Appalachian State coach Eli Drinkwitz held his weekly press conference on Monday, five days before the Sun Belt Conference championship game between App State and Louisiana.
App State is 11-1. Louisiana is 10-2. It’s the first matchup of double-digit win teams in Sun Belt history.
Here’s everything Drinkwitz said regarding the Mountaineers, Ragin’ Cajuns and more:
“First, excited to be playing this week. It’s a tribute to our players and staff for the focus and hard work that they put in from the time we started this journey in January to right now, being able to block out all the distractions and noise and to focus on being 1-0 each week and buying into the message. Excited for both our fans and our alumni. Want to say thank you to our administration and leadership for providing us for this opportunity by investing in our team consistently throughout the season. And we need our fans and our alumni to show up and make this a true homefield advantage for us Saturday. We worked extremely hard to get homefield advantage and we need our fans to be loud and prove that to be hopefully the difference in this game. Congrats to Lafayette and Coach Napier, or Louisiana and Coach Napier, for a tremendous season. They’ve played an outstanding season. To be 10 wins, to play the way that they have, it’s a credit to his coaching staff and his team, and it’s going to be a tremendous battle Saturday of two good football teams. And we’re excited about the opportunity to play. So with that, I’ll open up with questions.
On the performance of the receiving group:
“Well you never get to replace a player the caliber of Corey Sutton. But what you try to do is spread out the opportunities to the rest of the team and see if other people can step up. So that’s what happened. Obviously I thought Zac played a tremendous game. We felt like we had some matchups and we could create some matchups in the secondary, and we were very efficient on third downs and people stepped up and made some plays so yes, I think our guys stepped up, did what they needed to do, created separation and then our quarterback was able to find them.”
On Louisiana and if there’s been any changes since the first meeting of the two teams:
“I mean I think they still do what they’ve always done, which is establish the run game, do a nice job with play action, take vertical shots down the field, take vertical shots down the field, control the tempo with their offense. Defensively, they rally to the ball, create extra fitter in the run game by reduction, whether it’s moving to a bear front, moving to a four-down front, causing confusion. They’re not the same team we played. I think they’ve improved tremendously since the first time we played. I think to assume that the game will be similar in nature to the one we played previously would be a false narrative going into the game. I think both teams have changed, whether it’s due to injuries or whatever the season’s brought about. So I think their coaching staff’s done an excellent job of pushing their team toward what their strengths are, and I think we’ve been able to do the same thing.”
On Louisiana QB Levi Lewis and his recent play and why it’s happening:
“Well I think teams have committed more to stopping the run. I think they felt like the success we were able to have stopping the run was the way to defeat the team, which has allowed for some more one-on-one opportunities. They’ve got some big wide receivers that create tough matchups. They’ve been making some tremendous catches. Their quarterback has also been able to extend plays with his feet and then being able to find wide receivers down the field. So they’re playing at a high level offensively right now.”
On the health of tight end Collin Reed, safety Ryan Huff and running back Daetrich Harrington, as well as the whole team:
“Daetrich is fine. He was a little bit sore after the game, which was to be expected. But the two days off, and we had a walk through yesterday and was fine so I anticipate he will be a contributor in this game. Collin’s doubtful. I don’t anticipate him being able to get back. And Ryan Huff, is questionable, 50-50, whatever the term might be. He is questionable right now and we’ll see how that goes.”
On his experiences with conference title games in the past:
“I think you can go all the way back to the time when I was a high-school football player and we played teams twice in the state championship game. You can go back to Auburn in 2010, we played South Carolina twice in the same season and in 2014, I was at Boise State, we played Fresno twice in the same season. So you draw back from those past experiences and you figure out how you want to attack this opponent and what’s the best way to go about it. There’s all different kinds of styles, we just happen to have one that we believe in here.”
On team personnel being familiar with each other (this will be the fourth meeting of the two teams in the last two years):
“Yeah I think the biggest thing is your players know. They understand what their matchup is going to be and they understand who they’ve gone against and how they’ve gone against them. As coaches, I think we have to do a good job of not trying to over scheme the game and just let our players play and try to find whatever advantages we think we have in offense, defense and special teams and don’t try to overdo it. We’re not going to win this game from the press box. We’re going to win it from the football field. Players got to play and that’s what we’re going to do Saturday.”
On if this is a matchup is turning into a rivalry:
“Yeah I mean I think so. I saw somebody on Twitter ask me if we can have a champion, some sort of trophy between us and ULL and I wanted to respond, ‘Yeah, it’s the Sun Belt Championship trophy’ because that’s what it’s come down to. I think everybody understands what the game is about. It’s about who’s going to win the Sun Belt championship, conference championship, and it’s been a team that we’ve played four times in 365 days so yeah, there’s going to be some natural want to get it done.”
On the Louisiana defense:
“I mean they’re doing some things a little bit differently. Creating some more front movement. They’ll adjust from a three-down front to a four-down front to a bear front so he’s got multiple there. They try to do it in a manner which would confuse the offensive line. They’re still pretty consistent in the back end. Mixing in corners, coverage, Cover 4, Cover 3 and some version of what we call 6, which is the split zone coverage. So it’s the same style stuff. So yeah.
On the App State offense putting together a long drive to secure App State’s win against Louisiana last time:
“I think every game takes on a nature of its own, and I’m trying to not have any preconceived ideas on what style of game this is going to be. Obviously in Boone you never know what the weather is going to be. You never know what the score may indicate, what we have to do offensively. It may predicate that we need to try to score more based on being ahead or may try to score less by being behind. Whatever those factors may be. We’ll create a game plan on what we think we need to do offensively first and second down, third-down, situational football, what we think we need to do to be successful. But I’m not going to try to dictate the style of play. The game’s going to play itself out.”
On if there are any major differences in preparation from last time to this time:
“Well last time I prepared for this game, I spent six nights in the hospital because my daughter was being born. Now I’m getting to sleep in my own bed which maybe will create some new ideas and fresh opportunities for us. We’re not really looking at the last game all that much. I think each team has -- we played Week 5, and so there’s been a lot of transitions from those periods to where we’re at now. So we’re trying to create a new opportunity, a new game, and not really look back on to it that much."
On the teams being ranked inside the top 20 both in scoring offense and scoring defense:
"I mean I think it’s why our records are what they are. We’re able to play on both sides of the ball at a high level and we’re both set up usually by our special teams. I thought when we played this game previously, I thought their special teams got after us and was a factor in creating negative field position for us, negative starting points. So I think, to go back to those stats, it just proves that both coaching staffs do a nice job and players are bought in to what they’re trying to do. And they’re playing at a high level. For the Sun Belt to have two 10-win teams playing in a championship game is a pretty neat opportunity for us as a conference."