Bailey goes one-on-one with ECU Coach Mike Houston for Tulsa preview

Sports

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – Each Monday, 9 on your side Sports Director Brian Bailey goes one-on-one with ECU football coach Mike Houston to start the week.

With a game on Friday this week, the Pirate coach also addressed the rest of the area media with his weekly Zoom press conference.

The following are selected comments:

Opening Statement:

“Good to see everybody. Exciting matchup this week. Tulsa, we all got a chance to see them on Friday night against South Florida. It was enjoyable to sit and watch the game, but still take away the same things I expected going into that game and that’s we’re facing one of the better teams, if not the best team, on our schedule. It’s a very solid team top to bottom. They’re very strong in all three phases. Most of the guys are the group that played against us last year. It’s a team that’s made up of fourth- and fifth-year players that have been in the program for multiple years. Very experienced. Very big. Very athletic. A good football team. It’s going to be a great matchup for us.

“We’re excited coming off the bye. We were able to get some guys some rest and get a head start on Tulsa with it being a Friday night game. For us and the program, today’s Tuesday. For everybody else in the world, today’s Monday. But we started practice on Saturday for the game this coming Friday. It’s going to be a quick week. The kids will be excited to kick off on Friday night and get another chance to play on a national stage. It should be an exciting matchup for us.”

On How Does COVID Testing Change This Week:

“So, we tested today. We will test again tomorrow. Then we will test Thursday morning. So, we will test three times this week.”

On The Travel Schedule:

“We’re not leaving Greenville until about 2’o clock (on Thursday). We’ll eat dinner just a touch later Thursday evening. Get to bed just a touch later Thursday night and really allow them to sleep in on Friday morning. Trying to make sure we’re well rested for the night game. Very similar day on Friday to our Saturday down in South Florida.”

On How Important It Will Be To Take Care Of The Football:

“Well I think it’s the name of the game each week. Certainly, you’ve seen Tulsa’s defense is really outstanding again this year. The 16-7 game against Oklahoma State in the opener was a very impressive defensive performance there. Of course, wins in their last two games against UCF and USF. So, it’s going to be a challenge, but we’ve got to do a great with ball security, we’ve got to do a great job with execution.”

On Where The Testing Is Now:

“We’ve got most of them back. We’ll be without a few guys on Friday. But we’re getting a lot of them back from quarantine and isolation and we’re getting some of our guys that have been nicked up a little bit back as well. It was certainly good to have Holton (Ahlers) back at practice. He practiced well on Saturday, looked very sharp. So, expecting to have a great week with him as far as preparation goes.”

On Knowing Where Zaven Collins Is At All Times:

“I think he’s one of the best linebackers in our league and probably a guy that you’re going to see playing on Sunday. Just from the game at the end of the season last year, I thought he was just a quality player then. But I think he’s improved over the offseason. Big, can run, had the interception return for a touchdown on Friday night. He’s just a really active player. Really plays downhill. You see when he triggers, he triggers really fast on the run and he really gets downhill quickly. So, we’re going to have to do a good job of trying to take care of him on Friday night.”

On What He Takes Away From Last Year’s Game Against Tulsa:

“Well I don’t think our team really compares in any way to last year’s team. I think we all know that. From a competitive standpoint, for a lot of reasons. But the one thing that stood out to me during that matchup last year was just how big, physically, Tulsa was on both sides of the ball. Big receivers, big defensive backs, big defensive front, big offensive front. It’s just a large football team. The same guys are back so you know what to expect right there and that’s the reason I think our ability to play fast and play a very physical game on Friday night is going to be very important.”

On Whether Three Games Gives Enough Film On Tulsa:

“With the time that we had, we looked at most of their games from last year. Just really trying to find some different teams, how they executed on either side of the ball against this team or that team based on what scheme they were seeing. So, we looked at a good bit of film from last year going into this game.”

On Whether D’Ante Smith Or Noah Henderson Will Be Back:

“I think there’s a chance you’ll see D’Ante. He’s progressing along well and starting to practice a little bit more. Noah’s still probably going to be a while.”

On Whether Mason Garcia Will Be Involved In The Offense:

“I think he could. I think there’s certain situations for it. I think the biggest thing with him, and he and I talked about it on Saturday, now that he has played and he understands just how fast things happen on the field on gameday. For him, that experience is just so valuable. I’m trying to get him, even while Holton is taking reps or playing on Saturday, just understanding here is the call. Here is what you’re seeing defensively. Just trying to see the same things that Holton is seeing. Because Holton has a great grasp of our offense. You still are in a developmental stage with Mason, but certainly you saw some strengths of his on display against Navy that you could see us incorporate in as the season moves on.”

On What ECU Needs To Do Offensively:

“I think we’ve got to continue to build on our last two games out. In that, in both of those games, we executed at a much higher level than we did earlier in the season. We had very few MA’s (missed assignments) up front on the offensive line against Navy and against South Florida. Because of that execution, we were very productive in the run game. The quarterbacks had a lot more time in the pocket. So, I just think we’ve got to match their physicality up front, but we’ve got to make sure we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot. As few as self-inflicted errors as possible which would allow us to be more productive in the run game and the passing game.”

On What The Mood Has Been Like In The Locker Room:

“I think you had to get beyond the Navy game last week. I think they did a good job of that. But Saturday’s practice was very spirited. Great energy on both sides of the ball. I said it last week, I wish we had played last weekend because I really felt like we were getting some momentum going. But at the end of the day, it’s good to have the guys back that we would have been without again this past weekend, going into this game. I think the spirits are high. The kids know we have a challenge in front of us, but I think they have confidence in the way they’re playing. So, I expect us to be very energetic and really have a good week of practice going into that game on Friday night.”

On The Play Of Trent Holler:

“I’m really, really excited with him. He’s been a guy that’s really worked hard since he got here and has developed a good bit. You know what you’re going to get with Trent. You’re going to get everything he’s got inside him. He’s a physical guy, he’s got good feet. He’s got a lot of power, really strong. He’s really smart so he’s not going to make any mistakes. And he’s continued to progress. Hopefully we can see that continue throughout this week and this coming weekend with Friday night’s game.”

On How More Fans Impact The Atmosphere Of The Game:

“I don’t know what the situation is at Tulsa. I do know they’re going to have fans, but I don’t know what the capacity is going to be. But certainly, the more fans there, the better the atmosphere. You saw that with our Navy game. We had 3,500 fans and I thought it was a significant improvement on the gameday atmosphere from the UCF game. I thought the stadium had great energy from that small group last Saturday. It’s the same at every school. Your fanbase, they really make the gameday atmosphere. It’s important to every institution.”

On How The ECU Receivers’ Mindset Changes With Holton Ahlers Playing:

“I think the whole thing is, most of them have been with Holton for multiple years. Of course, during the pandemic, most of them were working out with him. So, they’ve got a lot of reps with him. Mason is going to be a very good passing quarterback in time. You can’t substitute for the 1,000-plus reps that Holton Ahlers has had. That timing and that chemistry and all of that stuff is so important and it’s so hard to generate and develop. I think our group has a really solid deal with Holton because of all of that experience there. They’re going to gain that in time with Mason also and with some of the other quarterbacks. But it’s just those guys are very young and have been here a very small amount of time.”

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