Houston on Navy: ‘We have to have it in all three phases’

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GREENVILLE, N.C. – East Carolina head football coach Mike Houston addressed members of the media Tuesday prior to Saturday’s American Athletic Conference road game at Navy. The following are selected comments:

Opening Statement:
“Obviously a huge weekend this past weekend for our program, the players and just a really special win at Memphis. Win number six on the season which was significant for the program and to do it at Memphis, which I was looking just after the game and I’m kind of glad I didn’t know all of this going in. I think they’re 30-3 in their last 33 home games and they had won 17-straight in November at home, 13-straight in conference play at home. I’m glad I didn’t know that before kickoff. Obviously, a very good team at home and a solid football program. So, for our players to go out and play the way they did, and yeah you can critique it and say maybe it shouldn’t have come down to the wire, but just what a great win. A great final drive in the fourth quarter by our offense. Just an incredible job there on the two-point play defensively and getting the stop to win the game. Just a special locker room – it was a great experience.

“Great weekend last weekend, we celebrated that, we’re done with that. We’re worried about one thing and that’s Navy. Go 1-0 this week and it’s going to be a challenge. We saw Navy early in the year on film and it looks like a completely different team. Watching them against Tulsa, watching them against Cincinnati, watching them against UCF, just an extremely physical football team. A very, very good defensive football team. Very good running attack. It’s going to be senior day for them, 25 seniors they’re going to recognize I think on Saturday. Maybe the toughest road challenge we’ve had all year. So, we’re going to have to have a great week of practice. We’re going to have to do a great job from a game plan standpoint, both sides of the football and on special teams to get ready for this. A great challenge, but the kids are really excited, they’re excited about the opportunity. Excited to go up there, you know two years ago, we got absolutely humiliated up there. A lot of those guys that were on that team are hungry to go up there, play better and have a shot to possibly win. Big ballgame for us.”

On How This Navy Team Differs From Past Editions:
“Well, I think the things that stand out to me are defensively, they’re probably better than what we faced last year. I think they’re similar defensively to what we faced two years ago up there. I’m just comparing what I see them doing to other people versus what they did to us two years ago up there. They may be better overall defensively than that group. I think 54 (Diego Fagot) is one of the better defenders in our league, he may be the Player-of-the-Year in our league defensively. So very strong right there. I think they’ve improved drastically since the beginning of the year. They’re not a two-win football team. I’m sure the common lay person that doesn’t watch any film or study anything, they can have an opinion there. But anybody that has common sense and looks at the film knows what this is, and this is a good football team.”

On What It Means To Him And The Program To Be Bowl Eligible:
“Well, I think it’s that you knew what you were getting in to, to a degree, and you made some goals there when you started on this thing. It’s been a tough two years. The first two years, even having been through some similar situations before, it was very difficult. Now, I am grateful for the assistant coaches that have been on this journey with us. I’m grateful for these kids. The ones that are in the program now have done everything we could ask of them and they’re the reason for the turnaround. So, it was a special day Saturday, but the more special thing is that they’ve already turned their attention forward to this next game because they’ve just kind of adapted that mentality. That’s winning culture and the way they conduct themselves; I know we’re going to have a good practice today. I know we’ll go up and fight on Saturday. We’ll see if we’re good enough, but we’re going to go fight. It’s just very rewarding because you start this with a plan and a vision, and you map out how you want to do things. To see it culminating in becoming a program that is a legitimate contender. That’s what we wanted to build here. Now we’re not done yet, we’re not finished yet, this is not the finished product. In my opinion, we still have a ceiling that’s much higher than what we’re playing right now. But we’re doing some really positive things on the field and again, this Saturday is going to be a great barometer. This is going to be a huge challenge for our team this Saturday. So, if we can figure out some way to go up there and pull it off, I think it would be a significant win for us.”

On The Discipline The Team Needs Defensively Against Navy:
“Well, I think we have to have it in all three phases. Because you look at the film of this team we’re playing, they just play so hard. We kind of pride ourselves each week that we’re going to play with more effort and more physicality than our opponent. That’s going to be a steep challenge this week because this team plays as hard as any we’ve faced, and this team has more physicality than any we’ve faced to this point. And they operate just so, so clean. It’s going to require tremendous discipline in all three phases. I think especially defensively, as you talk, it’s the thing I enjoyed at The Citadel, one misfit and it’s a big play. It’s three yards, three yards, three yards somebody to death and then they’re going to misfit a run and all of a sudden, it’s a touchdown. That’s the challenge, you cannot make mistakes. The whole do your job and trust your teammate to do their job mentality, it’s to the extreme this week. Weeks like this, I promise you, the defensive coaches don’t sleep this week. I’m just telling you. It’s every waking moment looking at each piece of information, each piece of film from whatever year it is, trying to figure out exactly how they’re going to try to attack us and make sure we’re prepared for it and get the kids prepared for it. That’s the big thing. It doesn’t matter how much us as coaches are familiar with this style of offense, the kids are the ones that have to play the game. So, it’s going to require an extreme amount of discipline and doing your job.”

On How Playing Navy Last Year Helps This Year:
“Well, I think because the guys that are playing, they all played last year. I think it gives them confidence. The other thing is the scheme that we’re in, even though there wasn’t a ton of success the first year in it, it’s still the third year in a similar scheme against Navy. So, the kids know what they’re doing. We’ve been working on it periodically throughout the fall. We spend a little bit of time each week working on this game plan. But still the guys went out there Sunday night and it was ok, I remember this, I get this. Their eyes were closer to being in the right place, so you have a little bit of a head start over most game weeks going into Tuesday with it. The familiarity and some confidence that we can go out there and compete against this offense.”

On The Balance Between Scoring And Taking Time Off The Clock On The Final Drive At Memphis:
“Well, you know, going into the game we knew Memphis was going to be tough inside the 10-yard line. They’ve given people fits all year. They are a big, strong front. They had such length at the linebacker level and then just what they were doing down there was kind of feast or famine. We struggled a couple of times to get in, ended up kicking three short field goals earlier in the ballgame. So, at that point the focus was more on just getting in. Ok, let’s run some time off, well how are you going to do that? Are you going to take a loss on a play? It’s tough when you get down there against a team like that and so the balance to me wasn’t much of a balance. It was get the score and then trust our defense to try and get a stop.”

On When Playing Navy If Controlling The Clock Is More Important Than Normal:
“Well, I think there’s going to be fewer possessions. The key for us is we’ve got to try to get them off schedule. If we can stay away from third-and-two and fourth-and-one; third-and-two and fourth-and-one against this team is going to be tough. If we can get them in third-and-six, that’s where you’ll have more success. The key for us is trying to not let them stay on schedule. You’ve got to get them off schedule early in the downs, on first and second downs. If you can do that, you can have some success.”

On The Reception From The Fans At The Airport After The Game:
“That was awesome. For our players, that’s the first time they’ve ever experienced anything like that. The only time I’d ever experienced anything like that was coming back from the National Championship games, stuff like that. It was special. We have some loyal fans and there’s a handful of loyal fans that are there every time we leave the airport and every time we get back. Certainly, we appreciated them. But to have the number, and I don’t know what the number was, I know it was a bunch. I know they were loud. It was good to see the Chancellor right there in the middle of them. That was a pretty special moment for our staff and for our players. Our players, the seniors like Bruce Bivens, he was talking about what a thrill it was for him. That’s a kid right there that’s been here for five years, is a very good football player, a very big part of our turnaround and for him to be able to experience that, certainly a special moment.”

On The Concern Of Navy Having A Bye Week Last Week:
“I appreciate the conference doing that for them. Especially coming off the game against Notre Dame. I’ll tell you; Notre Dame is a big, strong, physical defense and I’m sure they were beat up coming out of that game. It’s a big advantage for them. They were able to practice against our scheme for two-straight weeks. Their coaches had plenty of time to game plan us and I looked at their coaching staff and it’s 24 years at Navy, 22 years at Navy, 14 years at Navy. We know several of those guys and they’re really, really good at what they do. You give them that kind of time to prepare, I have no doubt that we’re going to see something that we’ve never seen before on Saturday. They’re going to have something that will throw a wrench in everything that we have not been able to prepare for. So, we’ve just got to make sure we’ve got everything as buttoned up tight as we can and we’re going to do a great job with in-game adjustments.”

On The Importance Of Getting Out To An Early Lead:
“Against a team like that, it’s critical. Because if they get out to the lead and they can hold onto the ball and limit your possessions, it puts you in a tough spot. If you can get a lead and continue to drive the ball well and get in the end zone, that’s the way you can have some success. It’s going to be a challenge, but how effective we can be offensively, especially early in the ballgame, will be important.”

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