Houston: Beating USF ‘obviously a big win for our program;’ Pirates turn focus to Temple on Saturday

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GREENVILLE, N.C. – Third-year East Carolina Head Football Coach Mike Houston addressed members of the media Tuesday prior to Saturday’s American Athletic Conference home game against Temple. The following are selected comments:

Opening Statement:
“It’s good to be back with you. A little bit removed from having a game last Thursday, so it almost feels like you’re a full week removed from it. Obviously, a big win for our program at home last Thursday night on national TV. Really excited about the way the players played. Excited about the way our team responded after halftime. Came out and played very, very well in the last two quarters and got a big home victory. Just really, really appreciate the student body, what a great turnout from the student body. They were here tailgating we got here, and you could tell that they were in pretty energetic form. They certainly brought that energy into the stadium and the Boneyard was rocking as good as I’ve seen it since I’ve been here. Really appreciate them because they brought a lot to the gameday environment last Thursday night and would love to have them back out in those kinds of numbers here this Saturday in what is a very big game for our program.

“A very dangerous Temple team coming in here with a three o’clock kickoff and a tough opponent. It’s one of those programs that when you look at the history between ECU and Temple, they’ve been one that’s always played well against us. Big ballgame for our program. Excited about the ability to be back at home. Should be great weather. Hope Pirate Nation turns out – it will be a great afternoon of college football.”
 
On How He Gets The Defense To Buy Into Rotational Roles:
“I think it’s something that we’ve had to do a good job of continually talking to our players about. When you look at my other stops, when we had some really great defenses at other schools, we always had good numbers and we always had the ability to rotate guys. I think it really showed up in the second half of a ballgame the other night and the second half of the ballgame down in Houston. You can have fresh guys on the field. In the first half, some of the players come off and say, well I’m not tired right now. Well, no you’re not, we want you to be fresh in the fourth quarter. It’s allowed us to play with a lot of intensity and play really hard for a sustained four quarters.
 
“The other thing it creates too is just a lot of competition during the week. It creates a situation where you have to practice hard during the week. That’s only going to help you get better. I remember my first year, we had two safeties and four d-linemen. You virtually had nobody to rotate in there with them and you had nobody that could compete with them in practice. I feel like it really held them back from pushing themselves to be the best that they can be. Now you go out there, if you go out there and have a bad day on a Wednesday during game week, you’re going to look up and you’re not going to play as much on Saturday. Why do some guys play more one week or another? Well, there’s all kinds of reasons, but a lot of times it’s because of how they practice during the week. So, I think just having that kind of depth has been really healthy for our program and it’s allowed us to play better and better each week throughout the year.”
 
On How Temple’s Huddle Change’s Things On Defense:
“It’s different. Virtually everybody is no huddle and a lot of teams we’ve seen so far this year have really been up-tempo teams. Temple is very deliberate with the way they run their offense. They’ve got a bunch of older guys up front on that offensive line. I think three grad students, a senior and a junior – all experienced guys. They have a big back there in the backfield. They have a dual-threat quarterback. They have all of those tight ends they use. They’re going to take their time and they’re going to give us a ton of different formations. A lot of different motions trying to get our guys out of position. They’re going to try to take the ball and shove it down our throat. That’s kind of their philosophy. They’ll take their shots on the perimeter; they’ll try to pop you with the big play on the jet sweep and stuff like that. But it’s going to be a challenge for us on Saturday. We’re going to have to do a great job with our adjustments and stuff after they break the huddle. We’re going to have to be really dialed in with the defensive call and we’re going to have to play with a lot of physicality in order to match what they’re trying to do offensively.”
 
On The Better Play From Holton Ahlers:
“Well, I thought he played well this past Thursday night, particularly the decision-making. I thought he did some things that we’ve been encouraging him to do. Some things where he didn’t force things, he took what was there. I thought he did a great job of using his feet. Things breaking down, the quarterback scrambles, he made several big plays there. I thought he did a good job understanding some situations in the ballgame. That’s the guy that we need to be successful. That’s it and he understands that. If I can keep him just really dialed in to what’s happening inside of our building, what’s happening inside of his meeting room and then taking that out to the practice field and taking that practice field out to the game field, I think that’s the real key to success.”
 
On Seeing The Results Of Getting Turnovers On The Defensive End:
“It’s a big goal of ours each week. We don’t have a lot of team goals, but one of the main ones is winning the turnover battle. Nothing’s more glaring than last Thursday night. We have a couple of turnovers there in the first half that led to South Florida scores that really gave them the momentum. Then look in the second half and it was big turnover with the pick-six by Malik (Fleming) that put us ahead for good and it was a couple of turnovers there in the fourth quarter that really sealed the ballgame. Our kids, they do understand how important they are, and it’s been an emphasis all year and I think defensively we’ve done a pretty good job of turning the ball over, both fumbles and interceptions. It’s something that’s a big emphasis each week and it’s a big emphasis for our offense and our special teams to not put us in a negative situation. Anytime you can win the turnover battle, that means you’re getting more possessions than your opponent. You’re taking a potential scoring possession away from them and giving it to our offense. Common sense tells you; you’re going to have a better chance to score that way.”
 
On What They Saw On Film Of The Fourth-And-Goal Play Against South Florida:
“Well, I think first, we were all a little surprised it wasn’t a touchdown on third down. So, after it was ruled not a touchdown, anytime you try to get the sneak, you try to do it pretty quick. They went to review and the whole time I thought we’d get a touchdown back from review. To be honest I really kicked myself. I started to call timeout; I just didn’t like the sneak in that situation. I put that one on me. We should have been in a different play.”
 
On Audie Omotosho’s Impact:
“Well, I think he’s one that you look back at the season and he’s progressed every single week. I think a lot of it is confidence. I think his work ethic is paying off. He’s one we’ve talked about for two years now, just about how hard he’s worked to develop his body, develop his hands, develop his route running. So, I think that hard work is paying off. I think the confidence he has in himself is continuing to allow him to play better and better each week. I think that the confidence that Holton and the quarterbacks have in him, the confidence that the coaches have in him, I think that’s a big factor too. So, I just think that all of it goes into the fact that he’s established himself as a legitimate, reliable threat down-in and down-out. And he’s come through and made the plays.”
 
On Working In Younger Guys Who Might Still Be Able To Redshirt:
“You’ve got some guys, you’ve got a couple who have been injured that are coming back that you’ll see us start to work in, it’s just when are they going to be ready. You’ll see some guys here in the last four games that you maybe haven’t seen all year. You’re going to see some guys that don’t play here in the last couple of games if we think that we can and should redshirt them. That’s the whole thing, especially with the COVID stuff, how realistic is it for a kid to be here six years if he’s young. It’s different if you’re an older guy and you have one more year of college football left to play. It’s really a deal that I’ve looked at it for about the last three weeks. I look at a report every Sunday on how many games the kids have played and you’re weighing how much are they going to play. What is their impact on winning and losing each week? What is best for their development? You’re looking at so many factors right there. It’s one of those things that we are conscious of and we’re going to use to give us the best opportunity to be successful on gamedays.”
 
On What Stands Out The Most About Temple:
“Big, physical on both fronts. I think their standup guys on both sides of the ball, those receivers that they use in motion, they run very, very well. I think that their safeties and corners, their linebackers run very, very well. If you look at them player-by-player, I think that they’re very talented team. Their quarterback started at the University of Georgia as a freshman. If he was there this year, he’d probably be the starting quarterback at Georgia. He’s a talented dual-threat player. I think the backup quarterback, that we expect to see on Saturday, I think he is a very talented player. I think I see a very dangerous football team and one we’d better play very, very well against to have a shot to win.”

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