GREENVILLE, N.C. — Fourth-year East Carolina Head Football Coach Mike Houston addressed members of the media Tuesday prior to Saturday’s non-conference contest versus Old Dominion. The following are selected comments:

Opening Statement
“Obviously, a tough one this past weekend. First, just want to start off with thanking our fan base and our alumni. What an incredible opener. Who would have ever imagined, Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium getting back to this and it’s what I talked about when I was hired, that was the goal to get the fan base back united and get everyone involved and invested in the program again. Pirate Nation has done their part in responding and the stadium was just incredible on Saturday. It’s what we all want, fans want it, the players want it, the administration, the coaches, it was fantastic. What a great game against a very good opponent and just really pleased with how the players responded, particularly in the second half, and just played so well down the stretch in the fourth quarter the way our kids competed. It’s a tough loss with the way the game ended but it’s one that we can take a lot of positives from, that we can take a lot of things we have to do better from, because there’s some easily correctable mistakes that could have helped us win the ball game. That’s what we focused on the last couple of days and what we’ll be focusing on in practice today, it’s very important for us to get some things corrected. The goal this week is to get better. We have to play better this coming Saturday than we did last Saturday and we’re facing a very good opponent. I watched the Old Dominion and Virginia Tech game live the other night and I’ve had a chance to watch the film the last couple of days and that was not an upset. The better team won the ballgame and to be honest, it probably should have been a wider margin of victory than it was. Old Dominion is a very solid football team. Offensively, defensively, special teams, I think that I think they do some good things, and they have playmakers all over the place. I like what they do defensively. I think it’s going to be a dogfight on Saturday, I think that we’ve got to improve this week to have a chance to win. Ricky (Rahne) has done a great job there. He came in right after the 2019 season and had to kind of rebuild the roster there and he’s done a very good job. We know a lot of those guys; I know ODU very well from my time at James Madison. They’ve got a passionate fan base also and it should be a rocking stadium on Saturday.”

Ahlers breaks AAC completions record in loss to Pack

On the team’s response after the NC State loss
“They’re obviously disappointed about not winning the game. Especially when you feel like you did the things you needed to do to win but I think they were very motivated Sunday, and I would expect us to have a highly motivated energetic practice today.”

On Owen Daffer’s confidence level
“Owen took it hard because nobody wants to hit those kicks more than he does and nobody takes it harder than he does. As much as fans may have been disappointed, he’s more disappointed and we’ve rallied around him. I spoke with him Saturday night after the game and spoke with him again Sunday night. The coaches spent time with him yesterday. Watching him at practice on Sunday, he’s sitting over there working on the mechanics and fundamentals and that’s all it is. The thing that he has proven is that he is a top-level kicker and you’re not 19-of-23 with a 54-yard game winner and have a perfectly executed onside kick at Marshall. You don’t do those things if you don’t have the ability to compete at a high level of pressure settings. I expect him to bounce back and he’s going to have a great year for us, and we have confidence in him.”

On the offense’s performance on Saturday
“I thought Holton (Ahlers) played very well. There were a couple of drops in the first half that I probably chalk those up to being the first game with us, because there were some guys that are new. I thought they all settled down and played very well in the second half. I thought Holton from the very beginning, played very well, he wishes he had the one where he overthrew Isaiah (Winstead in the redzone back, but he’s on the run and he’ll learn from that. He was playing against a very good defense, and they did some stuff, that’s complex. We kind of knew what we thought they were going to do to us, and he did a great job of handling it. He put the ball where it needed to go and gave us a chance to win. That whole situation there at the end where we go down and we score, then we’re down one, we elect to kick off. With the time remaining in our timeouts, we were able to go three and out using our timeouts to get the ball back with around 2 minutes or so left. I wish we hadn’t got the penalty on the punt return but still we were able to drive it down, get well within field goal range, with no timeouts and it takes a veteran quarterback to do that. I just think he gave us a chance to win on Saturday.”

On the defense’s performance on Saturday
“That’s the stuff with first games. You’re out there and we practice pretty game-like at times during preseason camp, but until you get out in the first ball game, you’re not the first ball game. We give up a post ball in the first half and you’re like ‘how in the world did we do that?’ Well, it’s the first game against speed and against that setting right there. I thought we did a good job in the second half of settling down and just playing our style of ball. I think we had five or six three-and-outs on the day. I thought we defended the quarterback very well. Obviously, the two big goal line stands, the interception late in the fourth quarter to give us a chance to score and I just think our defense just found a way to respond all throughout the second half to only help our offense get us back in the ballgame but also give us a chance to win.”

On the performance of the defensive backs on Saturday
“I was very pleased. Malik (Fleming) is the veteran, you expect him to play well. I thought Damel (Hickman) played very well. I thought Juan (Powell) looked like I hoped he would look. That kid is a competitor and a great open-field tackler but just really excited to see those guys play that way.”

On Holton’s status for Saturday and update at backup quarterback
“Holton is good to go. He’ll practice today, should be no issues there. We had made the decision and sat all the quarterbacks down last week and said if it’s a deal with just one play like where the helmet comes off, Alex (Flinn) would go in and run the offense. If it’s something where it’s extended or an injury, then we’ll use Mason (Garcia). It’s not that we’ve decided towards redshirting or not redshirting, and I’ve had a lot of conversations with Mason, and I just think the world of him and have the ultimate amount of confidence in him. We just don’t want to burn a game for one snap early in the season, and then look up late in the year and say, ‘Well, I wish I hadn’t done that.’ We’re just trying to be deliberate with how we use his eligibility and that’s what’s best for him and the program.”

On Malik Fleming’s first game as a punt returner
“I thought he did very well. When I got here, he was committed to us and I remember watching his film, and one of the things that stood out to me was not just his play defensively, but his play as a returner on special teams. It’s not like he hasn’t done it before. He’s been the primary backup to Tyler Snead the last couple of years so it’s not that I didn’t know that he was going to go out there and do a good job. The big thing with being the punt returner is decision making and Malik does not lack for confidence, and if you can be that way and still make good decisions, that’s a plus. I thought he did a really good job of that on Saturday of having confidence but making the right decisions in the right situations with the ball.”

On Keaton Mitchell’s catch and run in the fourth quarter
“NC State was in man-to-man, which means they’re playing two deep safeties, and man underneath coverage, which meant he was matched up one-on-one with the inside linebacker, and the play is designed to get him the ball there and in that space setting, and I thought he was going to score when he took off down the sideline, I think the whole stadium thought he was gone. Obviously, anytime we can get him the ball in space, that’s a good thing for us.”

On the running game struggling on Saturday
“I think it was a combination of things. They come out on the first snap of the game and they’re blitzing with eight players, there’s not a whole lot of running room there when you’re bringing eight, and it’s difficult to run through that. You also expose yourself a little bit which Holton was able to take advantage of that with our receivers. I think we do have a balance of guys so if somebody does try to do that, we can take advantage of the matchups we have on the outside. At the end of the day, Rahjai (Harris) and Keaton made some big plays and I thought we ran the ball better in the second half, especially on the last touchdown drive. We’re going to try to be balanced all throughout the year and certainly we want to get those guys going. We also have the weapons on the outside to take advantage of some things if people want to load the box up on us.”

On the status of Bailey Malovic and Rick D’Abreu
“Bailey has had some tough things personally, he’s working through some of that, and we’re here to support in any way we can and to just try to help him. Rick is with us; he’s practicing just like anybody else. Your performance during practice and throughout the week, that’ll dictate your snaps on game day. Excited about all of our guys and excited about just seeing what they can do this week in practice.”

On the challenges that Old Dominion presents
“They present a lot of challenges and it’s the same way on defense too, they have solid players at every level on defense. Ali (Jennings), who I’ve known for a long time, is just a high-character kid, great competitor has length and speed, just a good receiver. The running back Blake (Watson), the thing that’s most impressive about him aside from being a 1,000-yard rusher last year, all-conference player was that against Virginia Tech on Friday, they’re trying to drive to win the ballgame and they are in fourth and two and they hit him probably three yards deep in the backfield. He bounces off two Virginia Tech players, manages to gain the yardage needed for a first down. He just does such a great job with yards after contact and he’s a hard guy to tackle. The tight end had 73 catches last year, second most in the nation, very productive player right there, 6-8 and 260. It all starts with the quarterback, and I think last year when he took over, they went 5-2 down the stretch and certainly with the win the other night. He’s a guy that has a lot of confidence in running that offense.”

On the familiarity with Old Dominion
“There’s probably not as many that played against us last time. There’s a few but a lot of these kids are from the state of Virginia. There’s a lot from the state of North Carolina. We cross over in recruiting a good bit and we both know our rosters well. I know several of their coaches. They’re two hours away, so regionally, we’re going to know them pretty well and they’re going to know us pretty well.”