Appalachian State is readying for its final home game of the regular season Saturday.
The Mountaineers, now 9-1 and 5-1 in the Sun Belt Conference, still hold the top spot in the East Division with two games left.
Coach Eli Drinkwitz held his weekly press conference on Monday, talking about the team's performance against Georgia State, the upcoming matchup against Texas State and a few other topics.
Here's everything Drinkwitz said.
"First I want to say thank you to the App family for showing up in Atlanta on Saturday. Our crowd was outstanding. They did a great job for providing us energy and staying with us throughout the course of that game. And it’s always great to look up on that side and see all the black and gold. So appreciate them for being there for us. Obviously it’s a good win, excited about the way our team came back from the 21-7 deficit, scored 49-unanswered points. I’ve never been a part of that in my career coaching. It was a great testament to our senior class, to the leaders on our team, to the resolve of those guys to keep fighting. Speaking of our senior class, this is senior week where we honor our seniors. Extremely proud of this group of men. To deal with the change that they’ve dealt with, not only from helping this university transition from I-AA to FBS program, but also to deal with the coaching change. These guys are to be commended. Not only are they great football players and have been championship-level players, they’ve also done an excellent job in the classroom. Very proud of them. Obviously we’ve got some fifth-year seniors: Akeem Davis, Des Franklin, Vic Johnson, Josh Thomas, Noel Cook (Noel Cook is a fourth-year senior. Collin Reed is the other fifth-year senior). Those guys have been here. And for those guys, they're 50-12 going into this Texas State game, 34-5 in the Sun Belt, 25-4 going into this game at home. Four straight bowl wins, three straight conference championships, part of the first Sun Belt team to beat two Power-Five teams in a single season. First team to be ranked in the College Football Playoffs. So that’s a tribute to those guys. Our football team and our coaching staff is very excited to help send them out the right way. And that’s what our focus is this week. We’ve got a very good Texas State team. Coach Spavital is instilling his culture. He’s been in a lot of very tight games. Obviously they beat Georgia State in overtime and have played some really tight ball games lately. So we’re going to have our hands full. They’ve got a unique scheme on the defensive side of the ball. They play a 3-3 stack with a rover in the middle of the field, similar to what Iowa State plays. That’s something that we have not seen yet. We’ve got to do a good job adjusting and figuring out a way to attack it. Offensively, their offensive coordinator is Bob Stitt, a very innovative offensive guy. Coach Spav’s background is on offense so we’re going to have our hands full making sure we come out with the right focus in order to play. As far as the injury report goes, we anticipate getting Elijah Diarrassouba back, and so that will be a big lift for us on the defensive side. There was no significant injuries in the game. I know there’s a lot of people worried — I did have an injury during the game. In the third quarter I got run over by Noah (Hannon). And I got a laceration on the back of my ear that required 12 stitches. I’m fine now and all is well. But I know that there was some inquiring minds so that’s what the big patch on the back of my ear was. But for the record, I did finish the game. They did not do a concussion test, and I was proud of the toughness that I displayed in that moment. So with that I will open it up for questions."
On Darrynton Evans hitting 1,000 yards rushing and the consistency it takes to have eight straight 1,000-yard rushers:
"Well I think there’s a lot of different factors involved with that. One, you’ve got to recruit great players. Two you have to have a commitment to developing, it usually begins in the weight room, developing an offensive line. So I know both programs are committed to developing their guys, committed to the weight room, and then committed to excellence running the football is a championship standard. You have to run the football to win championships. Andrew was looking it up, I think this was the fifth or sixth straight year as an offensive coordinator, or an offense directed by me, that I’ve had a 1,000-yard rusher. So it’s kind of what you believe in too. So I think that’s just a part of it."
On what Texas State is trying to do with its defensive alignment:
"Well it’s a gap-sound defense that allows their extra fitter to be a midfield safety and allows him to have different various forms of pressure. Normally, when you’re talking to your quarterback about identifying coverages, you’re identifying it based off the weak safety rotation. Now there’s not necessarily a weak safety rotation because there’s a middle-field safety. And so he’s able to fit down in the box as an extra run fitter or be a middle field close guy too. So it’s a unique scheme. It’s predominant in the Big 12 because of all the spread offenses. But it provides a unique challenge with us being multiple about how you want to attack it. Do you want to be in 12 personnel, 11 personnel, 10 personnel."
On if the ear injury was Georgia State train horn related:
"That is the loudest whistle in the Sun Belt. There’s definitely no doubt about that. We ran speed option to the right. I was squatted down and I was watching Zac, and he got tackled and I was kind of making sure he was OK. And out of my peripheral, Noah Hannon was blocking a lineman, a Georgia State defender. Now I’m going to punish Noah because it was clear he was blocking me after the whistle. So he got a piece of me and, vividly, he looked and saw that it was me that he ran over and he turned and ran right back. Didn’t even offer to help me up. I think he knew, ‘Oh crap, I’m going to be in trouble.’ Nah I’m just kidding. Noah’s a great kid, he plays hard, that’s the type of effort we want and it’s just part of the game."
On inheriting a senior class and the responsibility that comes with that:
"I think it’s two fold. I think we both had a responsibility to embrace the change. I think we’ve documented this several times — preference versus performance. It was not about what each one of our preferences was. It was about what’s going to help us perform to the highest level we’re capable of preforming. And so as a coaching staff we lowered our egos and said, ‘OK this is what they’ve done on the past that is really good, this is areas that we think we can really help this program take another step or help this group’s performance and take it to another level. And you know, whenever you challenge somebody to offer change, they have to either say yes I’m going to do that or to buy in. And a credit to them, they didn’t wait. They said we’re in coach. Whatever you say we’re going to do, we’re going to do. And it’s resulted in success, and so I appreciate that and I think they appreciate it. But the responsibility goes to both sides."
On learning about those seniors during fall camp through senior talks:
"I think everybody’s story is unique. And whenever you’re able to share your story with the rest of the team, they get ownership and understanding of what you sacrificed in order to achieve what you achieved, but also what that chip is on your shoulder to cause you to keep moving forward. And I think it just brings a collective unity to the group. Like OK, I understand what his sacrifice is, how much he’s invested in this program so I’m not going to let my brother down. I’m going to give everything I’ve got to make sure these guys get what they’ve earned. When you kind of match their intensity, I guess, or their care, and I think whenever you see seniors get up — it’s always emotional. And whenever you see them do that, you realize how much they’ve invested in the program and as a coach, I think the responsibility and the enormity of the task at hand. Like I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure I don’t let these guys down."
On grad transfer Willie Edwards’ first playing time of the season against Georgia State after dealing with injuries:
"Yeah I mean, I’ve said it to our team several times but I obviously need to say it to the media too. Extremely proud of Keishawn Watson, Willie Edwards and Joey Cave. Three guys that came in with visions of grandeur and wanting to come and be a key cog in the wheel, and that’s not always how life works out. It doesn’t always work out the way we dream for it to work out. Those guys have been nothing but team players, team first, however they can help us be successful. Willie unfortunately had an injury in fall camp. There’s nothing you can do about it. And he has worked every single day to try to provide some sort of contribution to our team. And you know, you just encourage guys that it’s bigger than just playing and contributing on the field. You’re a part of a brotherhood. You’re a part of a team. And our team success is more important that individual accolades. And I think Joey’s a great example of that. He does a great job on punt team as our personal protector and on field goal. Keishawn Watson is a guy that we plug in a lot of different areas and had a big third-down conversion catch for us. Those guys have been really good and I’m very proud and excited that we brought them into the App family, and they’ve been great representations for us."
On Shaun Jolly, the way he’s improved throughout the season and if he’s bothersome for the offense in practice:
"Well I think Shaun has definitely developed and taken his game to the next level. I mean, anytime you’ve got two interception returns for a touchdown and a blocked punt, multiple PBUs, you’re playing at a high level. Credit to Coach Harbison and his development. Obviously, going into the season, we were extremely worried about the corner position. And against the UNC Charlotte game, we had several long touchdowns thrown over our heads, and we didn’t hang our heads, we didn’t back off, we just said we’re going to work to get better. This is what we’re going to do, this is how we’re going to fix it, and he’s playing with a lot of confidence right now. And I think anytime you’re a defensive back, you have to play with confidence. And he’s got that. So it’s really a credit to him. But no he doesn’t get on our nerves. I mean, we’re not worried about that. Nah I’m just kidding. We like to talk trash. The quarterbacks and wideouts like to talk trash to DBs, and the DBs like to talk trash to them. That’s why it doesn’t get on our nerves."
On the Texas State passing game:
"Well I think they’re very dynamic in what they do. They’re multiple in their routes and the ways they try to attack your coverage schemes. They have motions and different ways to try to get you to rotate your coverage and attack a seam area. So we’ve got to do a nice job with our adjustments, we’ve got to do typical defense. You got to do a great job of understanding what our plan is, how they’re going to attack our plan and make sure we have great eye discipline in what we do. We’ve got to affect the quarterback. Our front has got to affect the quarterback without having to add extra rushers. And when we do add extra rushers, we have to get there. We have to clean up our blitz patterns. They are not as crisp as we want them to be right now. And we need to clean those up so that we can be more effective when we blitz to get to the passer. So those are some areas we need to improve this week. Offensively we’ve got to improve our perimeter blocking. It’s not nearly where it needs to be. We’re not sustaining blocks on the perimeter the way we need to in order to be effective attacking the perimeter. So for us, those are two areas we need to improve this week in order to play our best against Texas State."
On if Zac Thomas’ confidence when running the football:
"I think anytime as a player you make a play, your confidence increases in the game. So whether that’s you step up and make a big throw, or it’s your not throwing the ball as well as you want to throw it but you’re able to affect the offense in a positive way by gaining yards with your feet, it allows you to be confident that you’re playing the way you’re supposed to to help your football team and help your teammates. And I think that’s probably what happened. You know, I was extremely proud of Zac. His mindset when we threw that interception, he came right off the sideline and told everybody ‘Hey, that’s me, we’re going to get it back.’ And the next drive, he stepped up and made a big-time throw on an in-cut with pressure and then handled tempo well throughout to Corey. So his mindset is always — I think his best attribute is his competitive nature. I don’t necessarily think it has to be him running the football that gets him going. I think it’s just when he positively affects the game."
On coaching in a game with multiple extra-effort plays — Corey Sutton catching a ball that bounces around and Darrynton Evans turning what looked like a short run into a touchdown:
"I’ve never seen multiple. The closest I’ve ever seen to Darrynton was in the national championship game. Michael Dyer was called not down against Oregon that ended up leading to the field goal to win the game. But that’s the closet I’ve seen to that. Both are just two incredible plays that great concentration and I’m glad they went in our favor."