AUBURN, Ala. — It’s the biggest question hanging over the Auburn offense as it officially hands play-calling duties over from head coach Gus Malzahn to offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee.
Why has Auburn, which ranks second-to-last in the FBS in red-zone touchdown percentage, been so ineffective in peak scoring situations?
Auburn passed the LSU 20-yard line 6 different times last Saturday evening but only scored 5 times — all field goals. Those kicks were enough to beat the Bayou Bengals, 18-13, but it’s not a sustainable strategy for the future.
“Right now, the biggest concern is we’re struggling to score touchdowns in the red zone, and I think that’s pretty obvious,” Lashlee said Wednesday night. “Everybody knows that. You know, it kept us from maybe giving our defense some breathing room Saturday and you know, it will catch up with you. It has already in a couple games this year.”
When asked if Auburn’s inability to turn red-zone trips into touchdowns against LSU was a product of bad play-calling or bad execution, Lashlee added a third category to place those woes.
“Last week, you know, it was just the little things,” Lashlee said.
Those “little things” including an incompletion in the end zone to Tony Stevens during the first half.
According to Lashlee, both sides of that connection — quarterback Sean White and Stevens — could have done better on the “little things.”
“We have a double move to Tony, quarterback probably should have let it go just a little bit earlier,” Lashlee said. “That’s how we’ve repped it. But at the same time you’re not going to be open in the red zone, wide open, hardly ever. We’ve got to go up and make a play. We had a chance to make a play on the ball.”
Later in the half, LSU stonewalled Auburn 1-yard line on back-to-back rhandoffs Kerryon Johnson, leading to a turnover on downs.
“I think that third-and-a foot, if we just snap off on the back or he probably doesn’t come clean, and maybe we have a chance to score,” Lashlee said. “You’re thinking ‘We’re going to get a foot. We just went from the 4 to the 1-foot line. I think we’re going to get four inches,’ and we don’t.”
If the Tigers can focus on cutting down those small mistakes that continue to doom them in the red zone, the staff is confident that the big breakthrough will come.
“We just have to solve our red-zone issues,” Malzahn said Tuesday. “That’s our number one focus right now. … If we can solve that, I think we can be a pretty good offense.”
But those “little things” aren’t always on the players.
Lashlee is putting an emphasis on getting those finer details fixed among the Auburn offensive coaching staff, which he said hasn’t gone through much of a change since Lashlee became primary play-caller.
Wide receivers coach Kodi Burns and running backs coach Tim Horton handle substitutions as offensive line coach Herb Hand continues to provide a different perspective from the box.
“At the same time, we have to look at ourselves too and put them in good positions to have a chance to make plays down there,” Lashlee said. “So it’s probably a mixture (of execution and strategy).
“You can over-analyze it. … Tony had a chance on one. We’ve got some other guys with size. So it’s just going to be about each week, looking at the scheme the team plays in the red zone and try to free guys up.”