Through nine games, the Arizona Wildcats are posting stellar numbers in every offensive category that counts - except one.

Call it their red zone blues.

Arizona's offense has scored in just 31 of 41 trips inside its opponents' 20-yard line, a percentage that ranks eighth in the Pac-10 and 98th nationally.

Only three teams with winning records - Florida, N.C. State and Clemson - are worse.

"We've moved the ball, and we have a bunch of yards," co-offensive coordinator Bill Bedenbaugh said. "But right now our points aren't matching our yards."

Arizona's other co-coordinator, Seth Littrell, said improving inside the red zone is "the biggest thing" facing Arizona's offense heading into Saturday's game with USC.

The 18th-ranked Wildcats (7-2 overall, 4-2 Pac-10) can improve their bowl position with a win; games against No. 1 Oregon and rival Arizona State loom.

"We've got to come together to fix it," Littrell said.

Here's a look at the reasons behind Arizona's struggles - and some possible solutions:

• The problem: Arizona's offense ranks in the top 20 nationally in total offense (450.6 yards per game), passing offense (294.78 yards per game) and first downs (23.56 per game).

But the UA's red zone numbers don't match its production between the 20s. The Wildcats have scored just 24 touchdowns in 41 trips this season.

Seven times, they have settled for Alex Zendejas field goals.

Ten times, they have not scored at all.

It's no surprise that Arizona's biggest struggles have come in its worst offensive showings. The Wildcats scored just seven red zone points in their 10-9 win over Cal and in their 29-27 loss to Oregon State. They put up 17 red zone points in last week's 42-17 loss at Stanford, but were shut out on two of their five trips.

"We've got to come away with touchdowns, not field goals - especially on the road," center Colin Baxter said.

• The worst part: The Wildcats have turned the ball over five times inside the red zone this season, mistakes that cost them valuable points - as few as 15 if they had kicked field goals each time; as many as 35 if they'd scored TDs each time. The mistakes were especially noticeable in Arizona's 29-21 win over UCLA two weeks ago.

Matt Scott fumbled at the Bruins' 14 in the second quarter, then threw a fourth-quarter interception in the end zone. Had the Wildcats just settled for field goals, they would have won by 16.

Quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo says red zone turnovers are "a double-whammy."

"You not only don't score touchdowns, but you lose the three points you're already going to have," he said. "We've got a good kicker. He's going to give us three points."

Arizona must "reserve the right to kick" if things get dicey in the red zone, Scelfo said.

"It's not the ideal situation, because it's not a touchdown," he said. "At the same time, we've at least got points."

• The misconception: Most teams' red zone struggles can be traced to a poor running game. That's not the case here: Arizona has scored 14 of its 24 red zone touchdowns on the ground this year, impressive given the Wildcats have thrown more times (334) than they have run (309). Just one of Arizona's five red zone turnovers has been committed by a running back.

"We have 14 rushing touchdowns," Bedenbaugh said. "I know that's the general thought - 'Oh, god, they're bad in the red zone, they must not be able top run the ball - but there's absolutely zero truth to it."

Even quarterback Nick Foles admits that many of the problems can be traced to quarterback and wide receiver play.

"You've got to eliminate mistakes, don't force throws and be smart with the ball," he said. "That's the whole thing. I can do that. That's fixable."

• The solution: Practice. The Wildcats will continue to work on red zone offense every week, even though it's hard to replicate that particular in-game situation during practices.

Just about everybody can improve, players and coaches say.

"The blame falls on everybody, from the coaching staff to the execution of plays in every position," Scelfo said. "It's one of the things that really bothers you. You should execute when you get down there. "It's a confidence issue. When you go down there and score, it's because somebody's won a 1-on-1 situation. We need guys who can win 1-on-1 situations."

Baxter said there's an easy way to improve: "We've got to finish drives."

If the Wildcats can do that, their numbers will surely improve.

"Everyone's got to increase our focus, zero in on our assignments," he said. "Everything's got to be a little sharper out there."


Up next

• What: USC at Arizona

• When: 6 p.m. Saturday

• TV: Channel 9


Once the Wildcats reach the opponents' 20-yard line, things can go sour, as they did for tight end A.J. Simmons, above, who dropped a pass Saturday that forced Arizona to kick a field goal in the Cardinal red zone .


Trips to the red zone this season


Red zone touchdowns (14 rushing TDs, 10 passing TDs)


Red zone field goals


Missed field goals


Times intercepted in the red zone


Red zone fumbles


Turnovers on downs


Turnovers because of the clock