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Eli Drinkwitz’s offensive line will set up Connor Bazelak for success

Drinkwitz’s offensive lines have finished with a top five sack rate each of the last five seasons.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Being a quarterback in Eli Drinkwitz’s offense is demanding. Drinkwitz doesn’t shy away from saying publicly that his offense is “quarterback driven.” Connor Bazelak learned that in a trial by fire scenario throughout the 2020 season.

But Bazelak rarely felt as if he was under fire from his offensive line.

Last year was the fifth straight season in which Drinkwitz coordinated an offense with one of the five lowest (best) sack rates in his respective conference. That’s a remarkable statistic. He’s achieved such a mark at three different schools, and with four different quarterbacks.

What goes into that? Well, a lot of things. Drinkwitz’s offense puts his quarterbacks in a position to succeed.

Eli Drinkwitz Offensive Line Stats

Year - School Line Yards (FBS Ranking) Sack Rate (FBS Rating) Sacks Allowed/Gm (Conf. Ranking)
Year - School Line Yards (FBS Ranking) Sack Rate (FBS Rating) Sacks Allowed/Gm (Conf. Ranking)
2020 - Mizzou 2.43 (98th) 3.6% (16th) 1.60 (4th)
2019 - Appalachian State 2.63 (51st) 4.6% (32nd) 1.29 (2nd)
2018 - NC State 2.05 (126th) 2.2% (4th) 0.85 (1st)
2017 - NC State 2.77 (87th) 2.5% (9th) 1.00 (1st)
2016 - NC State 2.86 (88th) 3.6% (36th) 1.31 (3rd)
2015 - Boise State 2.74 (90th) 5.7% (83rd) 2.39 (8th)

That might sound obvious. But, for far too many coaches, it’s not.

It starts pre-snap. Missouri used motion on 23 percent of its offensive plays last year, good for the third highest rate in the SEC, according to SECStatCat.com. That immediately gives the defense something to read and can help to keep the pass rush a step behind.

Drinkwitz is no stranger to utilizing play-action to keep the defense honest. He’s good for one or two trick plays a game. He moves the pocket for his quarterback if the offensive line has a clear weakness. He kept the offense on track last year by utilizing one of the most productive running backs in the country in Larry Rountree III.

But, maybe most importantly, he gets the ball out of his quarterback’s hand quickly. I can’t quantify this, but I have to imagine Bazelak was at or near the top of the list of “time to throw” in the SEC last season. A lot of that was by design.

Bazelak’s freshman season was unexpected. He was inserted into the starting lineup in week two when it became clear Shawn Robsinon just wasn’t as effective against Tennessee. Drinkwitz did a great job of helping Bazelak and his offensive line manage the game with short, quick passes.

That’s something that we could see change this year as the offensive line talent and health continue to improve, and as Bazelak’s development takes the next step. There’s been plenty of discussion about the Tigers’ lack of explosive pass plays last season. It’s something that needs to improve. It will, by design.

Drinkwitz’s offense is quarterback-driven. It’s also quarterback-conscious. He knows what his quarterback is and is not capable of doing. Last season was all about Bazelak gaining quality experience. This season is about building him into the best possible version of himself.

It remains to be seen what that looks like for Bazelak, but if Drinkwitz’s recent history is any indication then I don’t suspect we’ll see him on the ground very often.