The Johns Hopkins football team boasts the 11th-most prolific offense in Division III, averaging 44.8 points this season. A good portion of that success can be traced to what the unit has done in the red zone.
When the No. 14 Blue Jays (5-0 overall and 4-0 in the Centennial Conference) get inside opponents' 20-yard line, they have scored touchdowns 75 percent of the time, converting 24-of-32 opportunities. They rank second in the league in red zone offense, trailing only Susquehanna’s 81.8 conversion rate (9-of-11).
"It's something we work on an awful lot," coach Jim Margraff said Wednesday afternoon. "Our offensive coordinator, Dan Swanstrom, does a great job of preparing our guys. He certainly has a plan for the red zone – for first-down situations down there, for third-down situations, for fourth-down situations. It's all planned out. So I think our guys are prepared."
Part of Johns Hopkins' prowess in the red zone is linked to a strategy of trying to convert fourth downs into first downs and extending drives. On eight drives inside the opponents' 20, the offense converted fourth downs on six of those possessions that led to touchdowns.
"We shy away from field goals," Margraff said. "We've gone for a few fourth downs there because we've got great confidence in our defense. A short field goal is fine, but if we miss and hold them to a three-and-out and force them into a little bit of a bad punt, we're in the same position to kick a field goal with maybe one first down. So we've taken some chances down there on fourth down."
The Blue Jays will tangle with Dickinson (2-3, 2-2) Friday night. The Red Devils have allowed opponents to score touchdowns 61.1 percent of the time (11-of-18), but rank in the upper half of the conference in red zone defense.
Margraff said the Johns Hopkins offense will have to solve Dickinson.
"Like most teams, they tend to blitz more in the red zone," he said. "So if you think you've got a matchup that might work, it's advantageous to go with it. But they're always a tough team. They're well coached, and they've got some talented guys running around there. So we've got our work cut out for us."