AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s offense has gotten a lot of grief this season and with good reason. But Saturday against LSU, moving the football — between the 20s, at least — wasn’t one of those problems.
The Tigers had six drives of 50-plus yards, including four straight possessions in the second and third quarters.
The biggest concern now isn’t the offense’s ability to get up an down the field. It’s whether or not it can score touchdowns when reaching the red zone. That’s where the offensive woes have been most noticeable.
“From an offensive standpoint, that’s going to be the No. 1 focus, is going to be being productive in the red zone,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said Tuesday. “As far as planning, as far as practice time, that will be our No. 1 focus.”
In terms of red zone scoring, Auburn has fared moderately well. The Tigers are 17 of 22 in red-zone scoring, a serviceable 77 precent. But that’s a field goal-heavy statistic. Of those 17 red-zone scores, only seven have been touchdowns for an underwhelming 32 percent touchdown efficiency inside the 20-yard line, which is second-to-last in all of FBS.
Fortunately for Auburn, the Tigers have Lou Groza Award contender Daniel Carlson to virtually guarantee three points when the offense stalls. But it’s time to start finding the red zone with more regularity, and Malzahn won’t hold back on that expectation.
“We need to turn some of those field goals into touchdowns,” quarterback Sean White said Saturday, “there’s no doubt.”
So what have the issues been? Well, that’s somewhat dependent on who you ask.
In Malzahn’s case, it’s a conglomeration of preparation, play-calling and execution. He believes it to be a fixable issue, which is why the week leading up to Louisiana-Monroe will emphasize those situations.
But it might be time to get creative in the red zone and Malzahn expects to see a much different Auburn when the Tigers near the end zone.
“We’re going to evaluate the whole deal in the red zone. If we can solve that, I think we can be a pretty good offense,” Malzahn said. “We’re going to focus on that like crazy. You will see some different things in the red zone moving forward, put it that way.”
Players aren’t blaming play-calling. On Sunday, wide receiver Ryan Davis did the opposite, saying the “play-calling is there, we just have to execute as a unit.”
It’s been a few blocking breakdowns, miscommunicated routes or missed reads that have resulted in negative plays and stalled drives. When Auburn finally puts it all together, Davis said it might make this offense a dangerous one for all defenses.
“When you watch film, you see one guy missed this or, ‘Ah man, this could’ve been a touchdown. This could’ve been a big play,'” Davis said. “I feel like once we get through that wall — I feel like we keep crashing into a wall right now — but, once we break through it. There’s so many points. Once we get through that wall, I think our offense will take off to a whole other level.”
This red-zone deficiency has been a strange trend for Auburn since finding so much success in that area prior to the 2015 season.
The Tigers finished 13th in the nation in red zone touchdown percentage in 2013 during the national-title run. They still were getting in the end zone on more than 65 percent of their red zone trips in 2014.
The sharp decline — one spot away from the bottom of FBS — has to be rectified.
“Before the last two years, we’ve been one of the best teams in the country year in and year out. And last year and the start of this year, we’ve been just the opposite,” Malzahn said. “I think it’s an overall evaluation of all the above. Evaluation of the scheme, what fits our players, the play-calling, the all of the above.”