rushed for 1 yard on fourth-and-1 from the Tech 40 down 5-0 in the first quarter on a drive that led to a punt.
Team third-down conversions: 8 of 16
Colt running or throwing to convert third-down: 4 of 8 (Colt was intercepted by Jordan Lake on third-and-9 in first quarter)
Third and long (7 yards or longer): 2 of 4
Notable third-down play: McCoy converted the first four third downs he faced - all in the first quarter on two touchdown drives, then failed to convert another.
Fourth down: 3-of-3 (Colt rushed for first down on 4th and 1 twice in the same drive in third quarter, leading to a TD by Fozzy Whittaker that put UT up 35-14. Vondrell McGee rushed for 3 yards on 4th and 1 in fourth quarter, leading to a FG that put UT up 45-14).
Team third-down conversions: 5 of 12
Colt running or throwing to convert third-down: 5 of 11
Third and long (7 yards or longer): 2 of 3
Notable third-down play: McCoy didn't have any third-down conversions in the first half that led to touchdowns. In the third quarter, McCoy hit Quan Cosby for 22 yards on third-and-17 from the KU 32. It helped set up a 10-yard TD run by Chris Ogbonnaya on the next play for a 21-0 lead with 10:11 left in the third.
Fourth down: 1 of 2 (McCoy pass incomplete on fourth-and-6 to Malcolm Williams from the KU 34; fake field goal on 4th and 2, Shipley rushes for 6 yards up the middle to KU25, setting up the Ogbonnaya TD that put UT up 21-0 in the third quarter.)
Team third-down conversions: 14 of 17
Colt running or throwing to convert third-down: 9 of 10
Third and long (7 yards or longer): 7 of 8
Notable third-down play: On UT's first drive Colt converted third-and-11 and third-and-8 en route to a 7-0 lead.
On UT's second drive, Colt converted third-and-9 and third- and-7 before Ryan Bailey missed a 36-yard field goal.
On UT's third drive, Colt converted third-and 6 with a 9-yard run and then converted third-and-8 with a 20-yard TD pass to Brandon Collins on a crossing route for a 14-0 lead with 5:13 left in the second quarter.
On UT's fourth drive, Colt converted third-and-5 on a 17-yard slant pass to Quan Cosby and third-and-8 on an 18-yard pass to Ogbonnaya, setting up a 9-yard TD pass to Cosby for a 21-3 lead at the half.
By then, McCoy had already converted 8-of-9 third downs when he either ran or threw the ball.
McCoy capped off his brilliant day on third down with a 68-yard pass to Shipley on third-and-11 that gave UT the ball at the A&M 1 and set up a Cody Johnson TD that put Texas up 35-3 with 14:25 to play before Colt was relieved by John Chiles.
Fourth down: 0 of 0
OHIO STATE (Fiesta Bowl)
Team third-down conversions: 6 of 17
Colt running or throwing to convert third-down: 6 of 15
Third and long (7 yards or longer): 4 of 8
Notable third-down play: Colt converted a third-and-10 on a 20-yard pass to Shipley in the second quarter to help set up a 27-yard field goal that tied the game 3-3 in the second quarter.
Colt also converted a third-and-8 in the third quarter from UT's 22 on an 8-yard pass to Kirkendoll. The play kept alive a 15-play, 80-yard drive that ate 6:31 off the clock, capped by a 14-yard TD run by McCoy putting Texas up 10-6 with 8:29 left in the third quarter.
But who will ever forget the final drive in the Fiesta Bowl? Before the game-winning touchdown pass to Quan Cosby with 16 seconds left or even the fourth-and-3, first-down pass to James Kirkendoll that set up Cosby's touchdown, there were as a big third-down conversion. It came on third-and-8 from the UT 37 as Colt completed a 13-yard pass to Brandon Collins to midfield.
Fourth down: 3 of 4; Colt was sacked for -11 yards on fourth-and-7 from the O37 in the second quarter; Rashad Bobino rushed for a first down on a fake punt on fourth-and-2 from the O47.
Cody Johnson rushed for 2 yards to the Ohio State 34 on fourth-and-1. Both Bobino and Johnson's conversions happened on the same drive as Texas scored a TD and took a 10-6 lead in the third quarter.
The last conversion was the most memorable, Colt passed to James Kirkendoll on fourth-and-3 to keep the game-winning drive alive.
MOST POPULAR 3RD DOWN TARGETS FOR COLT MCCOY IN 2008:
Key: 3 - third down yardage, (7) - yardage made on the play, FAU - opponent
Blaine Irby - 3 (4) FAU; 9 (7) FAU; 4 (7) Rice; 6 (3) Rice (Irby was Colt's leading third-down target before his injury with four third-down catches; Quan was second with three catches)
Jordan Shipley - 9 (9TD) FAU; 2 (5) Rice; 4 (5) Ark.; 5 (6) Ark.; 9 (11) CU; 2 (2 TD) OU; 8 (37) OU; 2 (3) Miz; 7 (16) Miz; 8 (15) Ok. St.; 4 (6) Ok.St.; 3 (5) Ok. St.; 9 (20) Ok.St.; 10 (14) BU; 7 (inc, pass int on KU); 5 (5) KU; 6 (inc) KU; 11 (68) A&M; 2 (0) Ohio St.;10 (20) Ohio St.; 10 (13) Ohio St.; 3 (2) Ohio St.; 1 (12) Ohio St.; 3 (inc) Ohio St.; 24 passes thrown to Shipley on third down, converting 19 times with one penalty. (10 of the 28 third-and-long completions were converted by Jordan Shipley)
Dan Buckner - 11 (pass int D) FAU
Quan Cosby - 11 (inc) FAU; 12 (35) Rice; 6 (8) Rice; 2 (19) OU; 7 (13) Miz; 3 (4) Miz; 6 (11) Ok.St.; 11 (12) Ok.St.; 7 (35) BU; 6 (10) BU; 7 (inc) BU; 17 (22) KU; 6 (inc, pass int, 1st down) KU; 4 (9) KU; 9 (11) KU; 11 (20) A&M;5 (17) A&M; 17 passes thrown to Cosby on third down, converting 14 times with one penalty (7 of the 28 third-and-long completions were to Quan Cosby)
James Kirkendoll - 7 (10) Rice; 9 (inc, pass int Ark); 10 (inc) OU; 14 (22) Ok. St.;2 (inc) BU; 6 (inc) KU; 8 (8) Ohio St.; 11 (inc, pass int. Ohio St., 1st down); thrown to 8 times on 3rd down, three conversions and two penalties (three of the 28 third-and-long completions were to James Kirkendoll)
Brandon Collins - 9 (12) Rice 3rd qtr; 6 (10) OU; 6 (38) Miz; 7 (6) Miz; 4 (5) Miz; 5 (inc) KU; 9 (13) A&M;8 (20) A&M;4 (5) Ohio St.; 11 (4) Ohio St.; 7 (inc) Ohio St.; 8 (13) Ohio St.; thrown to 12 times, converting eight times (4 of the 28 third-and-long completions were to Brandon Collins)
Peter Ullman - 22 (4) Ark.; 18 (8) Ohio St.;
Chris Ogbonnaya - 6 (65) CU; 22 (10) CU; 4 (inc) OU; 23 (10) OU; 7 (1) OU; 4 (10) OU; 17 (10) Miz; 5 (12) Ok.St.; 2 (34) Ok.St.; 4 (7) KU; 3 (inc) KU;8 (18) A&M;3 (inc) Ohio St.; 18 (inc) Ohio St.; thrown to 14 times, converting 6 times (1 of the 28 third-and-long completions were to Ogbonnaya)
Daniel Orr - 1 (inc) OU;
Malcolm Williams - 12 (32TD) Miz 2nd qtr; 2 (3) Ok. St.; 3 (6) BU; 9 (inc) BU; 7 (13) A&M; thrown to five times on third down, converting 4 of them (2 of the 28 third-and-long completions were to Williams)
Vondrell McGee - 5 (0) Ok. St.
3RD DOWN TARGETS OF JOHN CHILES IN 2008
James Kirkendoll - 13 (29) FAU
Ian Harris - 6 (7) Ark.
Montre Webber - 7 (9) A&M; 7 (30TD) A&M
3rd DOWN RUNS IN 2008
Colt McCoy - 1 (3) FAU; 6 (11) FAU; 11 (9) FAU; 11 (4) UTEP; 1 (1) Ark.; 1 (2) Ark.; 1 (2) CU; 7 (sacked) CU; 1 (7) CU; 1 (3) CU; 7 (6) CU; 7 (sacked -2) OU; 1 (1) Miz; 2 (9) Ok.St.; 6 (0 lost fumble) Ok.St.; 11 (sacked -2) KU; 3 (1) KU; 8 (10) A&M; 6 (9) A&M
John Chiles - 3 (2) FAU; 7 (2) UTEP; 6 (25TD) Rice; 8 (0) Ark.; 11 (6) Ark.; 4 (5) Ark.; 3 (5) Ark.; 6 (7) CU; 9 (-15 sacked) CU; 1 (2) Miz;3 (2) BU;1 (1) A&M
Cody Johnson - 3 (5) FAU; 1 (2) FAU; 1 (0) Rice; 2 (1) Rice; 1 (5) CU; 1 (0) CU; 1 (1TD) CU; 1 (1TD) OU; 1 (4) Miz; 2 (1) Ok.St.; 1 (2) BU;1 (1TD) A&M; 1 (-1) Ohio St.
Jeremy Hills - 8 (3) FAU; 9 (0) Ark.; 1 (2) CU
Foswhitt Whittaker - 1 (3) UTEP; 5 (6) BU;3 (2) BU
Vondrell McGee - 3 (1) UTEP; 2 (4) BU; 2 (6) BU;3 (2) BU; 3 (6) A&M
Chris Ogbonnaya - 2 (-4) CU; 8 (1) OU; 28 (-8) Ohio St.
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