This is an archived article that was published on in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In the wind and rain at Reser Stadium last Saturday, the University of Utah was positioned to take control of its Pac 12 battle against Oregon State. The Utes owned a 7-0 lead and were threatening.

After a turnover, they gained possessions on the Beavers' 14-yard line. But on fourth-and-one, quarterback Troy Williams fumbled a low snap from center and Oregon State recovered.

Moments later, the Utes owned a 9-0 lead and reached the Beaver two. But a delay of game penalty cost them a shot at a touchdown. They settled for a chip-shot field goal, making it 12-0.

Utah eventually escaped with a 19-14 victory, but it wasn't as easy as it could have been if the Utes had taken advantage of those early red zone opportunities.

The big-picture issue, however, has been Utah's continuing struggle once its offense moves inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Call it Red Zone Disease.

Midway through the season, the Utes rank last in the Pac 12 in red zone success. They have only converted only 26 of their 35 opportunities into points (74 percent). They have settled for field goals eight times. An inability to punch in the ball in from close range cost Utah the game at Cal.

For comparison, San Jose State ranks last in the Mountain West in red zone success. The Spartans have converted 80 percent of the time.

"It's the No. 1 thing holding us back right," Utah co-offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said. "We're leaving about 10 points a game on the board right now, just from missed opportunities. If I knew the exact answer, I would have fixed it by now."

Said senior offensive lineman Isaac Asiata, "It's a mindset thing. When it's third down or fourth-and-short, we need the attitude that it's not OK to not get a touchdown. We have to have the mentality that we're going to punch the ball in there and not leave without seven [points]."

According to Roderick, fixing the problem has been a priority heading into Saturday's game at UCLA. The Utes are 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the Pac 12 South. They need a victory over the Bruins to set up a showdown against fifth-ranked Washington next week at Rice Eccles Stadium.

"We are working our way through it," Roderick said. "We are doing some things a little bit differently as a staff — as far as our approach and our practice time — to play better in the red zone."

Asked for specifics on his plan to cure the ailment, Roderick laughed.

"Just practice it more," he said. "When you have a deficiency, you have to practice more to fix it. It's not a big secret there."

Said Asiata: "We have the talent. We have the ability. We've scored touchdowns before. We know everybody can do it. We just have to keep our composure and execute."

Cutting down on mistakes, including drive-killing turnovers and penalties, would also help the Utes' efficiency when they are sight of the opposition's goal line.

"If you look it," Asiata said, "a lot of it is things we do, we do to ourselves. We shoot ourselves in the foot. We have a penalty, a dropped ball or miss a block. So it's extremely frustrating. But I know we can do it. We just have to finish. That's all it is."

Utah and Colorado, surprisingly, share the lead in the Pac 12 South.

As much as anyone, Roderick knows a subtle aspect to the game like slightly improved red-zone efficiency could mean a trip to the conference championship game.

"I think it's going to go all the way to the end, so it's one game at a time," he said. "… We're trying to go 1-0 this week and then we'll see where we stand next week. But I think this championship run is going to go down to the last week, that's for sure."

Twitter: @sluhm —

Red zone efficiency

How Pac-12 teams have fared in the red zone this season:

School Game Scores Chances Pct. TDs

1. Arizona State 7 26 27 96.3 19

2. Colorado 7 31 34 91.2 23

3. Washington 6 25 28 89.3 23

4. Oregon State 6 16 18 88.9 12

4. Stanford 6 8 9 88.9 5

6. Oregon 6 23 26 88.5 21

7. California 6 20 23 87.0 13

8. UCLA 7 21 25 84.0 13

9. Washington St. 6 28 35 80.0 26

10. Arizona 7 18 23 78.3 13

11. USC 7 20 26 76.9 17

12. Utah 7 26 35 74.3 18