Why can't the Gators score touchdowns in the red zone?
Now that No. 16 Florida has moved past their 33-23 victory against Tennessee in "the Swamp" Saturday, they now need to address a glaring weakness on their squad--red zone efficiency.
Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis has done a very good job of getting the ball to playmakers like Chris Rainey, Jeff Demps, and Trey Burton all while not forcing John Brantley to do too much.
However, once the Gators get inside the 20-yard line, the offense stalls like a public restroom--get it? Stalls!
Granted, Florida is getting on the board when they get down near the goal line, coming away with points on 15 of 16 trips so far in 2011.
However, only nine of those 15 instances have resulted in touchdowns, which raises a lot of red flags for Will Muschamp's squad.
Against the Volunteers, the Gators had four red zone possessions (five if you count a drive that made it down to the 21-yard line; it ended with a field goal) and only scored two touchdowns.
One touchdown came on the game's opening drive while the other while the other was scored on a 4th and Goal play after Muschamp decided he was tired of Caleb Sturgis practicing his chip shots.
The latter play was an act of desperation that should make the entire Gator Nation nervous moving forward.
It's hard to determine the exact reason for the problem seeing as there are so many factors that could go into it.
So, let's break it down position-by-position:
- Offensive Line - Frank Verducci's unit seemed to really struggle to make a decent push deep in Tennessee territory. Florida was stuffed at the line and in the backfield multiple times Saturday, including several instances in the red zone. In Verducci's last job in the same position at Notre Dame in 2009, the team ranked 41st nationally in red zone offense with one-third of the 42 scores being field goals. But before you take your torches and pitchforks to the Verducci residence, consider this: the Fighting Irish had the No. 111 red zone offense in the nation the previous season, so if anything, Verducci's work with the offensive linemen inside the 20-yard line was extraordinary. Besides, you can't place all of the blame on the offensive line because, well, it's not that simple.
- John Brantley - I applaud Brantley for taking a risk on the fade route to Deonte Thompson and hot damn! It almost worked! However, he shouldn't have gone to it twice. Honestly, for his own sake, Brantley should have faked an injury after the first drive. He would have left the fans with the positive memory of his nifty touchdown toss to Trey Burton. Instead, he made some bad decisions and nearly threw his second end zone pick of the year on an ill-advised incompletion intended for Omarius Hines. At least he handed the ball off to the running backs without screwing up.
- The running backs - Well, it's difficult to harp on Rainey and Demps because they are the offense, especially Rainey. However, these guys are not "ram it up the middle" backs, so their similar skill sets are not really suited to the goal line formation. That's where Burton comes in. Of course, Burton scored both of Florida's red zone touchdowns, so you really can't fault him there. Overall, the coaches decide which players are carrying the ball and when, so that brings us to...
- The coaching staff - I already addressed Verducci's role in all of this, so I will go ahead and move on to the guys on top. Muschamp is a defensive guy and he had the guts to send Burton up the middle on fourth down, so he gets a pass for now. Moving on to Weis, it is difficult to second-guess his playcalling, especially with his successful track record along with the fact that he's not Steve Addazio, but maybe the former Notre Dame head coach should rethink his strategy inside the 20. It definitely would not hurt to do so and what's the worse thing that could happen? More field goals?
My goal wasn't necessarily to diagnose what the problem was, but rather, to explore what may be causing the problem.
Perhaps the Gators are still working out the kinks in this new offense and panicking about the red zone woes is a bit rash this early in the 2011 campaign.
Maybe they will figure this out sooner rather than later, but until then, at least UF has one of the naton's top kickers in Sturgis to bail out the offense.
Only one thing is for certain: if they do not find a way to consistently punch the ball into the end zone down on the goal line soon, then Muschamp's first loss at Florida will mirror Urban Meyer's--a merciless beatdown from Alabama.
Photo by Sam Greenwood, Getty Images