September 15, 2010
Tom's Takes: Red zone struggles need fixing
When you look at the final 20 yards separating a good drive from a great drive you can see where the foundation for an age-old stereotype emerges.
Contradicting the stigma however, though the road to pay dirt is a bit shorter, it doesn't by any means get any easier for a team trying to jostle the scoreboard with a handful of points on a single play.
Things tend to get a little clustered when you jam 22 players inside a relatively small area.
It's not like approaching the tee box on a par five where you have more than enough land to navigate and plot out your strategy for the next 525 yards. We're talking loading 11 guys inside a 60-foot space that are hell-bent on advancing the ball past the thicker-than-average yard mark more recognizable as the goal line. And, oh yeah, there are 11 other players just as hell bent on preventing you from crossing that plane.
"We're cloggers," UW sophomore center Peter Konz said. "You try to fight clog with clog?
"But I like it because the offense gets a little fired up and the defense usually gets a little down."
Through two games and two wins, one that was more upsetting than a typical win ever should be, the Wisconsin offense has found it difficult to master the art of red zone efficiency.
There was Nick Toon's fumble at the two yard line late in the first half at UNLV and there was James White's fumble out of the corner of the end zone against San Jose State.
More harrowing, though, was the snap issues between Scott Tolzien and Peter Konz that directly resulted in a turnover on downs late in the first half against the Spartans.
Not scoring in the red zone is like stealing candy from a kid, but from the kid's perspective. It doesn't make any of the parties involved pleased.
Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst can't be happy with his offense when a prime opportunity to put points on the board goes by the wayside. Tolzien and Konz can't and probably weren't happy when a botched exchange thwarted that opportunity. And White and Toon, two highly regarded playmakers on the Badger offense, know better than to get careless with the ball when you're so close to reaching the goal.
But the fact that these problems keep surfacing, outside of taking the positive spin and labeling the mishaps as teaching points, is troubling.
The team knows it, the coaches know it, the fans know it and anybody else coaching football across the country knows that ball security inside the redone is of the utmost importance.
So how does a team with legitimate Big Ten title aspirations stumble out of the gates ranking 10th in the league in red zone offense having knowing full well about that?
Can it be lack of focus or complacency? Sure.
Can it be a couple of fluky plays that just saw the old pigskin take a bad hop? I guess.
Most importantly, can it be fixed? Definitely.
It's just going to take a certain level of discipline and will from each and every player to prevent these wrongdoings from surfacing like an ugly pimple on prom night again.
"There's so many different things from the first two weeks that as an offense we can improve upon," Tolzien said. "That (red zone efficiency) was definitely one of them. First and foremost it's taking care of the ball. Those are money situations down there. So taking care of the ball, that, and you've got to make plays.
"It's a smaller field and smaller windows. You've just got to really, plain and simple, just execute it.
And there is no better time than week three to put that plan into motion especially when Big Ten play is right around the corner.
Because if this problem continues to linger when the calendar changes and the weather gets colder, chances are the hopes of winning a conference championship will slip through this teams fingers much like a fumbled football through the back of the end zone.
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