Sean White (above) is shown in action vs. Texas A&M.
Auburn, Ala.--Last season’s Mississippi State game has come to stand out as the norm for the Auburn football Tigers on offense for much of the last two years because of the lack of production in the red zone.
Falling 17-9 to the Bulldogs, Auburn was just 2-4 in red zone chances a season ago with both scores field goals by Daniel Carlson.
For the season the Tigers finished 46-51 in red zone opportunities, but scored just 32 touchdowns (63 percent) to finish 52nd in the country in that stat.
Fast forward to this year and the problems have continued for Gus Malzahn, Rhett Lashlee and company. Getting points on 78 percent of chances inside the 20 (21-27), Auburn has scored a paltry 11 touchdowns for just a 41 percent success rate.
That puts the Tigers 124th in the country in red zone touchdowns through five weeks with only Idaho, Miami (Ohio), Rutgers and SMU worse than Auburn.
This weekend the Tigers will face a Mississippi State defense that has allowed touchdowns on nine of 14 trips into the red zone by its opponents so there is hope for improvement on Saturday. Malzahn said while his team has got to be able to throw it, in his mind the key to success in the red zone is on the ground.
“If you really look at the history, when we’ve been really good at red zone offense it was because we ran the football, and we were able to run the football in,” he said. “I think that’s where it’s got to start, but at the same time, you’ve got to be efficient enough, especially when they know you are throwing the football. That’s when it really gets challenging.
“It’s third down and goal from the six to the 10, there’s a good chance you’re going to throw the football. That’s really a big emphasis on what we’re doing moving forward, but, at the same time, the run-play action things down there, there’s a time for all of it.”
So far this season Auburn hasn’t been nearly efficient enough in those obvious passing downs and there have been way too many of them. On 60 offensive plays inside the 20 this season the Tigers have run the ball 41 times with 19 passes, but only five of those passes have come on first down and none since a Sean White pass to Ryan Davis in the first quarter against Texas A&M set up a Kamryn Pettway one-yard run.
Held out of last week's game vs. ULM with a quad muscle bruise, Kamryn Pettway is expected to be back in action this week running the football for the Tigers.
Since that first down pass play of 15 yards to Davis the Auburn offense has had 37 plays in the red zone not counting the final drive against ULM when the Tigers had the reserves in the game and weren’t worried about scoring. Of those 37 plays only seven have been called pass plays and none on first down.
That’s an issue moving forward for a team that has shown it has problems lining up and running the football inside the red zone the last two seasons. Facing a Mississippi State defense that is allowing just 110.8 yards on the ground this season, the Tigers have work to do this weekend, but Malzahn said his team is trending in the right direction with that 30-point mark always the goal.
“I think we’re starting to figure out who we are offensively,” the head coach said. “I think we have a chance to keep improving. Of course, scoring that many points is one of our goals. We’re still working toward that, but I feel confident that we’re going to get better.”