GREENVILLE, N.C. – Second-year East Carolina Head Football Coach Mike Houston sits down with 9 on your side Sports Director Brian Bailey each Monday to talk Pirate football.
Houston also addressed members of the media Monday prior to Friday night’s road game at No. 7 Cincinnati. The following are selected comments:
“Quick turnaround. Saturday to Friday means everything got sped up pretty well. We came back yesterday and took a look at the film with the players. The coaching staff was back in the office early Sunday morning preparing for Cincinnati and got the corrections and adjustments from the Tulane game taken care of. We had a shorter practice yesterday. Concerned about getting the kids fresh for Friday night so we will go a touch shorter than normal early in the week. Tough matchup. Good football team we are playing. One of the top teams in the country obviously. It’s an exciting matchup for our players. Being able to go on the road against an opponent of Cincinnati’s caliber and playing on a national stage has our players and staff excited.
On Cincinnati’s Defense:
“It’s not just their defense but, looking at all three phases, it’s their team speed. I think they run really well at all three levels. They have good size on the defensive line and those kids can really move. They run really well in the secondary and at the linebacker position. You’ll see them play some drop eight where it’s just a three-man rush and they are still getting pressure on people. They also bring a variety of pressures just like we do. People have struggled to run the ball against them this year. They’ve been very stingy.”
On What Could Be Similar To Last Year’s Game Against Cincinnati:
“It’s the same players. When you look at their roster, the same guys have been playing for multiple years. They are seniors backed up by juniors across the two deep. We played well against them offensively last year. Tough game. We lost on a kick there at the end. Obviously, having to travel up there and playing on the road will be tough.
“I think they are much improved, even from the team I saw at the beginning of the year. Great depth across the board so I just think we are playing a really good football team Friday night.”
On Adjustments Tulane Made During The Game:
“I thought Tulane did a good job with some of their “check with me” stuff. They were remaining under center, so it made it tough for us to adjust. They did a good job of making us tip our hand and their offensive line played really well against our movement.
“They had a great game plan for us. I told Coach Harrell after the game to take a good, hard look at the game film because that’s the best anyone has prepared for us.”
On The Status Of Aaron Ramseur, Darius Pinnix And Jsi Hatfield:
“All three were battling injuries. We are hoping to have them back Saturday, but we will have to see how practice goes.”
On Keeping Team Morale High:
We have seen progress on the field in that we are highly competitive in American Conference games versus a year ago when we struggled. We do have a youthful roster. Those guys are going through a lot of first experiences. The big thing I try to do is keep them focused on the important things we preach daily and that’s pushing ourselves to be the best we can be and to be a more cohesive team.
“I try to find something motivational each week. We have set some goals for what program I’d like us to become. We are working towards those goals every single day. It’s tough keeping so many 18-year old’s upbeat but I see so many positives. I was extremely disappointed in the way we played in the middle of our ballgame against Tulane, but I can still find some positives and bright spots. It’s just trying to focus on the things we are doing well and to get things corrected that we aren’t doing well.
“I think we could have done some things better as a coaching staff last week. The biggest thing is focusing on having a positive team culture in the locker room. We have really good kids in this program. We have to cultivate that and try to get better every week.”
On The Opportunity To Beat A Top 10 Team In Cincinnati:
“Having the opportunity to play against a quality opponent like Cincinnati is something I certainly cherish. I am excited about it. I think our kids will be too. Right now, Cincinnati is the top team in our league and will be until someone knocks them off. I’ve been there. I’ve been the bunch that is at the top. The tough thing about it is that you’ll get everyone’s best shot each week. It’s hard to get the top, but it’s also hard to stay there.”
On Playing Well In American Athletic Conference Road Games:
“Our team has shown it can handle the travel schedule and playing at night. They have confidence in what they need to do to get ready. The big focus, home or away, is our preparation. When we have had great weeks of preparation, crisp practices and competition, we’ve played well that weekend. That’s been my big focus with the team yesterday and will be today. They know it because they feel it. They go through it. They know when they practice well, they play well. Hopefully we will be ready to play at a high level Friday night.”
On The Running Game’s Performance Against Tulane:
“Tulane is very good in the front seven. They are athletic with good size and played very well. We did have some missed assignments. When you have those up front, it’s hard to have a productive play. I think it’s a combination of playing a cleaner game from an execution standpoint up front. I don’t want to take anything away from Tulane. That’s a very good football program and a solid team when it comes to the line of scrimmage on both sides.”
On Cincinnati Quarterback Desmond Ritter’s Threat As A Runner:
“He’s obviously a legitimate run threat. He’s their second-leading rusher. They have a lot of quarterback design stuff with reads off the back side of the run. With the way he runs, you have to account for him. It’s something that will be a challenge this week. When a play breaks down, he can get a lot of yardage in quarterback scramble runs. I really think he’s improved his play from the beginning of the year. He struggled some with turnovers, but I think now he’s more consistent in taking care of the football and decision making. His ability to run certainly gives them more of a threat offensively.”
On Holton Ahlers’ Rushing Numbers This Season:
“It’s a couple of different things. We had a couple quarterback-designed runs last week, but people are defending Holton even in the standard zone read. They know he is a mobile quarterback and they’ve taken some of it away. We have to be creative in order to run the ball against Cincinnati so we will have to look at a lot of different things.”
On Attacking Cincinnati Offensively:
“We would like to be balanced. That’s been consistent throughout. I don’t want to be one dimensional. Tulane made us one dimensional last week. We’ve got to do a better job of being balanced this week. We’re going to have to throw the ball effectively against Cincinnati, but we’d also like to run the ball effectively also. Coach (Donnie) Kirkpatrick and his staff have been working diligently since early Sunday morning to try to come up with a game plan that will give us the best opportunity for success.”
On The Decision To Move Traveon Freshwater To The Tight End Position:
“We have moved Traveon to tight end. Being one year into the program while also not having spring practice this year, we didn’t have much opportunity to figure out who could best help us in each position. We’ve shuffled a lot of our young kids around this fall. Traveon was not overly competitive at the defensive tackle position throughout the fall. He has some God-given ability. Traveon and I have talked multiple times. It was a combination of continuing to develop the tight end room as well as Traveon’s desire to get back to the offensive side of the football. There was a need there. It was something he wanted to do so we made that adjustment. It will be a year or so before you see how that adjustment plays out. It’s going to take time to develop him at that position. It was something he wanted to do. Hopefully it will give us some more depth there.”