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Auburn offense keeps ‘crashing into a wall’ in the red zone

Four LSU defenders try to stop Auburn running back Kamryn Pettway Saturday, Sept. 26, 2016 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Four LSU defenders try to stop Auburn running back Kamryn Pettway Saturday, Sept. 26, 2016 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

The once proud Auburn offense couldn’t move the ball three feet late in the first half Saturday night’s 18-13 win.

Auburn had two chances to punch it in from the goal line nursing a slim 9-7 advantage over LSU heading into halftime.

Desperate for a score in a game filled with missed opportunities coach Gus Malzahn called a timeout sensing the importance of the moment.

On the first try, Kamryn Pettway came up short.

LSU linebacker Kendell Beckwith came through the line unblocked to take out Pettway’s leg. The bruiser of a running back fell harmlessly short of the goal line.

Malzahn and newly installed play caller Rhett Lashlee made no move to go to Daniel Carlson instead turning to Kerryon Johnson and the offense’s wildcat package.

Johnson attacked the same part of the line as Pettway, but John Battle and Beckwith didn’t give an inch standing the running back up at the line of scrimmage.

It wasn’t the only time Auburn’s offense couldn’t put six points on the board Saturday night settling for five field goals on six attempts in the red zone, but the sequence was the highest profile failure of the night.

Johnson called the ongoing struggles “frustrating” and “unsettling.”

While Auburn coaches are reluctant to substantively address the red zone issues — all Malzahn would say is the group “need to score more touchdowns, that’s it” — but Johnson didn’t hesitate to assess blame in the situation.

“We just got to make plays, when you have it at the 1-yard line it doesn’t matter what the coaches call, doesn’t matter what the defense do, whoever has the ball has to get in,” Johnson said. “I didn’t do that tonight that’s the bottom line.”

Auburn wide receiver Ryan Davis summed up the red zone woes simply.

“We keep crashing into a wall right now,” Davis said.

It’s particularly upsetting for Davis given how well Auburn’s defense is playing. The numbers spell out what Davis isn’t afraid to say — the offense isn’t doing its job.

Auburn’s offense is 17 of 22 on red zone attempts this season, which by itself isn’t a great success rate ranking 91st of 128 teams in the country. The offense’s touchdown conversion rate in the red zone is much worse.

The offense has scored only seven touchdowns on Auburn’s 22 trips inside the 25-yard line. The touchdown conversion rate is the second worst in the country (out of 128 teams) at 31 percent. The success rate drops to 21 percent against Power 5 opponents.

Only SMU — three touchdowns in 18 attempts (16 percent) — is having less success in the red zone this season.

No one in Auburn’s locker room is calling for drastic solutions with Davis calling on the offense to “execute as one.”

“It’s just us all coming together as one group and executing the play that’s call,” Davis said. “That’s the only problem that it is.”

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