BOISE — The Boise State football team has had no problem moving the ball down the field through two games. Putting it in the end zone has been a different story.
The Broncos rank No. 18 in total offense at 529.0 yards per game, yet are No. 84 nationally in scoring at 25.0 points per game.
The biggest reason? Boise State’s struggles in the red zone. The Broncos rank No. 112 out of 130 teams with a 33.3 percent touchdown percentage inside the red zone. The Broncos have scored just four touchdowns in 12 opportunities inside the 20.
“We’re shooting to be one of the best in the country, and right now we’re not. We’re one of the worst,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said of the red zone struggles. “That’s frustrating. Right now that’s something we’re talking about as a staff. That’s not the standard. It’s unacceptable. We can move the ball up and down the field, but want to be the great team between the 20 yard lines? Not us.
“We have to find a way to score. That’s our job on offense, scoring. That’s what you want to try and do, put the ball in the end zone.”
Boise State has had to settle for five field goals in the red zone. They also had an interception, a bad snap and a sack that pushed them out of scoring range. They took a knee on the final series of the Marshall game.
The Broncos have come away with points of some kind, either a touchdown or field goal, on nine of 12 trips inside the red zone through two games. That ranks No. 94 nationally.
To compare, 42 teams have scored on 100 percent of trips into the red zone so far, while 64 have only failed to get points once. Boise State has already had three empty trips in two games.
“You’re going to move the ball, but you get in the red zone, you talk about smelling blood and getting down there and wanting to put it in the end zone and you have to truly have that in you,” Harsin said. “That has to be your nature, that you’re close and you’re not going to be denied. I don’t know if we have that.
“I don’t know if that’s what we have to keep emphasizing with our players or do a better job with our schemes or whatever it is; it’s not coming together right now the way we want it to and that’s not acceptable and not where we want to be at this point. It’s two games, but two games tells you a lot about a team and the red zone is one area that we have to fix.”
Harsin said the Broncos have goals in the red zone of touchdowns 70 percent of the time and points 90 percent of the time. They are well below both numbers.
But maybe the red zone numbers shouldn’t be that surprising given their struggles there the previous two seasons. Last year the Broncos were 64th with points on 84 percent of their trips into the red zone, and 63rd with a touchdown ratio of 62 percent. In 2017, the Broncos ranked No. 89 nationally in red zone points (80.95 percent) and No. 88 in touchdowns (57.14 percent).
“Some execution issues obviously,” offensive coordinator Zak Hill said. “We had the one pick down there … we had the one snap that went back 10 yards and then we take a sack on the next play. It really comes down to execution and our guys believing and trusting in what we’re doing and going out there and doing it.
“We have to do a good job with our mindset. Once we get down there, it’s got to be, ‘we’re scoring, we’re scoring, we’re scoring.’ And finding the end zone in different ways, whether it’s the run game or the pass game, it doesn’t really matter. The standard is high here and we have to get in the end zone.”
The Broncos had a red zone-specific period during Tuesday’s practice and have spent time this week trying to figure out how best to go about things Saturday against Portland State once they get the ball inside the 20.
“Changing it up from a coaching standpoint, changing up how we emphasize it, how we execute, who gets the ball, who is going to be making plays in the red zone, maybe we have to look at that too,” Harsin said. “We’re doing all that this week.”