Don't look now, but the 2011 Texas Longhorns are experiencing some struggles remarkably reminiscent of the hapless 2010 squad. After finishing 115th in the country in scoring touchdowns in the red zone last season, the Harsinwhite offense is looking just as impotent in putting the ball in the end zone when entering the opponent's final fifth of the field.
Mack Brown spoke about the problems during the Monday Big 12 teleconference:
The biggest thing on offense (we need to improve) would be red zone. We've been very, very poor in the red zone. It was one of our Achilles heels last year and the same this year.
We struggled in the red zone last year and obviously we have a new offense this year and we're struggling again.
Not exactly breaking news for fans who have suffered through the Longhorns moving the ball in the middle of the field against Oklahoma State only to see drives continually stall as a result of negative plays or turnovers.
It's been a developing trend over the last three games, going back to the contest in Ames. After scoring five touchdowns on five trips inside the Bruin 20 yardline, Harsin's offense has been backsliding worse than a former drug addict visiting Amsterdam with a fat wallet, converting only three red-zone opportunities into touchdowns in 13 opportunities (23%). As poorly as it felt like Texas performed in converting two of three chances into points (one touchdown), the performance against Oklahoma was much worse -- only one out of four forays deep into the Sooner side of the Cotton Bowl produced any points at all.
All in all, the results are some sobering numbers for those optimistic for success now that Texas is done playing top-10 teams. On the season, the touchdown conversion percentage of 46% is 100th in the nation against an average of about 60% nationwide. With only 18 scores in 26 trips, the Longhorns rank 110th in scoring percentage at just under 70%, even as 22 teams wind up with at least a field goal 90% of the time.
On the positive side, Texas is moving the ball at a reasonable rate -- those 26 possessions inside the redzone put Texas tied for 44th in the country in opportunities. Right now, it's all about finishing, an issuenever solved in 2010.
One of the things over the next two weeks will be totally looking at every play we've had in the red zone this fall. Why the ones that were successful were, and when we've struggled, why?
Along with working on the vertical passing game and fixing the run fit errors that have been plaguing the Texas defense -- err, Jordan Hicks -- scoring touchdowns in the redzone has to be at the top of to-do list as the Longhorns enter a second bye week this season before hosting Kansas in Austin.
With the new offensive scheme and new defensive scheme we're fortunate right now to have another open date so that we can go back and evaluate everything we've done in the first six weeks.
The lack of success presents a mental hurdle that can be difficult for any team to overcome, much less a team lacking experience in big moments.
It’s totally demoralizing and is a great motivator obviously for the opposite team. Because when you're defense stops somebody in the red zone it's huge. The best thing is to stop them. The second best thing is to force a turnover before fourth down. The third best thing is to make them kick a field goal, hopefully you block it or they miss it. Obviously if you give up three you'd rather not, but that's better than the seven.
Not to mention how demoralizing it is for fans to relive the mistakes that helped define 2010. And reliving anything remotely resembling 2010 is like a recurring nightmare that just won't go away. Get it fixed, Harsinwhite.