Keys to Victory – Red Zone Efficiency

Today you get the final two in my series of analyses examining the keys to Husker victory versus USC. This piece will focus on the concept of Red Zone efficiency. Red Zone efficiency refers to a percentage of a team’s scores versus the number of series they have within their opponent’s Red Zone. The key point to make in this instance is the importance of scoring any points – touchdowns or field goals – as being efficient.

The Red Zone is the most critical situation the offense will be in during the course of a game. On average a team will 45-50 Red Zone series during a season and will convert its Red Zone possessions into point between 75-80% of the time. This averages out to roughly four Red Zone possessions a game.

Once a team nears the Red Zone it becomes a priority to get into scoring position. Whatever the range of your field goal kicker, it is important that once you get inside that range, you minimize the chance of being pushed back out of that area. For Nebraska that would mean that once the Huskers cross the 25-yard line, care should be taken to avoid running plays that carry the potential for a loss that would take us out of field goal range. This may mean avoiding calling deep-drop routes or special plays that could result in losing yards out of this area. Once inside the 15-yard line, however, Nebraska can be less concerned about the depth of its drops causing a sack that might knock us out of field goal range.

Being inside the Red Zone also changes the look of defenses. More and more teams are now playing loose four-across zone concepts inside the Red Zone. This means there are fewer man-to-man match ups that made pick routes prominent in years past. The zone concept means puts a higher priority on being able to run the ball effectively and hitting underneath routes that might enable receivers to score after catching the ball.

In 2006, Nebraska has had 15 possessions within the Red Zone. The Huskers have converted 12 of those 15 opportunities into points for a Red Zone efficiency of 80%. This matches the numbers from a year ago. During the 2005 season Nebraska had 40 series inside the Red Zone and converted 32 of them into points (again 80% efficiency).

Defensively, teams work to prevent Red Zone opportunities and conversions. In 2005 opponents had 36 series within the Red Zone. The Blackshirts allowed just 24 conversions out of those 36 opportunities for a Red Zone efficiency of 67%. Thus far in 2006, our opponents have had just two Red Zone opportunities but have converted them both into touchdowns.

So what does this mean come Saturday night? USC’s high-powered offense creates an abundance of Red Zone opportunities for them. In 2005, they had an incredible 71 series within the Red Zone. In addition, the Trojans managed to convert 63 of those opportunities into points for a Red Zone efficiency of 88.7%. In their season opener versus Arkansas, turnovers allowed the Trojans 7 series within the Red Zone. USC scored in all seven of their Red Zone opportunities and six of those scores were touchdowns.

Our one hope might be the Trojan defense. In 2005, this unit allowed 42 Red Zone opportunities (six more than the Huskers) and gave up points on 31 of those. This resulted in a Red Zone efficiency for Trojan opponents of 73.8%. In addition, in 2006 Arkansas managed touchdowns in both of their trips inside the USC Red Zone.

The Red Zone is likely to play an important role in this week’s game. Given their history, USC is going to have their Red Zone chances. Defensively we must do our best to limit them to field goals. It will be crucial that Cosgrove is able to mix up the looks that he shows Booty and the Trojan offense within this area of the field. If we are smart defensively the most detailed part of our game plan will concern the Red Zone.

On offense it is imperative that we come away with points each time we get within the Red Zone. The Red Zone will present Callahan with a chance to call different plays from formations we have run in the open field. This approach can cause hesitation in a defense when it thinks it has seen something before, and we then run something counter to that. More importantly, however, Nebraska must not turn the ball over inside the Red Zone. Because every pass in this area of the field has a shot at the end zone, Taylor must be focused on what he expects to see before he throws the ball. Taylor must account for everyone on the field and thus is more vulnerable to being intercepted in this area of the field. Nothing will demoralize us, or end our chances of an upset more than driving the length of the field, only to turn the ball over so close to scoring.

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