Houston talks about beating Temple, prepping for Memphis 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 road game at Memphis. The following are selected comments:

Opening Statement:
“Good to be back. Big win last weekend at home. It was great to have Military Appreciation and Hall of Fame weekend and have those two celebrations and have a victory the way we had. Just really excited about the way our kids played and the way they prepared all week. You saw the culmination of a really good week of practice turn into a solid performance on gameday.

“It puts us in a good position here in the middle of November as we go into what’s going to be a very challenging road game against an extremely talented Memphis football team coming off a big home win against a ranked SMU team this past weekend. We’ve looked at them on film and they’re exactly what you expect from a Memphis football team. Very talented at the skill positions, good size. I think their offensive front is very athletic. Defensive front is very long. Dynamic on special teams. It’s going to be a challenge going on the road, but I know our kids are very excited about the opportunity. I’m sure they’re going to have a very good week of practice and the kids will be locked in and ready to go on Saturday, so it should be a good one.”

On His Excitement Level To Coach In The Liberty Bowl For The First Time:
“Well, it’s my first trip to play Memphis at Memphis. I’m excited for the next game. That’s it.”

On How Much They Talk About Getting To A Sixth Win And A Bowl Game:
“Zero. None. We’re playing Memphis, that’s it.”

On How Much Confidence Affects Execution:
“I think it’s appropriate. As crazy as it sounds, even the tough losses on the road where we played well, the UCF and Houston games gave the players confidence. This is a team that you have a lot of young guys. You have a few older guys; the old guys have not had much success here. I think the biggest thing it’s given them, and we continue to talk about it each week, they continue to see things we do well in practice, we’re doing well on gameday.

“It’s really helped us focus on our preparation and I see the guys that are playing, the guys that are on the scout teams, are very, very focused each day on trying to have a great day. Our scout teams today, they’re going to be in meetings, they’re going to be focused on how I can give the best look of Memphis that I possibly can. Our guys are doing such a great job with the preparation each week and that’s the reason why we’re playing well on gameday. Playing well on gameday motivates them for the next week. So, I think there’s some confidence gained, but I think its appropriate confidence gained. I don’t think this bunch is overconfident by any means. I think that’s why you go out and play the way you did against a talented Temple team this past weekend. They knew they had to go out and play. They knew they needed to prepare in practice throughout the week last week to play that way on gameday. Then I think their performance focuses them in on that preparation for next week. I think our guys are in a really good place right now.”

On The Challenge Of Matching Up With WR Calvin Austin And TE Sean Dykes:
“Well, they are (challenges). Austin is dynamic and he’s got elite speed. Yardage after the catch if you don’t get your hands on him, he’s going to run away from you. Then Dykes, he’s a little bit different from Ryan (Jones) but you do equate him a little bit to Ryan. He’s a tight end who has wide receiver skillset. I think 13 (Javon Ivory) and 18 (Eddie Lewis) both are really top-end receivers also. I think their standup guys around that offensive line and quarterback are very, very talented. They’ve all made plays. You had the freshman wideout come in last week and make a huge catch on fourth down in that SMU game in the first half. They have a lot of guys making a lot of plays. I think the running back who missed last week, (Brandon) Thomas, I would expect him to be back this week. I think he’s a really good running back in this conference. There are other backs playing and they’re playing several of them and are really solid backs. I just think this is a very explosive offense.”

On Mason Garcia’s Interception Being A Teaching Moment:
“Oh yeah. That disappointment turned into he’s ticked off at himself. He was excited to get in there. He’s confident going in and he made a bad play. The great thing is it didn’t kill us and he’s going to learn from it, and he’ll be that much more ready the next time he gets in there. I thought he had a great attitude on Sunday. I’m sure he’ll be ready to go today. He’s a young guy and the thing about that position is you have a big spotlight that shines on you when you play quarterback and so every little thing gets over evaluated sometimes. You make a great play, it’s overanalyzed. You make one bad play, it’s overanalyzed. He’s got a lot of good ball in front of him and that’s just going to be part of his learning experience.”

On The Growth Of The Defense:
“Well, I think it’s a culmination thing. These guys, we said at the beginning of the year, every week they’re going to play better because they’re going to get that much more experience. When your front, they’re a bunch of guys that for the most part are second-year players, they’re still improving week-to-week. I think that’s part of it. I think the comfort, familiarity and confidence that everybody has in the scheme that we’re playing because we’re pretty diverse. We’re probably as diverse as anybody in the country as far as the different looks we show and the different things we do. But the guys have a lot of confidence in knowing their stuff and they play fast with it. I just think that allows you to play that much better each week because you don’t have a ton of busts, you don’t have a bunch of missed assignments and they’re playing with a lot of confidence on that side of the football. I think it’s just a culmination thing. I think probably another piece is the depth we have on that side of the football allows us to stay pretty fresh throughout the game. I think that is a big reason for some of the success we’ve had in the second half over the last month in ballgames.”

On The Importance of Memphis’ Fourth Downs Saturday:
“I think that, especially playing a team like SMU because Coach (Sonny) Dykes is a big analytics guy and the analytics stuff sometimes, some of those guys that have put that stuff together, it’s easy for a guy to sit in an office and say we should go for it on fourth down right here. Well, you know, that guy’s job isn’t on the line. I think there’s a lot of variables that go into when’s a good time to take a risk and when’s not. We’ve been very aggressive on fourth down this year, but there are times I choose not to go for it on fourth down. There are so many variables.

“I think Memphis went into that game last week deciding they were going to be extremely aggressive. They were very aggressive. It worked out for them a lot. Now the one they went for it with a minute and a half to go and didn’t get it and gave SMU the ball at midfield, now that was a dicey call right there that could have bit them in the rear end. It didn’t, their defense came through and got the stop. But I think it’s something each coach has to evaluate and it’s something where (offensive coordinator) Donnie (Kirkpatrick) and I are on the same page each week when we go into the ballgame. Usually, we talk on second down. After he sends in the second down play call, I tell him what I’m thinking right there. That way he knows before the third-down call whether he’s got a fourth down or not. Because those variables are important.

“I just think it’s something you’ve kind of got to get a feel for and you’ve got to know your team, but the situation is different every single week and it’s different every single game. Certainly, I think that was a big factor in that game last week for Memphis because they converted some big fourth downs. Their receivers really, a lot of them were kind of jump balls down the sidelines where their receivers made great plays over the SMU defensive backs. I think if you have players like that you know are going to make those plays, that gives you a lot of confidence.”

On The Approach When Playing A Team That Has Had A Lot Of Success At Home:
“Well, it’s tough to win on the road in this league, we all know that, especially Memphis. They have a great home environment there at the Liberty Bowl. It’s going to be a tough venue for us to go and get a win there. But we’ve just got to prepare to play the best that we can. We’ve got to have great energy on the sidelines from our players that are traveling with us. Got to have great focus. I’m sure we will have a good contingency of fans that will make the trip also. It’s no different than when we went to Marshall or any road game this year, we’ve just got to have that mentality of what we’re going in to.”

On The Status Of Ja’Quan McMillian And Whether Jsi Hatfield Will Be Back This Week:
“We will see. I feel pretty optimistic that we will have some of our guys back this week, we will just see how the week plays out.”

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