Tigers Looking for Cure to Red-Zone Problems

by - Correspondent -
Clemson has just one touchdown in the nine trips to red zone this season.

CLEMSON -- The Clemson Tigers have only one rushing touchdown so far in 2009.

That’s not the only concern head coach Dabo Swinney and offensive coordinator Billy Napier have heading into Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. kickoff with the 15th-ranked TCU Horned Frogs.

Of the Tigers’ nine visits inside the opponent’s 20-yard line – the red zone – this season, eight have resulted in scores. However, Clemson has managed just one touchdown while depending on kicker Richard Jackson for seven field goals. Against Boston College, the offense ran 12 plays in the red zone and came away with three field goals.

That’s the fewest red-zone scores for any team in the ACC.

So what’s the answer to the Tiger’s red zone woes?

“First thing that’s pretty evident is we’ve got to get more touchdowns,” Napier said. “The bottom line is we’ve got to do a better job coaching. We’ve got to get our guys in a better position to be successful when we do cross into that plus area. Maybe that’s being a little more aggressive.”

The Tigers didn’t score an offensive touchdown against Boston College, instead getting a record-tying six field goals from placekicker Richard Jackson – one of 52-yards – and a 77-yard punt return by C.J. Spiller for a touchdown.

Swinney said the problems with the teams’ lack of touchdowns in the red zone so far this year has been all about making “critical errors” at the wrong time. And those errors are across the board “it’s not one player or one position.

“The good news is its all things that we can certainly get better at. It’s not like we’re just getting whipped or they got us. We’ve just got to eliminate the critical errors,” he said.

Napier said the coaches will place extra emphasis on red zone offense in practice this week to be more productive down there Saturday and as the Tigers continue ACC play.

“I think we all know we can play a little better in the red area,” he said.

In the Horned Frogs, the Tigers will face a stingy defense. TCU has led the nation in total defense three of the past nine years and features a future NFL defensive end in senior Jerry Hughes.

Swinney and Napier know the importance of scoring touchdowns in the red zone Saturday against the Horned Frogs and they don’t care if they’re rushing or throwing scores.

“There are times where you’ve got to take some shots to score touchdowns in the red zone,” Swinney said. “It’s hard to just run it in all the time. We’ve been pretty conservative down there. To me that’s smart football when you’ve got a defense that’s playing like our defense and you’ve got a kicker that’s got a lot of confidence points are precious. Three is like getting seven a lot of times.”

But against TCU field goals may not be enough. The Horned Frogs are averaging 43 points a game in their first two contests – one against Virginia 30-14 – and ranks seventh in wins nationally since 2005.

“We’ve got to get touchdowns,” Swinney said. “The goal is to find a way to win. And there’s a lot of ways to win a game. If we’re going to be a legit contender in the conference certainly we’ll have to score more touchdowns.”

The Tigers plan to run the football, but against TCU they may find the going rough. So far this season, the Horned Frogs are holding opponents to 43 yards rushing per game.

“If we only get 43 yards, it’s probably going to be a long day for the Tigers,” Swinney said. “This is a team that’s going to challenge you. They’ve won a lot of ball games.”

The bottom line for Tigers is finding away to win games every week, Swinney said.

“If you want to have a special year, these are games you’ve got to do well in,” he said. “It’s not going to cost us the ACC championship, but it’s a game nationally that can certainly help your program.”

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