Texas A&M offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone was anticipating some specific, tough questions as he stepped to the podium earlier this week to analyze his unit’s performance with a bunch of reporters.
What’s the best way to deflect the negative? Be funny. Reporters lose their edge when asking questions if they’re too busy laughing.
Mazzone’s phone started ringing immediately — we’re not quite sure if that part was planned — and he told reporters:
“That’s the red zone corporation. I had a call in to them.”
Now, about that red zone play (what a team accomplishes when it reaches the opponent’s 20-yard line).
After three games, A&M ranks 52nd nationally in red zone offense. The Aggies have scored on 88.2 percent of their chances. That’s a nice, healthy number, with A&M scoring on 15 of its 17 trips inside the 20.
Where it’s not so good is in the ratio of touchdowns to field goals. A&M has scored eight touchdowns with seven field goals. The total also reflects the stats piled up in its 67-0 home win over horribly outmatched Prairie View.
Against the two FBS teams the Aggies have faced, UCLA and Auburn, the numbers drop significantly — to four touchdowns and five field goals.
Red zone inconsistencies really were noticeable against Auburn. A&M dominated the game, but the 29-16 score didn’t reflect it. That’s because A&M settled for field goals on four of its five trips inside the 20. It had a lot to do with how poorly the Aggies played on third downs, converting them into first downs only 13.3 percent of the time.
“For us to go down there and have the ball five times inside the 20 and come away with one touchdown is, like, ridiculous,” Mazzone said. “I’ve got to have a better plan. The other thing is your kids have to execute.”
For the season, A&M ranks 107th in third-down conversions, and that includes its game against Prairie View.
“It’s the little things,” quarterback Trevor Knight said. “We had misreads, drops, kind of everything. Everybody kind of played their part.”
Fortunately for the Aggies, freshman field-goal kicker Daniel LaCamera has handled his business. In all, he was 5 for 5 in his field-goal attempts against the Tigers and was one of three kickers across the country who were honored this week by the Lou Groza Award committee. LaCamera’s nine field goals are second-most in the nation.
So why all the grumbling about field goals?
The Aggies probably will need to score more points against opponents. The SEC is a defensive league, but top-ranked Alabama beat Mississippi 48-43 last Saturday.
Arkansas, A&M’s opponent on Saturday, has scored 83 points in its past two games, on the road at TCU and at home against Texas State.
The Razorbacks are a notch below the Aggies in the national standings in red zone conversions at 87.5 percent. But the Hogs are far more successful with touchdowns, scoring on 12 of 14 trips inside the 20.
Joking aside, Mazzone and the Aggies’ offense will try to be deadly serious when it comes to scoring points Saturday night.
No. 10 Texas A&M vs. No. 17 Arkansas, AT&T Stadium in Arlington, 8 p.m., ESPN, 1370