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Simplifying The Thesis

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Growing unrest. That's the general trend I see on various message boards after the first two games.

Usually I am chief among skeptics... especially as it applies to our offense. I think that there are definitely some criticisms to be made, I just don't see a very clear thesis in almost any of the criticisms I am reading.

Optimizing Under Constraint
I need to tell you to stop looking for certain things. By telling you, I'm hoping I can convince myself to stop looking for them too. First, we are not going to build a cohesive run/play action offense. That was never the goal. Second, we are not going to set up our plays coherently from play to play or drive to drive. We will stumble on some big stuff, but the Greg/Mack combo is just never going to excel at this. We will continue to run inside zone against teams that are run-blitzing or screen against teams that are sitting in their base read-react. Just accept these two things as built-in constraints and lets take a look at some of the things that still are moving parts for this season.

I said that becoming a power-runnning/play-action team was never the goal. It's evident now that what Greg really had in mind was tweaking his high efficiency passing attack so that he could threaten teams with a running game when we had a clear numbers advantage in the box (like all game versus OU, Neb, and Alabama last year). This is not a redesign and a lot of this change is just based on the addition of a tight end to the offense.

Our staple packages are out of our shotgun 3-wide and our under center 3-wide. They have basically the same run packages: inside/outside zone, trap, and counter. I'd like to see us make much more use of the delay (which we have run a few times). That said, it's not a bad grouping of plays... it offers us a lot more diversity that just the heavy helping of inside and outside zone that we ran last year from the shotgun set. We are actually attacking the defensive linemen from different angles out of the same package of plays. If you've been paying attention to some of the core problems we've had with our run game, that's an important detail.

What I'm saying is that while we are not executing at a high level on offense and our play-calling is often not situation appropriate, what we are trying to accomplish on offense is not inherently silly. That's an important distinction to make when criticizing this team. We do have some execution problems and we are sometimes putting our players in bad positions with play calls. However, there is an opportunity for this offense (particularly for this offensive line) to develop into something very effective under this overall scheme.

I have seen a number of people argue for a more wide open passing attack given the talent at wide receiver and the offensive line's superior execution at pass blocking. Sounds good and it may very well be what happens, but I don't think it's very well thought out.

The Crux
We could argue about whether we should primarily be a passing team or a running team. We could argue about which running back gives us the least chance of negative plays, or which one gives us the most explosive plays. We could argue about which wide receiver pairings cause the defense the most concern. We could argue about whether Gilbert should be primarily in the shotgun where he can consistently step into his throws or under center where our running backs have a better chance to hit the hole with authority. We could pick all those bones, but I think we'd miss out on the majority of the skeleton. The only real question I have about this offense is: can they run when they outnumber the defense in the box? If we can't pick up first downs against 6 men in the box, then this offense will repeatedly fail: pure and simple. If we can pick up at least some first downs against 6 in the box then we are going to find some success in the passing game and we are going to be competitive against any competition.

I think this offense can continue to improve over the course of the next two weeks if we stay committed to our current running package (even if we don't put up gaudy numbers). I think it's all there for us if we allow our linemen and backs to develop the timing and execution they are going to need to survive in the games against OU and Nebraska. If instead we backslide to a pass only mentality because of flashy new toys in the form of Mike Davis and Darius White... OU and Nebraska are going to schematically feast on us.

What about you? What do you want to see conceptually from this offense (within the GD/Mack sandbox)? What do you think gives us the best shot to make it to 6-0?