Isaiah Thomas and Nik Bonitto

Redshirt senior defensive lineman Isaiah Thomas (left) and redshirt junior outside linebacker Nik Bonitto (right) make a tackle during the game against Kansas State in Manhattan on Oct. 2.

Facing fourth-and-5 at the Oklahoma 40-yard-line, Kansas State’s offense remained on the field.

It was the Wildcats’ first drive against the Sooners on Saturday, and they decided to roll the dice with an early fourth-down attempt.

Quarterback Skylar Thompson found Daniel Imatorbhebhe for an 11-yard reception, moving the chains and keeping the Sooners’ defense on the field.

It’s not uncommon for offenses to go for it on fourth down, especially if the team is trailing late in the game. But the Sooners’ defense has faced a high number of teams who have opted to try their luck on fourth down.

Through five games, OU has defended 19 fourth-down attempts from opposing offenses this season. That’s more than any other team in the nation, and it’s also a much higher number than previous Oklahoma teams have faced.

In 2020, OU opponents went for it on fourth down 23 times; in 2019, it was 25.

“Hopefully for us, [we’re] gaining more and more of an appreciation for playing better on [early] downs,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said Tuesday.

The Sooners haven’t just defended a lot of fourth downs. Opposing offenses are converting them at a decent rate, too. Of the 19 attempts, the Sooners have surrendered a first down on 12 of them. That’s a 63 percent conversion rate, a stat OU ranks 100th nationally.

One reason for the high number of attempts is the down-and-distance that opposing offenses have faced. Kansas State converted four of their five attempts against the Sooners, and on three of those, the Wildcats needed fewer than five yards to convert the first down.

“We’ve been put in some challenging positions. We’ve had to stop teams a number of times on [our] side of the field,” Riley said. “We’ve done it more than we haven’t, and that’s been a huge positive. The negative is you don’t want to put yourself in that position.”

On Saturday, Kansas State converted all three of their fourth-down attempts and four-of-eight third downs in the first half. The Sooners finished the half with three possessions.

Getting stops on third and fourth down is an emphasis for Riley heading into this weekend’s game against Texas, and could help the Sooners offense have more opportunities to score.

“When you get opportunities to get them off the field, put them in those third-down situations, converting those will be really important,” Riley said. “Obviously the sooner we can do that, the better it is for more possessions offensively, the better it is for field position.”

For safety Pat Fields, the focus has been on treating fourth downs the same as first downs.

“For us, [from] a consistency stand point, we don’t really try to look at it as a third-down situation or a fourth-down situation,” Fields said. “We just try to be consistent in our approach with everything. Say we have a third-and-3 situation and everybody’s like, ‘we need to make a play…’, next thing you know, you jump offsides and that’s a five-yard penalty, automatic first down.

“We’re just very mature in our approach to it. We just try to be consistent in all that we do.”

• OU-TCU kickoff time delayed: The Big 12 announced Monday that the OU-TCU game on Saturday, Oct. 16 will either start at 11 a.m. on Fox Sports or at 6:30 p.m. on ABC.

The official kickoff time won’t be announced until this weekend.

• No injury updates: Riley did not say whether a few of the injured players who missed Saturday’s game will be available against Texas.

“We hope to get some guys back,” Riley said. “But I don’t know that there’s anything definitive I can give you right now… A couple guys [are] progressing but not ready to make any definitive announcements yet.”

Delarrin Turner-Yell, Danny Stutsman and Jalen Redmond missed the Kansas State game.

Jesse Crittenden is the sports editor of The Transcript and covers OU athletics. Reach him at jesse@normantranscript.com or at 405-366-3580

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