GREENVILLE, N.C. – Fifth-year East Carolina Head Football Coach Mike Houston addressed members of the media Tuesday morning prior to Saturday’s home contest against Gardner-Webb. The following are selected comments:

Opening statement
“New week and a new opportunity. I’m excited to be back at home this Saturday in front of our fans in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Looking forward to family weekend and to the opportunity versus Gardner-Webb. Gardner-Webb is a very talented and older football team that has had a lot of success. This group won their conference championship last year and they’ve played very well in ballgames like this, including the opener this year against Appalachian State. I expect it to be a tremendous challenge. Our players have really responded well the last couple of days. They’re determined to continue to push each other to work to improve. None of us are happy with the results of the first three games. They have worked each week to prepare to go into the ballgame with the opportunity to win. I’m disappointed that we did not get things done in the second half this past week against a very good Appalachian State team to achieve that goal. I continue to be pleased with the determination of our coaching staff and our players to improve each day and improve each week. I’m excited about this upcoming week and looking forward to challenge on Saturday.”
On learning points from recent second-half struggles
“I think when you look back at them in a loss, certainly a lot of things get magnified. I think allowing the touchdown right before the half this past weekend, he was magnified, because going in 21-10 versus 21-16 is a big difference. We’ve got to be better on kickoff, can’t have the penalty, which gave them excellent field position to start that drive. We had to have one breakdown defensively on that drive, and we’ve got to eliminate that. You start looking at all those things and those things are what is keeping us from consistently playing at the level throughout a full four quarters to be able to get the win. You can address each of them individually, but the big focus has got to be what we’re doing on the practice field on Sunday, today, tomorrow, Thursday. My big focus is as coaches is that we’ve got to continue to teach and instruct that we’re putting the players in the very best situation so that they can be successful. I know that the players are very motivated to be successful and right now the big focus is on us. We’ve got to keep working together, keep putting in the effort and push ourselves to improve. That’s the big focus for today’s practice. We’ve got to make sure we have a great Tuesday practice that sets us up for success on Saturday.”
On limiting penalties
“We obviously emphasized it on Sunday. We’ve emphasized it all last week. I think the big thing for me is looking at what the penalties are, some of them come from fundamentals and technique. When you see a holding call, a lot of times it’s because you’re getting your body out of position. You’ve got to understand that there’s a point where you’ve got to let go. There’s holding across the board on every play, but there’s holding that gets called and holding that’s part of the game. It’s just teaching players about that line right there. There’s some discipline penalties and we had fewer of those, only had a couple of those this past weekend. We’ve got to eliminate those. I always tell the players, the pre-snap and the post-whistle penalties, those are the ones you can’t have. The false starts and the offsides and then anything after the play is over, you can’t have those. That’s something that we’ve done a good job of eliminating but we still had a couple last week. That’s out of pure effort and understanding when to do something and when not to. We had three intentional grounding penalties on Saturday and certainly the intent was there to get us out of a bad situation. There’s a way to do it and there’s a way not to do it. So it’s addressing all them individually and addressing them all throughout the week with everything you see on tape. We’ve got to cut down on the self-inflicted errors. That’s the big thing right now.”
On Jon Gilbert’s From The Helm comments
“None of us are pleased with the start of the season. I’ve mentioned that in my opening statement. Jon and I are on the same page with what we expect. The expectations are the same across the board. I understand frustrations with the way we started the season. At the same time, I understand what the players are doing and what the coaches are doing to try to make sure that we give the Pirates a chance to win each week. I would say that I am as committed as I can be, the players and coaches are as committed as they can be. We’re going to work our tails off to get things going in the right direction. We’ve got a great challenge this coming weekend. Every week is going to present a great challenge. The focus just has to be to remain in the moment, being 1-0 in the moment.”
On the overall health of the team
“I think every team in the country is probably banged up and bruised. We’ve played three very physical football games against very physical teams. We’re a very physical team. The bumps and bruises are just part of it. The guys are doing a good job with taking care of their bodies and trying to recover each week. I think our athletic training staff does an outstanding job with recovery with some of our long term guys. Tyler (Savage) is probably still a few weeks away and I hate that he’s in this situation. It’s just one of many guys that is dealing with some stuff.”
On Brock Spalding’s play
“He’s been playing at the slot and also playing on the outside. We’ve got a couple of guys doing that. We do think he’s versatile enough, but we would not play him in both. Brock’s a young guy who I think has a lot to him. The best thing about Brock is just that I trust him. He’s going to make some mistakes every once in a while. He’s not going to make many because he’s a pretty smart player. I think the more opportunities he has, the more things he’s going to do to help our team.”
On keeping the running game going in the second half of games
“I think you can look at like everything else, all three phases. It’s a cumulative effect and what I mean by that is you can’t look at one position and say, ‘that’s the issue’. It’s a combination of 11 guys playing together. We talked about that last week. I thought we did some things better on Saturday that allowed us to create some positive plays in the run game but it’s going to take everybody continuing to improve to get to the point that we want to be at. You can say the same thing about special teams and defense. It’s going to have to be a cumulative effect of everybody working together in order to get the desired results.”
On the status of the quarterback position
“The whole deal with that position is that it does have a huge spotlight on it. I go back to what we talked about, we’ve got to do a great job as an offense, functioning and playing together. Alex (Flinn) did a lot of really good things on Saturday; he also had some mistakes. One thing I know about Alex is that he’s going to learn from his mistakes. He’s going to be better the next time he’s in the exact same situation. He came in and watched the film on Sunday and he’s beating his head over a couple of things that happened on the field. Some of it is on him decision- making wise and some of it is a result of something else in the unit. I am excited about both Alex and Mason (Garcia). I would expect that they’re both going to play big parts in our program and our team down the stretch this year. They will be prepared to go on Saturday, and I would expect both of them to be better the next time you see them on the field.”
On what determines who gets the start at quarterback
“I don’t know that I view it as week-to-week or day-to-day as much as I view it as a culmination of the full body of work. Certainly, spring and preseason gives you parameters to evaluate both quarterbacks. I think that it is evaluation of what they’re doing in the games on Saturday. I think it is evaluation of how they’re doing during the week. There’s a lot of variables that go into that. The one thing I will tell you is, no matter what the position is, we’re going to do whatever puts the Pirates in the best position be successful on game day. We’ve got to do a great job as coaches of putting not only the quarterbacks but all of our players in positions to be successful.”
On Antoine Jackson’s emergence
“Antoine practiced really well during the Marshall week. It was by far his best week of practice since he’s gotten here. When you get here and you’re 17 years old and you’re a freshman that’s never been in a college football practice or played a college snap, there’s a litany of things you’re having to learn how to handle. You’re having to learn how to handle the heat and he’s from Miami. They claim it’s hotter here than it is down there and the reason they’re claiming that is because they’re in pads out on the field in the middle of a practice. You’ve got to learn how to handle college practice, class schedules, the dorm life. You have to learn time management. There are so many things that the freshmen have to learn how to handle that a lot of times that keeps them from just functioning. The thing that Coach Montinar did is go back to Antoine and said, ‘It’s okay, you had a great week of practice. Do it again and let’s be better this week.’ He had an outstanding practice last week. It was probably a week and a half ago that I had a conversation with Antoine, and I said, ‘There will be a time where you’re going to be on that field playing for us this year and when you get out there, you can’t go out there like a 17-year-old freshman.’ The reality is that he’s a 17-year-old freshman. You’re talking out both sides of your mouth there. I thought he did really well when he got in there. I did not think the stage was too big for him. The pick six was a good defensive call but I’ve seen that call several times this year where we didn’t make the play. I do think there’s something to the fact that the moment wasn’t too big for him, and he made the play. I would say he’s got a lot of confidence coming out of that now. How does he practice this week? How does he respond to success? Sometimes guys can’t handle success when they’re young. You’ve got to let them grow and mature and the only thing that’s going to tell the tape is going to be time, but I did think he played very well last week.”
On preparing for Gardner-Webb’s offense
“It’s going to be difficult. I think they play a great scheme. I think they have a lot of experienced guys. You watch them this year, they’ve been very good on that side of the football at times. As far as simulating it, I don’t think you can completely simulate it in practice. We do have a little bit of experience from facing UCF a few years back. You’ve got to be able to replicate that tempo. You’ve got to be able to replicate just all the stuff that they do because they do a lot of stuff. They have a lot of different formations, trick plays and things you don’t you don’t see. It’s going to require an extreme amount of detail preparation this week and great focus throughout the week and great focus on game day.”