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Drinkwitz to call Wolves’ offense last time


MOBILE, Ala. — Eliah Drinkwitz has been calling plays most of his coaching career. Now he’ll call them on a national stage in Arkansas State’s biggest game of the season.

Drinkwitz will be responsible for play calling when the Red Wolves meet Ball State in the GoDaddy Bowl on Sunday night.

It’s nothing really new for ASU’s co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach, either. Drinkwitz began calling plays a little more than halfway into Arkansas State’s season and has called all of them ever since.

But his play-calling experience actually began long, long ago.

“The reality is I’ve called plays since I was a junior high coach and then when I was an offensive coordinator at Springdale,” Drinkwitz said. “I have a lot of experience calling plays, so I knew really what my style was. It was just getting accustomed to what direction the offense wanted to go when I began calling plays here.”

Drinkwitz has been on the Arkansas State staff the past two years, serving as running backs and special teams coach last year. He was promoted to co-offensive coordinator when former ASU coach Bryan Harsin took over last spring.

Prior to that, Drinkwitz spent 2006-09 at Springdale High School, including three as the Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator. He was also the junior high seventh-grade head coach and handled similar duties.

Those experiences helped Drinkwitz into the position he’s in now. He’ll call plays for the first time in a bowl game on Sunday night when ASU meets Ball State in the GoDaddy Bowl. But it’s not the play calling that Drinkwitz feels is as important as putting his players in a position where they can succeed.

“It’s really not as much about play calling as people think it is,” Drinkwitz said. “It’s about player execution and making sure that you call the plays that the kids are comfortable with and can execute in those situations. What we’ve tried to do is tailor the offense to what those guys can handle.”

Drinkwitz, who played high school football at Alma, called plays in the final five games of the season for the Red Wolves.

Harsin sat Drinkwitz down in his office the day before the Red Wolves traveled to face South Alabama in early November and delegated the play-calling responsibilities to him. Arkansas State had a 3-4 record and was coming off a 23-7 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette when Harsin decided to give Drinkwitz a shot.

Drinkwitz gladly accepted the challenge and the Red Wolves appeared revitalized under his decision making over the next five weeks.

ASU won four straight games before losing to Western Kentucky in the season finale and earned a share of the Sun Belt Conference title.

So when Harsin left at the end of the regular season to take over at Boise State, ASU interim coach John Thompson didn’t have any reservation about keeping the play-calling responsibilities with Drinkwitz.

“Eli was already calling the plays since South Alabama,” Thompson said. “He’s very smart, very diligent, understands this offense and has great imagination. Eli had been doing that the last half of the season. The team, the staff and me, personally, have all got great confidence in Eli.”

With Drinkwitz calling plays, Arkansas State’s offense definitely found a rhythm.

The Red Wolves scored 32.6 points and totaled 383 yards a game while averaging 5.1 yards a play. It was a significant improvement over the first seven games.

Drinkwitz said it took him the first half of the South Alabama game to make some adjustments to his new role. After that, his knowledge of the offense began to take shape with results on the field.

“He’s done a great job,” Thompson said. “We’re 4-1 in those last five games. That’s the proof. Really that’s what we’re judged on, and if we had gotten that last stop out of 99 yards at Western Kentucky, we’d be 5-0 with him calling plays.”

While his play-calling experience in college may be limited, Drinkwitz said his years in high school and junior high football helped him make the transition smoothly.

“The more you call plays, the more comfortable you get with yourself, the more third-down situations you’re in, the more red zone situations you’re in,” Drinkwitz explained. “I attribute a lot of being comfortable to also calling 7-on-7s throughout the summer because you get into a rhythm of who you are and what things you like on certain downs and distances.”

Drinkwitz will most likely play an important role if the Red Wolves are to win their second straight GoDaddy Bowl.

Ball State is 10-2 on the season and won eight of its last nine games. The Cardinals have given up an average of 421 yards and 24.8 points a game.

While there are some possibilities to make plays and put up some scores, Drinkwitz said there are some things about Ball State’s defense that concern him and will dictate the plays he calls.

“If you’re going to win football games, especially in bowl games, you’ve got to be physical at the line of scrimmage and you’ve got to run the ball,” Drinkwitz said. “But it’s really going to be based on what they do and what we plan to attack.”

One aspect of the bowl game that could force Drinkwitz to alter his play calling is the health of senior quarterback Adam Kennedy.

Kennedy suffered a knee injury in the finale at WKU. He recently returned to practice but there are no certainties yet, so Drinkwitz will adjust if the situation dictates.

“You tailor what you do to the quarterback and you play to his strengths,” Drinkwitz said. “If Adam is in the game, we will play to his strengths. If Fredi (Knighten) is in the game, we will play to his strengths.”

Arkansas State was more of a run-oriented team under Drinkwitz.

While Drinkwitz prefers to employ a balanced attack, the Red Wolves ran the football 260 times, or 70 percent of their snaps, while throwing 113 passes under his guidance. He hopes to be more balanced for Ball State.

“We want to be a balanced football team and we want the defense to have to defend both,” Drinkwitz said.

The GoDaddy Bowl will be Drinkwitz’s final game at Arkansas State. On Monday, Harsin announced Drinkwitz will join him at Boise State as an assistant over tight ends.

Drinkwitz said he’s focused on the bowl while everything else will work out for the best.

“My future is in the Lord’s hands, and whatever God wants to do with me and my career I trust Him fully,” Drinkwitz said. “That’s where we’re at. All my trust is in the Lord. He’s taken care of me my whole life.”