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Eliah Drinkwitz Named App State Head Coach

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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With Scott Satterfield off to Louisville, the Appalachian State brass has announced that Eliah Drinkwitz, NC State’s offensive coordinator for the past three years, will take over the Mountaineer machine.

With Scott Satterfield off to Louisville, the Appalachian State brass has announced that Eliah Drinkwitz, NC State’s offensive coordinator for the past three years, will take over the Mountaineer machine.

Drinkwitz steps into a rather large pair of shoes, tasked with filling the void of a man who led his alma mater to perhaps the most impressive FCS to FBS transition ever, fresh off of winning the inaugural Sun Belt Championship game.

Prior to his tenure under Dave Doeren, in Raleigh, Drinkwitz served as the tight ends coach at Boise State in 2014 and the Broncos’ offensive coordinator in 2015.

Has has some previous Sun Belt experience as well, coaching the running backs at Arkansas State in 2012 and then co-coordinating Bryan Harsin’s offense in Jonesboro a year later.

He was on staff for Auburn’s 2010 national title run, as well.

Looking at the Wolfpack’s most recent offenses, one could expect a bit of a change under Drinkwitz, from the run-first (and second [and sometimes third]) attack that Satterfield and company deployed, to a more air oriented gameplan. However, if nothing else, Drinkwitz has proven to be adaptable.

Here’s how his various units have fared over the last four years:

The FEI and S&P+ rankings are opponent adjusted measures of overall offensive efficacy, excluding garbage time. Granted, it’s a small sample size, given that these are the only four offenses that he’s ever had full control over, but one thing that stands out is how although his impact wasn’t immediate, both Boise State and NC State suffered a slight regression in year one relative to the year before, the Wolfpack were notably better off in years two and three than they were even under his predecessor Matt Canada, a talented play caller in his own right.

Even aside from the improvement, he’s also never headed up a bad offense. So, even if the App State offense stagnates, and it wasn’t otherworldly this season, as long as he makes a good defensive coordinator hire and the Mountaineers stay elite on that side of the ball, there’s no reason to expect a step back in the wins column. A potential short term stall is worth the opportunity of long term dividends.

The rushing S&P+ and passing S&P+, along with the corresponding run rates, offer evidence of his aforementioned malleability. When he could run the ball effectively, he ran the ball more. When he couldn’t, he didn’t try to force the issue. Balance for the sake of balance is an objectively pointless endeavor. Drinkwitz is apparently aware of that and willing to play to the strengths of his personnel, as opposed to trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It seems obvious, but coaches from sea to shining sea fall victim to the trappings of whatever they’re personal schematic preferences are. Jimmy’s and Joe’s win more games than X’s and O’s.

Based on the respective success rate and IsoPPP rankings, he also values efficiency over explosiveness. Neither is inherently more effective than the other, but establishing efficiency is generally more reliable. Big plays are like three pointers in basketball -- sometimes they just don’t fall. Now, this doesn’t mean his offenses don’t create a high rate of big plays, the IsoPPP metric simply indicates that the successful plays his offenses do create aren’t quite as explosive as the average successful play. That being said, the only way to manufacture big plays is to first create successful plays, which his units do at a high clip. For example, despite ranking 97th in IsoPPP in 2018, NC State is 15th in the FBS, gaining 20+ yards on nearly 10% of their snaps.

Another thing that should please the Mountaineers faithful is his history of top end offensive line play. App State churned out some of the best blocking groups in the Sun Belt during its first handful of FBS seasons. This year, however, the protection to a marked step back. To be fair, that could be partially on account of losing the likes of Beau Nunn and Colby Gossett, but, nevertheless, this unit was not up to the standard that the previous iterations had set. Anything less than a return to form under Drinkwitz would be a surprise.

Finally, looking at his offenses’ average non-garbage time points per drive and touchdown rates, with the exception of 2016, his squads have consistently found ways to score at a rate above their expected output, based on overall efficiency and explosiveness. Basically, when his teams take care of the ball, they’re elite. When they don’t, they’re still fine, but don’t meet their full potential. With Zac Thomas at the helm for the next couple of years, that shouldn’t be a problem.

With four of the top five returning pass catchers coming back, all filling unique roles, capable of exploiting any defensive look, not to mention arguably the most electric ball carrier in the Sun Belt, this could be the most explosive offense that Drinkwitz has coached from day one. Alongside even a modest jump in efficiency, and thus consistency, it could be a force to be reckoned with in the league.

As mentioned above, his defensive coordinator hire will be crucial. For all that he promises on the offensive side of the ball, defense has been this program’s calling card throughout its meteoric rise from the FCS ranks to perennial Sun Belt power.

Still, if the status quo can merely be upheld under whoever replaces Bryan Brown, the enhanced offensive upside under Eliah Drinkwitz brings with it a higher ceiling for the program at large -- one that has already established itself as one of the premier programs not only in the group of five, but in all of college football.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP