GREENVILLE, N.C. – Third-year East Carolina Head Football Coach Mike Houston addressed members of the media Tuesday prior to Saturday’s home game against Charleston Southern. The following are selected comments:
“Good to come back off a really impressive showing by our kids and a big road win for our program. I know everybody had the best feeling in the world on Saturday night. It was a great scene in our locker room and just an incredible time with the players after the game. It made for a really enjoyable plane ride home. The food tastes better today, the sun is brighter, and the air is a little more fresh. Winning helps a lot of things. Excited to get a big road win over a very good opponent in a very challenging atmosphere and situation. Should be a win we can build on. Looking forward to being back at home this weekend in front of a home crowd in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, expecting a large crowd and excited for the matchup with Charleston Southern.”
On The Impact Of Shane Calhoun On The Offense:
“I said it during preseason camp, I really like our room (tight ends) there. It’s one we’ve worked very hard to build over the last couple of years. It’s something that’s important in our offense and there wasn’t anything there positionally when we got here. Shane, I said during preseason camp, I think has a chance to be really special because he can do everything. He hadn’t been healthy here early in the season, so really last week was probably the first time he’s been at full speed, and I think that showed. I think that some of the matchups that we got Saturday night and (offensive coordinator) Donnie (Kirkpatrick) put us in situations and Holton (Ahlers) and Shane executed to where we could take advantage of those matchups. I like the other guys in that room too. I though Zech Byrd had a solid game blocking. Aaron Jarman was in there a good bit, on special teams and blocking and Ryan Jones continues to develop there too so I think we have a really good room there.”
On His Support Of Holton Ahlers:
“I think obviously you saw a subpar performance against South Carolina. He’ll tell you that. I thought you saw a really good performance the other night. The thing is, I watch film every day, multiple hours, and watch practice every day and spend a lot of time evaluating every piece of this program. So, I promise you we’re going to put the guys on the field that give us the best chance to be successful, in every position. It’s a deal where it’s an open competition everywhere across the board, every day, every week. It’s the reason you see guys playing. It’s the reason you see Elijah Morris last year getting the opportunity he got. It’s the reason you see guys making plays that maybe hadn’t been on the field. The guys are going to be on the field that give us the best chance to win. I believe in Holton. I know what he can do. I watch him practice, it was good to see him go out and play. I thought he was very confident and very loose. I thought he was very determined last week, and I thought he went out and played very, very well. His decision making was good. I thought he did a good job with his accuracy. I thought he did a good job against a lot of pressure and not putting the ball at risk. We had one ball on the ground, and he just needed to tuck that one a little bit faster. He had some pressure the other night and I thought he played very, very well. He was a big reason we won the ballgame.”
On The Confidence Gained From The Comeback Win:
“I think it’s the piece of learning how to win. We’ve been talking about it since I got here. You look at some of the close losses we’ve had and last year, you had some heartbreakers. So, I think it was good to be in that situation where the kids throughout the fourth quarter didn’t flinch. Especially after getting the touchdown and going out there for the onside kick, I thought we had confidence in the huddle for the onside kick. I thought we had just incredible execution. That’s a tough deal too. It’s different doing it out there on the practice field getting ready for it and all of a sudden doing it in a full stadium where everything is on the line. That’s a lot of adrenaline, pressure, and to be able to execute it the way we did, I think that was very impressive from Owen (Daffer) and the onside kick team.
“But then we got the ball back right there with 2:25 to go and three timeouts, you look in the huddle and there wasn’t doubt. There was confidence in the huddle. I think that goes a long way from the first year and I was sitting in the huddle against Cincinnati and there was hope. I think that’s maturity. I think that’s growth. I think that’s part of the process with the program, with mental toughness, with unity, team mindset, supporting each other. That’s what I saw the other night on the sidelines during that fourth quarter. It’s huge to win that game and what you hope is that it continues to give you that confidence in future games because I told the players at the beginning of the year, just like South Carolina a week and a half ago, you’re going to be in close ballgames. You’re going to be in a bunch of ballgames where it comes down to the final possession. Being able to close those out is going to be the key to our success this year.”
On The Timing Heading Into Two Home Games:
“You kicked yourself coming out of the one two weeks ago (South Carolina) because you had a shot right there at the end, so you needed this one. I think the timing is what we had to have. It would have really put you behind the eight ball if you had dropped that one the other night. Winning it gives you a lot of momentum into this home game against Charleston Southern. I think it’s a huge win for our program and you did it against a quality program that had blown out two teams coming into that game. You did it against a program that has won for the past eight to ten years consistently, a seven-win team last year and picked to win Conference USA this year. At their place, a lot of stuff going against you. You didn’t just go in there and beat some slouch. You beat a quality team and you beat them playing your friggin’ tails off. I just think there’s a lot that can come out of it positively for the program.”
On Whether There Was A Backup Plan On The Onside Kick If Marshall Showed A Different Look:
“There’s a lot of variations off that deal, so you had a plan if you didn’t get that look in the middle. We work it a couple of times a week each week and there’s a lot of pieces to it. The piece that was there, I thought we executed very well to secure the ball.”
On The Challenge Of Charleston Southern:
“I think it’s the opposite end of the spectrum from when I stood up here last week. We stink, we have no shot, everybody needs to give up, all that stuff. Now it’s the other end of the spectrum so it’s balancing out. That’s what I keep telling the kids, you can’t listen to the noise. It’s hard because social media has changed everything. Everybody behind a typewriter or a screen puts their thoughts out there and it influences kids. The thing is, we can’t worry about any of that. We’ve got to worry about us. We’ve got to worry about doing the same things this week that we did last week, and we did the week before and we’ll do next week.
“Charleston Southern is a program that was 6-6 in 2019, they were 2-2 last spring, they’re 1-1 here. I think they’ve had two surprising games. I think that it was surprising they beat The Citadel the way they did at The Citadel. It was surprising they lost to Monmouth the way they did. Monmouth is a good football program, they’re a ranked team. I expected that game to be very close and Charleston Southern have a chance to win it. They turned the ball over some and it got away from them. They’re going to come in here this week – this is their Super Bowl. They’re well coached, the kids play hard and they’re older. We’ve got to respect our opponent and we’ve got to do a great job this week of preparing to go out there and play better this week than we did last week. That’s the thing that hopefully the kids have learned at this point, that they’ve got to listen to their coaches. I’ve been in this game on both sides. I’ve been the favorite and I’ve been the underdog. We’ve won some games and the underdog. That’s probably one of the reasons why I’m standing here today. You’ve got to respect your opponent each week. I just think that’s so important. We can’t get ahead of Tuesday’s practice. We’ve got to have a great afternoon this afternoon and we’ve got to correct the things we did poorly the other night. We’ve got to improve on the things we did well. We’ve got to push ourselves to get better today, and you really can’t get beyond that.”
On Giving The Game Ball To Myles Berry:
“Everybody knows it was a tough week last week, it’s been a tough couple of weeks. It’s a tough week this week for Myles Berry and his family. The thing that he was adamant about all throughout the last couple of weeks was that his dad wanted him to play. He wanted to play, he wanted to be with his teammates, he wanted to make the trip with them. He didn’t want to come up later, he wanted to be on the flight going up there. He wanted to play in the ballgame. I think it says a lot about him, that he was able to handle it from a maturity standpoint, from a mental standpoint. But I also think it says a lot about the culture inside of our locker room that it’s the place he feels the safest and the most supported. Like I said, it just happened. He’s Facetiming with his mom, and I came around to talk to him and just seeing her face and the joy on her face, because I’ve been through it. It’s two years ago last week that I lost my dad. It’s a tough time for him right now. He’s going to need all of us this week, he’s going to need all of us for the next two months because we’ve all been through that process.”
On His Thought Of Using The Up-Tempo Offense More Often:
“To a degree. We made some mistakes during that up-tempo session also. But we tried to tempo against App (State) some, we did against South Carolina at times, it’s part of our offense. We’ve got to do a better job with it. We made some mistakes in tempo the other night that we’ve got to get corrected. There are times where we’re going to go fast. There are times where we’re going to go slow. We weren’t trying to go fast there at the end. We were trying to burn more clock than we actually burned. But it’s part of our spread offense is the ability to change speeds.”
On The Performance Of Audie Omotosho:
“Well, I think we’re all excited for him because we’ve all seen all of the work that he’s put in, we watch him every day. I thought he had his best week of practice last week. He and I talked about it on Friday. He was a game captain for the game. I thought he went out and played his best game probably since he’s been here. The touchdown that got nullified by the penalty; I didn’t agree with the call. I thought he made a good play there on that play. I thought he made some big catches down the stretch and made some big plays without the ball. So, it was good to see him. Because we’re going to need more than one guy, we’re going to need all those guys. It was good to have the Shane Calhoun’s and the Audie Omotosho’s and those guys come through making plays really helped our offense.”
On The Potential Of Keaton Mitchell To Break Off A Long Run:
“It was a basic inside zone is what it was. He set the linebacker up, the linebacker rocked back a little bit and the guard was able to overtake his outside shoulder and all of a sudden there was a crease there and he hit it. We talked about it during preseason camp because we watched it out there on the practice field. Every time he touches the ball, he has a chance to hit a home run. I thought that he and Rahjai (Harris) both played their best games the other night. I think they’re both improving. I think we gave them a little more space the other night, both in the run game and in the pass game. We want to continue to get those guys in situations where they’re in space with the football.”
On A Personal Aspect To Wanting To Beat Charleston Southern:
“Well, I’ve got some history with them so yeah. I got a text from the head coach at The Citadel yesterday, so he’d like to see us win this game also.”
On The Hit On C.J. Johnson In The Marshall Game:
“Well, it was reviewed. I was venting my opinion pretty strongly as I walked over to check on C.J. I thought, no doubt, it should have been a flag. Whether it should have been targeting or unnecessary roughness. The ball was beyond him. He’s a defenseless player. At that point, it is a penalty. We all make mistakes, they missed it. They did say on the review though and I talked to the director of officials that it would not classify as targeting. They’re the pros on that stuff. They’ll make those calls. I thought it should have been a flag.”
On Taking Away Positives In The Defense After Giving Up A Lot Of Yards:
“You force three big turnovers; you probably should have had six. Really and truly, we dropped three interceptions and we’ve got to make those plays, but you made the play that counted. That was the interception at the end to win the ballgame. The days are long gone, I can remember back at Lenoir-Rhyne one year our defense gave up like 200-something yards of offense a game. Those days are gone. With the spread offense and the rules and stuff, now it’s turnovers and stops. Getting turnovers and stops. Winning in the redzone.
“Yeah, there’s lots of things we need to do better this week. I didn’t think we did a great job triggering last week, we did a phenomenal job the week before against South Carolina. I thought we missed some tackles; we missed some stuff. We did a poor job with some things. Now, Marshall had a lot to do with that. That tailback, (Rasheen Ali) was better than we gave him credit going into the game. I think he’s really good. The quarterback (Grant Wells) we knew he was really good. The receivers, number 11, the tight end, they’re good players. So, they had a lot to do with it. But we can definitely play better defensively. But the game has changed to a degree. You still have to play defense, but it’s the way you play it.
“The play Teagan Wilk made on the receiver going into the end zone, punching the ball out, what a great play. Ja’Quan (McMillian) recovered that one. Malik’s (Fleming) pick on the post ball down the middle of the field, two plays later Keaton hits the home run 88-yarder, what a big play right there. Of course, the one at the end, with Ja’Quan in a coverage that we work on a lot every week because you get down there inside the 15-yard line, that’s where you’ve got to make your money. He made the play.”