Appalachian State Coastal Carolina Football

Appalachian State head coach Eli Drinkwitz steps out on the field in the fourth quarter of an NCAA football game on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019, at Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, N.C. The App State Mountaineers defeated the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, 56-37.

Fresh off a 20-15 victory against South Carolina, Appalachian State now re-enters Sun Belt Conference play. 

App State (8-1, 4-1 Sun Belt) head to Georgia State (6-3, 3-2 Sun Belt). The Mountaineers are currently the top seed in the East Division with three games left in the season.

Coach Eli Drinkwitz held his weekly press conference on Monday, covering many topics. Here’s what he said:

OPENING STATEMENT:

“I’d just like to say thank you to the App family for showing up and providing a great crowd for us Saturday. In the fourth quarter, we were definitely the largest contingent there. The noise and energy was definitely in our favor. And that last drive, you could tell our players were feeding off the crowd as they were breaking toward the end zone where we had our seating. So just a great showing for them, and I appreciate them and everything they mean to our team. Great win for us, and it was an awesome opportunity for our seniors to get that win and it meant a lot to our players from South Carolina. But with that being said, it’s over and we’re moving on. We’ve got a very good Georgia State team, a very difficult test on the road. A night game on television. So we know we’re going to get their best shot, and we’ve got to have our best stuff. Offensively, they’re one of the best offenses in the conference, one of the best offenses in the country. Top six in the country in rushing offense. Top four in the Sun Belt in scoring. Number one in the Sun Belt and number five in the country on third-down conversions. So they do a tremendous job on the offensive side of the football. Their offensive coordinator is a former App State assistant coach. Obviously, Coach (Shawn) Elliott has done a tremendous job with his team. And we knew we’re going to have to play our best football in order to be competitive in this game. So with that, I’ll open it up for questions.

On team health, especially Elijah Diarrassouba, who came out of the South Carolina game with an injury:

“For the most part. There is no update yet on Elijah. We’re still doing further testing and evaluation. I should have more clarity on Wednesday on where that stands. We have the typical nicks and bruises and ankles, and things like that, but with our trainer and Coach (Jeff) Jones, our athletic performance and nutrition, and the help of our athletic department with the investment they’ve made in our players, I feel strongly that we’ll have everybody back and ready to go.”

On how he navigates offensive playcalling when the defense is playing well:

“Yeah, it’s not a difficult balance at all. You play to win the game. You play to win the game. We’re not playing stats. We’re not trying to score this many points. We’re trying to win the football game. And when you’re in a two-possession game, you’re trying to bleed the clock. It’s all about game management, and it’s just my two cents, but in football, we’ve got a lot of guys who don’t understand game management, they don’t understand clock, they don’t understand putting their team in bad situations. The reason why Bill Belichick is the best coach of all time is because he understands game management. He understands that it’s about winning the game. It’s about taking away their best player and making them beat you left handed. We felt like that was our opportunity to do that in the game. The punt right before half, we knew we were getting the ball back to start the third quarter. We punted, they tried to score, and they end up throwing an interception that’s the difference in the ball game backed up. That’s the kind of stuff you can’t do. You can’t put your team in a bad situation. And like I said after the game, we had played well enough defensively that the only drive they had mounted besides the first two field-goal drives, the only thing they had done was when we threw the interception. So didn’t want to put our guys in a bad situation. But for me, it’s not difficult at all. At all. It’s about playing to win the game and finding the best way to do that.”

On the offense’s ability to get off explosive plays currently:

“You know we measure our goals to have eight explosive plays a game, whether that’s run or pass. We measure a run by 12-plus and we measure a pass by 15-plus. In the Georgia Southern game, we actually exceeded that goal, and last week we did not exceed that goal. That was a little bit tougher to manage. But we’ve done that in every single game we’ve played in so I think we’re fine explosive-play wise.”

On coaches (like Willie Taggart at Florida State or Chad Morris at Arkansas) being fired during their second seasons:

“I hadn’t put too much thought in it. My opinion now is — with social media, with fan reaction after every single game — games have become beauty contests instead of the actual result of consistency in long-term building. And I think people are quick to make assumptions and judgements. I don’t know specifically about those situations so I can’t speak to those, but I do know as a football coach, every game is now a must-win game or you’re going to hear about it. And it’s going to be positive and negative. I mean, there are games here where we won, but maybe we didn’t play as good as people thought we could play, and all of a sudden there was a lot of negative energy towards that. And I think as a society, we tend to be — we want to be the first one to make a critical comment because we want to be out first in front of it instead of saying, ‘let’s just wait and see.’ I think wisdom allows things to come over time, and after a period of time, you make a judgement. If two years was enough for them to make a judgement, then two years was enough for them to make a judgement. I don’t know, but I do know that I feel like every football game is a must-win now, and that just is what it is.”

On managing patience in a game situation:

“We have a saying: ‘Smart, not conservative.’ That means be smart but that doesn’t mean be conservative. That means when it’s an opportunity to take your shot, take it, but don’t put yourself in a bad situation. That’s something Zac and I actually talk about all the time. When you play an SEC opponent, you understand the style of game it’s going to be. I anticipated that we would have between 10 and 12 possessions. We ended up with 11 . . . and two of them right before half and at the end of a game. So the reality is you really only had 10 possessions. We scored on four of them and mounted another drive on the fifth one. You’ve got to take advantage of your opportunities, and you’ve got to be smart about how you attack a defense. We tried to take a shot in the third quarter, backed up. We had a one-on-one matchup with the nickel with Corey and we just didn’t make the throw. But like I said, you’ve got to be smart not conservative.”

On trends he’s seeing as the Mountaineers try to attack third downs:

“Well I mean, third down’s a part of the game. It’s just you’ve got to execute in those situations. In Saturday’s game, in the second half I think we had some third-and-longs that I called run plays instead of trying to push it. One of the we were backed up and one we were at midfield and I thought we could flip the field on them. So at those points, you’re success rate at running the inside zone on third-and-9 is probably not real high. We’ve got to be better. We’ve had some accuracy issues and Zac will be the first one to tell you. We had a chance to convert on a I think it was when Chandler (Staton) actually made the field goal that we had an out route to Malik that we missed. We had another third down where we had an incut to Malik that we missed. Last week, obviously, when we played Georgia Southern, we had some balls that we missed on third down. Those are accuracy issues and that’s just I gotta continue to get timing and I’ve got to continue to call plays that we can get completed. We’ve got to go back to work. We talked about it as a staff, we’ve got to spend more time on third downs this week and it’s got to be something that we’re better at.”

On Georgia State’s starting QB getting hurt in its last game and preparing for a potential backup quarterback:

“Some of both. I think you have to make more scheme adjustments and play to the scheme, and then react to what his strengths are because we’re not sure what his (the backup’s) strengths are. I think Ted (Roof) and the defensive staff do a really good job of eliminating the quarterbacks and what they do and have done a really nice job in the last two games with the last game and the game prior to take away the quarterback’s strengths. This one, obviously, we’re not sure what his strength, so we got to be sound in our schemes to make sure we’re not giving up anything. You’ve got to assume he’s the No. 2 quarterback so he’s been getting No. 2 reps so he’s been repeating the plays the first quarterback runs so. I don’t think we’ll see a scheme overall or a lot of new plays, it’s just a matter of what he does better or what he’s not quite as good as the previous quarterback, who was playing at a tremendous level. I hate for injuries to occur and hopefully wish him a speedy recovery and would look forward to competing against him should he get healthy.”

On Georgia State’s run game and coming off a strong defensive performance against the run:

“Well I thought we played physical at the line of scrimmage. We actually shed blocks and we tackled better than we had before. We didn’t miss tackles and we fit our gaps right. How do we ensure that? We go back to work, make sure we fit it right and we gave up 336 yards the week before so obviously we’re not perfect at it, and we’ve got to make sure we that we have our focus and execution and make sure we have a great week of practice. They do a lot of option-style things within their rush game. It’s an RPO-style offense, so they’re reading nose, they’re reading end, reading a third-level defender and throwing glance routes behind him. He’s got a multiple array of ways to attack us and it’s why their rushing offense is so good. We’re going to have to be very eye disciplined, which again, for us, has been a problem this year. Just calling it like I see it. So it’s a tremendous challenge for us this week.”

On if an RPO offense can be defended like the option offenses from the SoCon days:

“It’s definitely assignment football. It’s just if you stay in the exact same look and structure, then coaches nowadays ‘OK, they’re in this. Then this is how we attack it. They're in this, so this is how we attack it.’ So you have to be able to have blitzes, you have to have multiple pressures. With those layers, you have to have discipline and maintain structure and accountability.”

On the differences between RPOs and triple options:

“Georgia State runs option-style football, it’s just different than the triple option as far as being a dive and a pitch. It’s a we’re going to read and throw the ball behind you. It puts players in conflict. They have a run gap and they also have a pass responsibility — so they’ve got to fit A-gap but they’re responsible for three drop — so then you’ve got issues. That’s the issue.”

On the locker room celebration after South Carolina and leaving it behind:

“I think the excitement was two fold. I think the excitement was for the win, but the excitement for the opportunity of this week. Everybody in here felt like we let an opportunity slip the previous week, and very rarely in life do you get a second chance. And with the way that results came out Saturday, I think there was some buzz in our step because of the results of the game. And so I don’t think we have any issue right now putting this game behind us. Yesterday we came in here, and everybody to a man, wanted to talk about Georgia State. They wanted to talk about Georgia State. We know it was a big win. We all get that. But I think the best thing we have going for us is we did it once before already, and we had to put it aside to go play Coastal because we knew that was a good football team. And we know this week is a whole nother challenge. You’ve got a six-hour bus ride. You’re going to play at night, that means you’re going to be around the hotel all day. You know, and they’re a really, really good football team. Shawn’s done an incredible job this year with that football team. For them to beat Tennessee the way they did and make no mistake about it, Tennessee beat the crap out of South Carolina too. So if you’re cross comparing, that’s a really good football team. And then they got beat in a heartbreaker against Texas State and bounced back and have been on a high until last week and obviously, they faced an injury there with their quarterback. But Shawn will have them ready. He does a great job motivating his guys. And I know they’re going to be fired up to play us, so we’re going to have to have our best stuff.”

On if he pays attention to individual awards:

“The team, the team, the team. We don’t care. It’s the team. Our record is what our record is, and this is not about individual players, which we’ve got some tremendous individual players, it’s about the team. And that’s what I love about this group. They don’t care anything about that. It’s not about somebody getting recognized. We recognize it in front of each other. As Jay-Z says ‘real recognizes real,’ and I think the real people out there understand that we have really good football players. But the reason why we’re successful is because of the team.”

On Georgia State’s defense:

“Yeah it’s going to be a tremendous challenge.It’s a very similar style of scheme as what they’ve played here in the past. I think this guy is a Nate Woody-style defense. So it’s going to be based out of an odd front. They’re multiple in their coverages. They always have an extra person in the gaps. We struggled mightily against Georgia Southern in this style of defense so as an offensive staff, that’s a real challenge for us to come up with a better plan. And it’s a real challenge for our offense to play better versus this style of defense. So we’ve got to go to work and make sure that, as a staff, we come up with a much better plan than we did two weeks ago.”

On what makes a good tackler:

“Yeah you know what, the first thing about tackling is you got to want to tackle. You’ve got to want to get the guy on the ground. We practice tackling every day. First off, it starts with tracking angles. Making sure you’re tracking the ball, we talk about tracking the near hip. Then we talk about long stride as long as possible, then get to a short stride, head behind, wrap and roll. And our guys have really bought into that. Like I said, we do it every day. And whether it’s offensive, defensive player, if we practice a special team circuits, it involves tackling every single day. And then our defensive staff does a good job of coaching it throughout the week.”

On why Georgia State is so effective at running the ball:

“Again, I think it starts with Brad and his scheme. They’ve got a good offensive line, I think maybe it’s four of five returners at the offensive line, their tight end’s back, their running back’s already rushed for 1,000 yards. You’ve got a quarterback that’s a dual threat, so that means you have to play — if you’re going to cover him — you got to play zero coverage, which opens up people on the outside. And if you have one person wrong or you’re reading a person, you’re putting a person in conflict. His scheme is very sound, it’s very good, it’s been problematic for a lot of people when he was at Western. And you know, I know him. He’s come and visited when I was at N.C. State before. Been very impressed with the way he has, the detail he has. He knows exactly what he’s trying to do and how to attack defenses. So I give a lot of credit — they’ve got really good players, but his scheme is very difficult.”

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