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Arizona OC Noel Mazzone: Red zone efficiency needs to improve in 2019

Photo by Ryan Kelapire

When the Arizona Wildcats got into the red zone last season, they usually scored. That’s the good news.

But on far too many of those occasions—15, to be exact—the Wildcats had to settle for field goals on drives that stalled after getting inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. That’s the bad news.

“We were in the top part as far as (red zone) scoring, but we also kicked more field goals than anyone in the conference last year,” Arizona offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said Thursday. “That’s not good.”

Arizona’s 15 red zone field goals were actually second-most in the Pac-12, one fewer than Utah, though the Utes played 14 games to 12 for the Wildcats. In league play both Arizona and the Utes booted 12 field goals inside the red zone, though Utah was able to make up for that lack of efficiency close to the goal line with a defense that allowed fewer than 20 points per game.

There was no such luxury in 2018 for Arizona, which couldn’t afford to squander any scoring opportunities yet often did after looking so efficient moving down the field. Its 84.4 percent red zone efficiency ranked fifth in the Pac-12 (and 63rd nationally), but only 51.1 percent of those drives resulted in touchdowns to rank 11th in the league and 121st out of 130 FBS teams.

Arizona managed just 4.36 points per red zone trip, better than only Cal (4.1) among Pac-12 teams. In 2017 it scored TDs 71.1 percent of the time and averaged 5.5 points per red zone possession.

“That’s definitely a place where we have to improve in,” Mazzone said.

While the Wildcats were one of the best teams in the country overall on third down, converting 43.65 percent of the time, on plays inside the 20 that rate plummeted. So it goes when the Pac-12’s top rushing attack averaged only 2.56 yards per carry in the red zone, while Khalil Tate was 16 of 32 in there.

Asked if he could identify anything specific that went wrong inside the red zone last year, Mazzone said “a number of things” contributed to the issues.

“A penalty, a dropped ball, a missed read,” he said. “Our job is to get the ball in the end zone, so we have to step up down there.”

Mazzone hinted at Arizona possibly going with “bigger” sets in the red zone thanks to the team’s improved depth and size on offense. That could be more right ends or extra offensive linemen, he said.