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OSU’s Offense Needs to Improve in Red Zone Scoring



Oklahoma State may have the best offense in the Big 12. There’s a case to be made for best in the country.

Let’s take inventory. You’ve go a senior Heisman candidate under center, a Biletnikoff favorite to one side and a bevy of skilled receivers to the other. An improved offensive line with returning starters and a big-time grad transfer to clear the way for a record-setting Freshman All-American running back who led all rookies in rushing yards last year.

But in order to replicate (or exceed) the results of that landmark 2011 season, the offense will have to be elite. When asked about what he and the offense can do to get there, Mason Rudolph didn’t mince words.

“You can always be better in the red zone and the score zone,” said Rudolph. “There’s a lot of times last year, fade balls and incompletions there and different schemes. Decision-making is so key down there.

“The ability to extend the play and get a couple of those scramble drill points down there in the score zone is key, and that’s something we’ve worked on.”

Rudolph hit the nail right on the head. It’s an understated issue with an otherwise efficient offense. And it’s one that the Cowboys would like to improve on during fall camp.

Last year, we talked about a stat I call points per red-zone attempt or “PPR.” It dives deeper into red-zone effectiveness than simple red-zone efficiency — the percentage of red-zone attempts that end in scores. “PPR” takes into account red-zone touchdowns over red-zone field goals. Simply put, six points are better than three. We take total points scored in the red zone and divide them by number of red-zone attempts.

Here’s a look at each Big 12 team last season.

Team Red-Zone Trips Red-Zone Points PPR
Texas Tech 63 309 4.90
Kansas State 62 300 4.84
Oklahoma 59 279 4.73
Iowa State 41 186 4.54
Oklahoma State 69 312 4.52
West Virginia 57 237 4.12
Kansas 32 132 4.12
TCU 60 243 4.05
Baylor 60 243 4.05
Texas 55 219 3.98

As we see here, Oklahoma State was right in the middle of the pack in 2016. Tech, unsurprisingly, was very good thanks to its offensive system and Pat Mahomes. Kansas was right behind Oklahoma State but only made 32 trips into the red zone all season (yikes) to OSU’s league-leading 69.

To put it into perspective, here’s a look at some prior years’ numbers for Oklahoma State.

Year PPR Record
2016 4.52 10-3
2015 4.75 10-3
2014 4.21 7-6
2013 4.86 10-3
2012 4.79 8-5
2011 4.61 12-1
2010 4.87 11-2
2009 4.43 9-4
2008 4.74 9-4

The 2010-2013 squads were very good which shouldn’t be a surprise because those teams had better offensive lines and, consequently, better running games. The outlier was that forgettable 2014 offense whose inconsistency along the offensive line was only outweighed by its inconsistency at quarterback. Zac Veatch started at guard.

Aside from 2014, last year was the worst since 2009 in PPR. That decline can be partially attributed to the lack of a J.W. Walsh who was an ultra-efficient 10-of-22 (77.3 percent) with eight touchdowns and no interceptions in the red zone. He also added 13 rushing touchdowns inside the 20.

Walsh called his own number 55 times (passing or running it himself) in the red zone in 2015 and came out with 21 touchdowns to show for it. Last year, Rudolph’s numbers were 68 snaps (excluding hand-offs) for 18 touchdowns and an interception. Nothing against QB1. That’s just not his game. The fact that he got close to Walsh’s numbers is actually kind of remarkable.

Now that’s not to say this current version of the offense can’t be effective. It’s just a matter of playing to your potential and your personnel. Here’s the balance of red-zone scores the last two seasons.

Year RZ Passing RZ Pass TDs RZ INTs RZ Rushing TDs RZ Trips Total RZ TDs
2016 28/50 – 56% 14 1 29 69 43
2015 40/70 – 57.1% 20 0 20 60 40

Rudolph is never going to be J.W. Walsh — and that’s quite alright. There are other ways to be efficient in enemy territory. And fortunately for Rudolph his biggest boost in this department is 6-foot-4 and has been on a one-year hiatus.

In 2015, Marcell Ateman caught five passes in the red zone and four of them ended with six points. Chris Lacy also fits that role going a perfect 3-for-3 in the red zone last season. Jalen McCleskey, James Washington, Tyron Johnson. We know all the playmaking receivers at Rudolph’s disposal.

Add in cowboy backs Britton Abbott and Sione Finefeuiaki who could play the punch-it-in fullback role and Keenen Brown who is another option in the passing game and Rudolph has no shortage of weapons once he sniffs the goal line.

There’s not one simple answer and not one simple change. Maybe it comes from a natural progression in the offense. Either way, Oklahoma State needs to be better when it gets within striking distance and that could make all the difference in 2017.

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