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Eli Drinkwitz and Backfield Usage: Part 1 - Running Backs

A Statistical Examination of Missouri Head Coach Eli Drinkwitz and His History Using Running Backs

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Missouri Tigers 2022 season swiftly approaches, and with it uncertainty rises around the quarterback and running back positions. Connor Bazelak and Tyler Badie logged the majority of production at those positions in the previous campaign, and both are off to new destinations this season (transfer to Indiana and the NFL, respectively). The Missouri faithful have every right to be concerned about these positions heading into the 2022 season, so let’s try to find some order in the chaos by looking at Eli Drinkwitz’s career to see if we can find patterns in how he chooses his backfields.

Today we will focus on how running back carries have been distributed during Drinkwitz’s career. Tomorrow, we will look at quarterback trends and his history with battles for the starting position.

Eli Drinkwitz’s college coaching career

First, let’s look at each of our man’s steps on the way to becoming the big cheese at an SEC school.

Other than a brief pit stop in the tight end room in Boise, Drinkwitz has spent his entire career coaching running backs and quarterbacks, and he has spent the last seven seasons as offensive coordinator. Our first step is to eliminate the tight ends season. Next, we will look at trends in his RB usage in the seven coordinator seasons and the two seasons coaching backs at Arkansas State.

Running Back Usage

Let’s take a look at how the Drinkwitz offense distributes the ball on rushing plays. Below I have listed each season where he was involved with running backs, and the percentage of available running back carries given to each of the top two ball carriers.

An interesting pattern emerges. At his stops before Columbia, the lead back in a Drink offense averaged a little over half of the tailback rushes (55.3%), and the understudy took a quarter of them (24.2%). In his two seasons at Missouri, the lead back was given 75.3% of available totes, and the second chair’s role plummeted to 13.9%.

Has Eli adopted a new model of a bellcow running back, and will that pattern hold in 2022? It’s easy to look at the trend and say that Stanford transfer Nathaniel Peat will be next in line for a workhorse role.

Context says otherwise. In 2020, the Tigers played a full slate of only conference opponents, which took away the chance to give less experienced players easy carries to allow them to spell the stars in more important contests. The team had no choice but to rely on the veteran Rountree. In 2022, the Tigers will have games against Louisiana Tech and Abilene Christian to get a full rotation up to speed.

The depth this season is also a completely different story than last year. Badie’s emergence in 2021 as an every-down back was a pleasant surprise, but it was a surprise to be sure, as he had not previously shown the durability and power running that he would put on display every Saturday. However, Badie’s heroics were not by design, as a faltering passing attack and a critical lack of quality depth forced Drinkwitz’s hand.

Assuming Nathaniel Peat is the starter, the running backs behind him are better than Badie’s backups last season. Elijah Young and BJ Harris are back and hopefully continued to develop; they are joined by Cody Schrader, who rushed for 2,074 yards at DII Truman State last season, and 4-star recruit Tavorus Jones out of Texas. Schrader brings veteran experience and leadership, and Jones brings explosive athleticism and upside. Drink sang the praises of this room as a whole at SEC Media Days, praising the entire unit for setting the tone in offseason workouts.

By not singling out a specific player and focusing on the work of the entire group, Drinkwitz shows that his 2022 running back usage will return to a more balanced attack. This group will be more balanced than Missouri rushing attacks of recent vintage.