In keeping with the theme of a particular reindeer on this Christmas Eve, today's column focuses on red zone efficiency.
More touchdowns have resulted in fewer field goal attempts -- and more PATs -- for Jeremy Shelley in 2012.
*Hard to go against red zone efficiency as the one area of the Alabama offense that has seen the most improvement under first-year offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.
Compared to a season ago, when the Crimson Tide scored touchdowns on 32 of 58 trips (55 percent) inside the 20, UA has converted nine more red zone opportunities for touchdowns, going 41 of 57 (72 percent). The difference has shown up on the scoreboard as Alabama sits with 500 points through 13 games, compared to the 453 it scored in 2011.
A welcomed byproduct of red zone touchdowns has been fewer field goal attempts. Jeremy Shelley and Cade Foster have combined on just 20 attempts this season, down 16 from the 36 the duo attempted in 2012. After being called on 27 times in 2011, Shelley has attempted (and made good on) just 11 field goals in 2012. In case you’re wondering, the last time a Saban-coached Alabama team attempted fewer than 20 field goal attempts through 13 games was never.
Still, is touchdown/red zone efficiency a critical component of championship teams? Alabama's 2009 and 2011 offenses didn’t think so, as Saban’s first national title squad at UA ranked last among his six Alabama teams to date, posting a touchdown/red zone conversion rate of 47 percent. And at 55 percent, the 2011 offense wasn't much better.
*Defensively, there hasn’t been a huge dropoff in overall red zone efficiency from a season ago, as the 2012 UA defense has given up scores on 17 of their opponents’ 27 trips (63 percent) inside the 20.
By comparison, the record-setting 2011 unit limited opponents to scores on 10 of 17 (59 percent) red zone trips. Like the 2011 defense, the 2012 unit ranks first nationally in red zone efficiency.
The biggest difference: the 2011 defense surrendered just six red zone touchdowns in 13 games. The 2012 unit has given up 14 on ten more opportunities.
*As for Notre Dame, the Irish offense ranks 75th nationally in red zone efficiency, cashing in 46 of 58 opportunities (79 percent). Notre Dame has 27 red zone touchdowns through 12 games (47 percent).
The Irish defense, on the other hand, ranks among the nation’s best in red zone efficiency, checking in just behind Alabama in giving up 21 scores on 33 attempts (64 percent). Opponents have found the end zone just eight times (24 percent) upon reaching the Notre Dame 20.
*Saban’s first Alabama defense gave up more red zone scores (34) in 2007 than his last three have combined (30).
*My one wish for everyone this holiday season is good health. Without the promise of good health it’s difficult to have hope. And without hope, happiness is unattainable. Here’s to plenty of all three for you and yours in 2013 and beyond.