There's no doubt that our offense is a crazy mess of tangled string right now. Some strings are going to have to be cut before any of it comes untangled. Before we get snip happy, there are a few threads worth saving in there if we are willing to be discerning.
The offensive line is not the problem.
Out of all the offensive units, only the offensive line has really shown progress this season. They have been coming to play every week and have actually progressed as the season has gone on. The Iowa State loss is most certainly not on them. Gilbert had a clean pocket through most of the game despite the fact that our linemen were matched up against smaller guys who knew we were passing the ball almost every down. The offensive line struggled with execution early in the season but some people are still beating an old drum. The offensive line showed that they are very capable against even a good defense if you give them some tools to work with... mainly some sanity on first downs and a willingness to run the ball throughout the game.
It was not a mistake to go under-center in the off-season.
It may have been a mistake for this staff to try to feature a running game. There's really nothing wrong with moving Gilbert under center. Gilbert has some issues and he may very well be more comfortable in the shotgun. So what. Moving him to a spread only offense is not going to address the big issues with our passing game... if anything it magnifies them. Think about the things that Gilbert doesn't do well right now (particularly against zone) and then think about what our spread passing game looks like. If you are thinking about the entire game against Iowa State then you have the right mental picture.
You know what would help Gilbert out a lot? Utilizing play-action that has some teeth, minimizing the obvious passing downs and featuring his deep ball. Guess what the magic ingredient is for all of those things? A game-plan that exploits the run/pass dichotomy, especially on first downs and second and shorts. Just to be clear it can be done from the shotgun, but under center formations are better for the running game and consequently better at creating downfield opportunities and mismatches against linebackers.
We did not lose to UCLA and Iowa State because our players got arrogant.
We didn't play well, but I doubt it's because of our players' egos. Nor do I think that we played well against Nebraska because our players had the right attitude about the game. Or at least, I'm not willing to accept that as an explanation when there are other more tangible factors.
You know what we didn't do a lot of against Nebraska? Throwing the ball behind line of scrimmage. What we did do was open the first half (the most successful half of offensive football this year) by utilizing draw plays and play action passing paired with medium and deep routes on first downs.
They weren't all successful plays but they set the stage for our offense, they forced the defense to actually read and react to each play and defend the whole football field. That's precisely what's been missing from every other game this year on offense. Credible threats are just as important to play execution as practice time... otherwise the X's have this nasty habit of not doing what they are supposed to do.
Unwinding it all
Things that need to be cut immediately:
(1) Wide Receiver blocking - if you aren't gonna put a hat on somebody then you need to sit. Period.
(2) Shallow outside passing - No Greg. Don't touch.
(3) Empty set - remind me again why this would even be under consideration with this year's team?
(4) Unbalanced gameplans - If a defense isn't defending something well, by all means dial it up repeatedly... but no game plan should start out planning to be one-dimensional.
(5) Second and short lobotomies - This in NOT the time for a QB sneak or goaline formation. I can't even type it out.
Things that haven't looked bad and should be salvaged:
(1) Offensive Line - they have shown progress, particularly at running the ball
(2) Deep passing routes - we have a number of very fast receivers who have considerable vertical advantages.
(3) Fozzy/Monroe in space - they both have shown that they can make huge plays in space.
Weaving it together:
(1) Healthy first downs - this should be a mix of draws and play-action pass to keep the defense honest mixed with power running and passing that attacks the linebackers.
(2) Aggressive second and shorts - this is supposed to your chance to punch the defense in the face and have them like it. Instead we send them to the bathroom to freshen up and then present them with a bowl of ribbon candy for being so handsome. This is the down where our play-action passing should be used to it's greatest advantage in conjunction with power runs.
(3) Simplify and expand slowly - 5 or 6 running plays and 5 or 6 passing plays. 2 or 3 formations + goalline. Designate this as your core offense and it's part of every game plan. Tweak and add from week to week. No more throwing out last week's packages... force the team to learn what they do well and what they do poorly and why.
(4) Gameplan for the offensive line - not to build anyone's confidence... to put your most important unit at it's greatest advantage.