Story of the year: red zone inefficiency

Submitted by jmblue on November 22nd, 2009 at 1:11 PM

Some posters of a pessimistic bent have noted that our scoring average in Big Ten play this season was about the same as last season, and have thus argued that our offense did not, in fact, improve from 2008. While the overall goal of an offense, certainly, is to score points, this does not tell the whole story. Our offense definitely was improved this season over last. Consider:

In 2008, we punted 83 (!) times, an average of 6.9 per game. In 2009, we punted 54 times, an average of 4.5 per game. That's a 35% reduction in punts - a dramatic improvement. (This was so even though we reduced our turnover total slightly, from 30 in 2008 to 27 in 2009.)

In 2008, we had just 35 red zone opportunities all season, an average 2.9 per game. In 2009, we had 47 such opportunities, a full additional trip (3.9) more than last year.

So we punted a third less, turned the ball over 10% less often, and advanced into the opposing red zone an additional time per game. Why didn't we score more? Red zone inefficiency.

Last year, we scored 77% of the time in the redzone, and scored TDs 60% of the time. These are not very good averages by any means, yet they are actually better than what we put up this season: a 68% scoring rate, and just a 53% TD rate. Those numbers are ghastly. (And these numbers do not include the many times this season we would have a drive stall 10-15 yards before we reached the red zone.)

From the MSU game onward, we had a scoreless red zone trip in every single game except Iowa. The most blatant case of red zone inefficiency was Illinois: seven trips led to just three scores (42%), and just one TD (14%), a staggeringly-bad performance.

What explains this? It could be a combination of having no other effective short-yardage back than Minor, who barely played in the second half of the season (Purdue excepted). Maybe our playcalling has been overly conservative; we frequently got into a run-run-pass routine near the goal line. Or perhaps being close to the goal line negates some of the advantages of spreading the defense out. Whatever it is, we've got to figure out what the problem was, and how it can be fixed, before next season.



November 22nd, 2009 at 1:59 PM ^

This has stood out for me. After Greg Matthews scored with 11 seconds left to beat Notre Dame, Rodriguez said that it was one of three goal-line routes that the team practices every week. Several times in the second half of the season, I kept asking myself, "When are we going to see the other two?"


November 22nd, 2009 at 2:17 PM ^

Many of Tate's more successful drives (I know this is subjective, just my impressions) seem to hang by a thread until he scrambles and improvises. Maybe that becomes more difficult in the Red Zone as the field becomes much shorter?

STW P. Brabbs

November 22nd, 2009 at 4:03 PM ^

Was Rodriguez failing to put Denard in for short yardage plays. It seemed to me that Denard and Minor in the backfield is almost guaranteed to get a couple of yards.

Hopefully next year Denard will be more comfortable in the offense and we will use him in those situations.