Gus Malzahn (above, left) and Chip Lindsey are shown at an Auburn spring practice.
During the 2016 football season 63 percent of the offensive touchdowns were scored within the red zone at the FBS level. With nearly two-thirds of the touchdowns occurring on plays of 20 or fewer yards, it is evident to see why efficiency in this area is vital to a team’s success.
Auburn's efficiency inside the red zone had declined every year since the 2013 season when it won the Southeastern Conference Championship. The Tigers were No. 13 in red zone touchdown percentage during 2013. In 2014 the national ranking dropped to No. 40 and No. 52 for 2015. Last season Auburn finished at No. 97 in red zone touchdown percentage.
As offensive coordinator at Arizona State, Chip Lindsey's offense ranked No. 22 last season and No. 34 the year before at Southern Miss in this category. Lindsay's offense is reliant on run-pass option plays more so than play-action, which tends to place more pressure on opposing defenses.
During the past three seasons the new Auburn coordinator’s offense has produced 42 touchdown passes to seven interceptions inside the red zone while Auburn has completed 25 touchdown passes to six interceptions during the same period in the red zone.
Coach Lindsey has designed run-pass options to his plays, allowing the quarterback to make reads based on the defensive alignment. The RPO plays will allow the quarterback to hand off to a running back, keep the ball for a run or throw to a hot receiver.
Limiting the predictability factor, especially inside the red zone, should make for a higher scoring offense. Lindsey's offense the past three seasons threw the football 41 percent of the time inside the red zone compared to Auburn's 23 percent during the same period.
The average touchdown percentage inside the red zone during the last decade of college football is 61 percent. Gus Malzahn's offense has exceeded the national average in five of seven seasons. It is Auburn's recent decline in this area, which has become a concern.
Malzahn’s first four offenses at Auburn had an average national ranking of No. 29 in touchdown percentage inside the red zone. His last three have an average national ranking of No. 63. The drop in production can be associated with quarterback play, but play-calling cannot be ruled out.
Kamryn Pettway, the SEC's leading rusher in 2016, is expected to be a major part of Auburn's offense this fall.
Though execution inside the red zone is imperative, scoring in general is always the primary goal on offense. An offensive touchdown has been scored every 19.8 plays over the past decade in college football. Auburn's offense has failed to meet the national average the past two seasons, finishing at No. 83 during 2015 and No. 73 last season.
Finishing the drive inside the red zone bolsters the touchdown ratio, but being able to score outside the red zone is just as important. Combining the 2013 and 2014 seasons, Auburn scored 41 offensive touchdowns outside the red zone. From 2015 to 2016 Auburn scored only 22 offensive touchdowns outside the red zone. The 2010 Auburn offense alone scored 28 touchdowns outside the red zone.
Last season the top 10 teams to score outside the red zone won 80 percent of their games. The bottom 10 in the nation won only 40 percent of their games.
The 2015 Auburn offense was No. 102 in generating plays of 20 yards or more, improving to No. 62 during 2016. Auburn finished at No. 3 during 2010 and No. 23 in 2013. Lindsey's more aggressive style of offense combined with the personnel available in 2017 should result in a continued improvement in big plays and scoring ratio.