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Third-down woes haunting UNC
The University of Northern Colorado football team understands the problem. The Bears know how to fix it.
Now it is just a matter of execution.
The UNC offense has had trouble sustaining drives this season because the Bears haven’t been able to convert on third down.
UNC is ranked last in the Big Sky Conference this season in third-down conversions, moving the chains at a rate of only 20.5 percent as the Bears get ready to face Weber State in a 1:35 p.m. homecoming game Saturday at Nottingham Field.
Last week, the Bears went 0-for-11 on third downs in a 50-20 loss at Idaho State.
The inability to make plays on third down has not only hurt the Bears chances to keep drives alive, but also forced the defense to be on the field for an inordinate amount of time this season. In their three games this season the Bears are averaging a woeful 22 minutes, 19 seconds in time of possession, worst in the Big Sky.
“It’ s tough to continue to move the ball if you are 0-11 on third downs,” UNC quarterback Seth Lobato said. “We left a lot of opportunities out there on the field on Saturday, but we have just got to be more consistent, I say, and be more focused to the down and distance and try to pick up the first down in those situations.”
That has been easier said than done this season in part because of poor execution and penalties that have put the Bears in third-and-long situations.
The Bears found themselves in third-and-short only twice during the game last week, while they were in third-and-long eight times and in second-and-long situations 12 times during the contest.
The Bears offense was flagged six times for penalties that set them backwards.
UNC wide receiver Patrick Walker believes the answer for fixing the problem is simple.
“The key I feel is just doing our jobs, honestly,” Walker said. “If each man on offense does their job play-in and play-out, especially on third downs, we won’t have that problem anymore.”
UNC coach Earnest Collins, Jr., believes part of the problem is that the Bears need a more balanced attack on offense. UNC passed the ball 39 times against the Bengals while running it only 20 times. However, part of that was because UNC fell behind early and was playing catch-up.
However, Collins believes the other problem is getting his players to have confidence in the new offensive system he has installed.
“We just have to be more balanced in our attack, for one,” Collins said. “For two, it is still a process for us of getting the kids to believe in what we are trying to get them to do.
“And it is a slow process. I would like it to be faster. I would like it to be quicker.”
Of course, the question remains is whether it is simply a matter of execution by the players or the coaches doing a better job of putting the players in position to make plays when it counts the most.
When it comes to converting on third down, Collins believes it is simply about execution.
“The coaches have great plays and great concepts,” Walker said. “They are putting us in the right positions and great positions to win the game. It is just a matter of us all executing and getting our jobs done. That is one thing we have been focusing on this week is just getting our job done man-for-man and being accountable.”
By Matt Schuman, Greeley Tribune