Houston discusses last Saturday’s win, preparations for homecoming vs. Tulane

ECU Pirates

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

Opening Statement:
“Exciting week this week. Big home football game for our program. It’s always exciting when you get to conference play and certainly, being a member of the American Conference, you know what kind of league we play in, the quality of teams in our league and so to start off with one at home is certainly a big plus for us. It’s going to be an exciting weekend. Weather in the Greenville area is nice. I think we all appreciate this weather this time of year better than what we had in August and early September with the heat. But it’s going to be a great weekend, 3:30 p.m. kickoff. Very good Tulane team coming in here. Excited to welcome Pirate Nation for another home game. I thought the stadium last Saturday night was just incredible. I thought the fan base and the student section certainly were a positive impact on the game for our players and I just really appreciate their support, especially the student section. It’s been a couple of years since we had it like that. It was great to see and looking forward to having everybody back this Saturday at 3:30 p.m.”

On What Stands Out About Tulane:
“I think you see Coach (Willie) Fritz’s fingerprints everywhere on the program. Whether it’s offense, defense or special teams. I think you see a very physical football team. That’s the biggest thing that stands out, when you watch their offensive line, is the way they play. Coach and I have a very similar philosophy on how the game should be played and I think it’s just very obvious watching them and seeing his philosophy there. I think the physicality is the biggest thing that stands out. Certainly, they have talented players. The quarterback (Michael Pratt) is a great player, but that’s the first thing that pops.”

On Watching The Tape From Last Year’s Game Against Tulane:
“I think that makes sense to look at it. We have looked at it in detail. I think you look at the sampling from the first four games this year and then you look at the stuff they did last year. Because it is the same quarterback, it’s a different coordinator, but it’s still the same head coach, same philosophy and the same quarterback. They’re going to look at the things they did well against us last year, we’re going to look at the things we struggled with last year as we’re putting together our game plan and mesh that together with what we’ve seen from the first four ballgames.”

On The Performance Of Punter Jonn Young:
“Well, I think the big improvement on Jonn from this year to last year has been the consistency. He’s doing a tremendous job with hangtime as well as distance. Last year, he would hit a good one, then he’d hit one that wasn’t so good. He would hit one with great distance, it wouldn’t have great hangtime. He was just very inconsistent. He worked very, very hard in the offseason and that hard work is showing. His punts are all four-plus (seconds) hangtime and with the play of our gunners, Jsi Hatfield was the one that really stood out the other night, it’s really forced a lot of fair catches. You look at the last punt of the ballgame, in that situation, I wanted to make sure we were sound in protection, so we stayed in a base punt formation, so we made sure the kick was protected. But I really just told him, this is where we need the ball, and he was able to put it right where we needed it. Jsi downed it on the two-yard line which created a long field and really set up the ending of the ballgame. You’re doing a great job; you’re going to see two of I think the best punters in the league this week. Tulane’s punter (Ryan Wright) is one of the best punters in the country. So, you’re going to see two of the better specialists that there are this weekend.”

On Points Of Emphasis This Week:
“Well, they played very well at Oklahoma opening weekend, had a chance to win the ballgame on the final drive. I think Pratt earned a lot of respect from the Oklahoma faithful with just the way he competed that day. Had a tough day at Ole Miss, but Ole Miss is having a pretty special year. They’ve got a pretty big ballgame this week also. I think Tulane is well tested. They had a tough loss to UAB the other night in a game I’m sure Coach Fritz feels they should have won. It’s a big challenge for us. As you look back over the span of the last 11 games or so that we’ve played, the Tulane one last year is one that stands out where I didn’t feel like we played at our best. We were coming off the tough game at Tulsa and certainly that may have had a little bit to do with it. But at the end of the day, you did not have one of your better performances against this group last year. Our kids are going to be motivated. Between the way we played last Saturday night and the first conference football game along with that performance last year against Tulane, our groups going to be motivated. They want to play well. They want to figure out a way to win this ballgame. I expect us to have a great week of practice this week. I expect us to be ready to play at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday and I expect us to play very well.”

On The Prospect Of Winning Three Games In A Row:
“It’s a big game for a lot of reasons. Not to deescalate your question, but it would mean we’re 1-0 in conference. That’s what it would mean to win this ballgame. It would mean we’re 3-2 on the season. I think when you do look at big picture, it would obviously be a big next step. You look over the span of the last 11 games, we’ve done some really good things. You look over the span of the last six games, we’re 4-2. You’re 2-2 to start the season so you’re seeing some positive things big picture wise. As far as that’s concerned, yeah, it’s a big ballgame for us. But the biggest reason it’s a big ballgame is because it’s the next one, it’s the conference opener, it’s a home game, it’s a conference opponent, it’s a good conference opponent and would be a quality win. We’ve got our hands full. We’re going to have to play our tails off on Saturday to have a shot.”

On The Status Of Robin Van Der Laan And Aaron Ramseur:
“I think Aaron is probably back to full go now. The big thing with him is he has just not been able to practice full speed for a couple of weeks. You can’t go out there and be prepared to play if you don’t. The big thing for him is just having a great week of practice this week. I know that Coach (Blake) Harrell was meeting with him earlier today just about trying to get him back into the swing of things rotationally because obviously if we can get him playing at a high level, that just creates so much more depth for us defensively and allows us to do a lot of different things. With Rob, just don’t really know the extent right now. We don’t think it’s too serious, but we’ll know later this week.”

On The Performance Of Trent Holler In The Second Half:
“Trent actually started the game last week, so he played a good bit in the first half, and he actually finished the game against Marshall, so he’s been in the rotation pretty steadily and playing well. Avery (Jones) has been playing well also. Avery was dealing with a little bit of an injury last week, he’s back and he’s fine now. But there’s really not a drop-off mentally between Avery and Trent. In fact, that’s probably one of Trent’s strengths. There’s just a little bit of different body types.”

On Keaton Mitchell And Rahjai Harris:
“Well, I think they’re both pushing themselves to play a little bit better. Keaton has popped a couple of big plays. I think one of them has 45 carries and the other one has 43: we’re splitting reps with them. So, they’re both getting pretty equal touches which is what we want. We want them both fresh when they’re in there. They both want to play better. Rahjai obviously wants to be more productive, but Keaton does also. I think that’s something that’s a big stress for us this week and I don’t want them pushing to the point where they’re doing too much. It’s a feel thing in the running game. Now both of them, we want them getting vertical, running behind their pads, doing all of those things. But we really need to continue to bring them along with that offensive line as far as seeing the cuts, making the cuts and being decisive. I think those are the big things.”

On The Experience Gained From Winning Close Games:
“I’d rather win close games than lose them, that’s for sure. We’ve had our share of close losses in my first couple of years here. So, it was great to get a good road win at Marshall in a very tight, contested fourth quarter. If you’re looking for a positive from last Saturday night, we did not play well, I’m not happy with the way we performed, but we found a way to win the ballgame. You’re obviously in a lot better space than you would be if you had lost that ballgame. So, I just think being in those late game situations, there’s no substitute for experience. I don’t care about what kind of experience you’re talking about. The more you’re in situations and the more experience you get with them, the more comfortable you are in those situations as far as execution.”

On The Team’s Performance On Third-Downs:
“We’ve got to be better on first downs. That’s the biggest problem. If we can get our offense in third-and-threes, third-and-fours, you’re going to see us be a lot more effective on third down. If we’re going to be in third-and-nines and third-and-11s, then we’re not going to be very effective. Those are the biggest issues. It was the issue the other night. We’ve got to be more productive on the early downs driving the football better. You just can’t continually get yourself in third-and-longs. Those are challenging situations for you offensively. It’s what we try to do defensively. Our big thing on defense is to try to play well on first and second down to get it to third down and win third down. If you’re sitting third-and-two defensively all the time, you’re going to struggle on third down. That’s the big thing, just being more productive on the early downs.”

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