AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee knows the numbers from his offense’s performance in a 19-13 loss to No. 2 Clemson last Saturday.
The Tigers rushed for 87 yards, which was the lowest amount since he became Gus Malzahn’s offensive coordinator prior to the 2013 season. They also went 3 for 17 on third downs, which was the second-worst percentage in the Malzahn era. The average of 3.69 yards per snap was also a worst since the duo’s arrival from Arkansas State, which plays Auburn this weekend.
But Lashlee opened his Wednesday night press conference focusing on another number — four.
“Well, I think you take about four plays out, and there was a lot of good things,” Lashlee said. “Obviously, we had three turnovers. Two of them were on fourth down, and then we missed the touchdown throw to (Chandler Cox) on third down, kind of a tight end delay play. So those are plays we’d obviously like to have back, because they were all in the red zone.”
That quartet of missed opportunities stuck out to Lashlee in reviewing the film of last Saturday’s loss —two from each of Auburn’s main quarterbacks.
Jeremy Johnson, relegated to third-string quarterback, threw an interception in Clemson territory and fumbled the ball in the third quarter. Starting quarterback Sean White missed Cox on a wide-open third-down pass in the third quarter and forced a fourth-quarter pick.
However, Lashlee saw positives in White’s performance.
“When we threw the ball, there weren’t a lot of inaccurate throws,” Lashlee said. “We missed the one tight-end throw. Other than that, I thought (White) played well. His one interception, it was fourth-and-goal. You’ve got to throw it. You’ve got to try to force it in there in a tight window.”
Although the four key plays Lashlee pointed out all happened in the second half, he called the offense’s first-half performance “unacceptable for what we do here at Auburn.” Auburn went three-and-out on four of its five drives before halftime and only managed 38 total yards of offense.
The second half saw plenty more movement down the field — Auburn out-gained Clemson 224-166 after halftime — but the end result was lacking. Auburn turned four red-zone opportunities into a touchdown and a field goal. The Tigers converted 62.75 percent of those trips into touchdowns a season ago.
“Finish the drives. Finish the drives,” Lashlee said. “For a long history, we’ve been pretty good not turning the ball over in the red zone. Like we did the other night, that seems to be happening a little more. We’ve got to be better with the ball. We’ve got to find ways to run it in and find ways to make plays in the passing game with tight windows. We’re not doing that.”
The quest to improve Auburn’s drive-finishing will take the Tigers to Saturday’s matchup with Arkansas State. The Red Wolves gave up 21 points on four Toledo red-zone trips in Week 1, falling to the visiting Rockets, 31-10.
“They know what they do and they’ve played some really good teams really close,” Lashlee said. “They almost beat Missouri [in 2015]. I know it was at their place, but you know they’re a very sound defense. They’re going to make you earn everything. They’re not going to beat themselves on defense. So execution’s at a premium.”