For last year’s Gators, the final 20 yards proved the toughest.
After the first game of the 2012 campaign, Florida’s red zone struggles remain an issue.
During coach Will Muschamp’s first season in Gainesville, the Gators often failed to take advantage of possessions inside the 20-yard line. Florida found the end zone just 18 times in 37 tries for a 48.7 red zone touchdown percentage, which ranked 113th nationally.
In Saturday’s season opener against Bowling Green, UF scored just one touchdown — a 15-yard Mike Gillislee run during the second quarter — in three red zone possessions.
“Last year, we struggled a little bit in the red zone,” safety Josh Evans said on Aug. 15. “That’s one thing we can practice again: scoring in the red zone and stopping them in the fourth quarter. That’s one thing we’ve been focusing on a lot as a defense and an offense.”
Despite their inability to score touchdowns, the Gators still managed to put up points in red zone opportunities last season. Caleb Sturgis made 14 of 14 field goals inside the 20-yard line in 2011. Overall, UF ranked 36th with an 86.5 red zone scoring clip.
Perhaps the game that best epitomized Florida’s inability to score touchdowns in the red zone last season was a five-point loss to South Carolina on Nov. 12. The Gators drove inside the Gamecocks’ 10-yard line three times, but came away with only 12 points.
After Muschamp stressed red zone efficiency in fall camp, UF showed no improvement in Saturday’s game.
The Gators again turned to Sturgis to compensate for their inability to cross the goal line, but he made only 2 of 3 tries. Muschamp suspected that Sturgis’ failed kick, a 27-yarder that hit the left post, may have been tipped.
“We can’t settle,” offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. “We’ve got the best kicker in the nation, but we’ve got to be greedy. We can’t settle for field goals.”
As Boise State’s offensive coordinator in 2011, Pease rarely settled for three points inside the 20-yard line. The Broncos ranked eighth nationally with 74.3 red zone touchdown scoring percentage, and tallied the fourth-most red zone touchdowns with 52.
The Gators’ 18 tied for 108th. From 2007 to 2010, UF averaged 43.8 touchdowns inside the 20-yard line per season, reaching the end zone on 65.5 percent of their red zone trips.
“We’ve got to be better at red zone opportunities,” Pease said.
Florida has a prime opportunity to end its red zone touchdown futility in its Southeastern Conference opener against Texas A&M. The Aggies return only four starters from a defense that ranked No. 99 in the NCAA by surrendering touchdowns to opponents on 67.4 percent of red zone opportunities.
The Gators proved they could move the ball on the ground against the Falcons, but they may need starting quarterback Jeff Driskel to take on an increased role in the offense in order to finish drives with touchdowns.
“You’ve just got to be a good evaluator during practice and say, ‘OK, maybe it’s too much. Maybe we can go more,’” Pease said.
Regardless of whether Florida is running or passing the ball, turning red zone possessions into touchdowns will be key in welcoming Texas A&M to the SEC.
“That’s how you step on teams,” guard James Wilson said. “They’ll tell you, ‘Put the emphasis at the end. That’s how you win.’ That’s definitely our main goal: to score in the red zone.”
Contact Joe Morgan at [email protected].