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Eagles' Third Down Conversion Woes. Who's to Blame?

Brian: During the ESPN telecast of the EagleBank bowl, they put up a graphic showing UCLA’s poor third-down conversion rate. This season, the Bruins had one of the worse third-down conversion rate in Division I-A, followed by Boston College. I can’t find the exact statistics they used on the broadcast, but take a look at the bottom 10 in third-down conversion rate in Division I:

Rank Team Games Attempts Conversions Conversion %
111 Western Kentucky 12 147 46 31.29
112 SMU 13 161 50 31.06
113 Rice 12 182 56 30.77
113 Arizona State 12 169 52 30.77
115 New Mexico State 13 181 55 30.39
116 Boston College 13 172 52 30.23
117 New Mexico 12 186 56 30.11
118 Kent State 12 166 48 28.92
119 Army 12 173 50 28.90
120 Washington State 12 168 40 23.81


Of the bottom 10, only BC and SMU were bowl-bound teams this year. This season’s 30.23 third-down conversion percentage was over 6 percentage points lower than last season’s percentage (36.41, ranking 86th of 120) and over 10 percentage points lower than the Eagles’ percentage in 2007 (41.94, good for 44th nationally). That's a trend going in the wrong direction.

If you dig a little deeper into the numbers, there is even more sobering news. The Eagles converted on only 10 of 61 third downs against teams with winning records (16.39), 12 of 63 in their 5 losses (19.05) and 8 of 43 in the month of November (18.60) - and not exactly against the toughest competition (at Virginia, North Carolina at Maryland).

This low conversion rate is easily attributable to how many times the Eagles found themselves in third and long situations. But who’s to blame for not getting it done on third down this year? Dave Shinskie and a slew of errant and overthrown passes? Or the offensive playcalling of Gary Tranquill - throwing on first and second down and consistently managing third and longs? A little of A and a little of B? Jeff, your thoughts?

Jeff: It's definitely a little of A and a little of B. Maybe slightly more blame should be put on Gary Tranquill. Let's face it. At this point, Shinskie is no Doug Flutie or Matt Ryan. I blame the coaches for letting this trend continue throughout the year after it was a statistic brought up during the broadcast of nearly every ACC game this season. But there's also another angle that you did not touch on. I believe Tranquill called plays that were designed to avoid turnovers and were not necessarily likely to be plays that would have converted many third and longs. Looking back on the season, you know our offense was the weaker part of our team but they still made enough plays and were good enough to not be this bad on third down.

Brian: The coaching staff needs to work with the players they have and put them in position for success on third down. You can't expect a freshman quarterback to successfully convert third and longs if they are consistently put in that position. It's no coincidence that of the bottom 10 teams on that list, 6 teams started freshmen quarterbacks and 9 of the 10 quarterbacks were first year starters. The Eagles have a strong offensive line that can be used to run the ball on either first or second down and avoid third and long situations. Hopefully, Tranquill can use this year to get more familiar with his offensive personnel and reverse this trend next season. If BC is going to be successful in 2010 (with a very favorable schedule on paper), they will have to do a better job of getting to third and short and converting on third down.