GREENVILLE, N.C. – Fourth-year East Carolina head football coach Mike Houston addressed members of the media Monday morning prior to Friday’s American Athletic Conference contest at Cincinnati. The following are selected comments:

Opening Statement

“It’s good to be back at it off the bye week. Had a good, focused day yesterday, meeting and practice. We’ll be back out there this afternoon with a fully padded practice in preparation for Friday night. Obviously, a huge challenge going on the road to Cincinnati on Friday night. I thought the kids were very focused yesterday and they’re excited for the fourth quarter of our season and we talked about it in those terms. It’s an opportunity here at Cincinnati to take on one of the better teams in our league and one of the top teams in the country. They’re strong once again this year so just a tremendous challenge for us but one that everyone’s really excited about. It should be a good one Friday night.”

On Cincinnati still being strong despite losing nine players to the NFL
“I think that you look at the team they had last year, and we all know who was drafted and also not only who got drafted, but just how well they’re doing. You’ve got several guys that are having outstanding rookie seasons in the NFL. I think when you look at the team that we’re going to face, we’re facing a veteran football team. I think it just says that Coach Fickell has done a great job building that program from a depth perspective. We’re going to face a lot of guys that have played a lot of football, guys that have been a part of their tradition and culture. They understand what it means to play at a high level and win at a high level. I think it’s a sign of the outstanding job he’s done.”

On ramping up practice after the bye week
“We were in helmets yesterday and I thought we went pretty hard yesterday. I think it’s that fine line that we needed some time to recover. It had been a pretty hard stretch of nine weeks straight in the regular season. So, we needed a little bit of time, but at the same time, we’re playing so well. I think we had enough time off last week and we had three really good practices. We had a good day yesterday. I think today they’ve got to take that next step with contact, because it’s going to be a very physical football game on Friday night. A big point of emphasis with us this week is that we’ve got to play a certain way on Friday night, which that’s the way we’ve been playing. I think that today is an important day, tomorrow is an important day and then you kind of sharpen things up and get your mindset ready going into Friday.”

On playing in a tough environment on Friday night where Cincinnati has won 31-straight games
“I think it’s just another indicator of the program they’ve had over the last five years. We all know that they played at a very high level here in the American Conference for quite some time. I do think the experience at BYU helps our players. I thought that we didn’t flinch and that’s a very hostile environment there. I would say we’re going to see something similar Friday night. I do think it’s something that’s good for our kids to have that experience going into this.”

On the challenges that Cincinnati presents
“Well, I think it depends on which phase you’re looking at. I think they’re a very complete football team. You look at them defensively and they rank at the top or near the top in sacks, tackles for loss and negative plays. It’s a defense that really puts a lot of pressure on you and you’re going to end up in some situations you’d like to avoid, but traditionally they’ve been able to put some people in some situations where they’re behind the chains. I think that’s just the benefit of having experienced players. I think you flip over to the other side and with Desmond (Ridder) and company graduating, they really have not dropped off. I think that Ben (Bryant) who spent a year at Eastern Michigan after backing up at Cincinnati for several years, has been very solid and is having an outstanding year. They have a list of playmakers whether it’s Tyler (Scott) or Tre (Tucker). They play three different running backs. I think have done a good job in the run game. This is just a complete physical and talented football team. I think the challenge is for us is to continue to play and execute at a high level the way we have been for the last month plus.”

On looking back at his team’s previous tendencies
“You kind of evaluate yourself the way you do an opponent from a standpoint of just looking at things in terms of formation and in down and distance wise to just see what you’re showing. I think that both coordinators have done a good job throughout the season of trying to be aware of things, but we all have tendencies. If you’re aware of them, you can either avoid them or break them. It’s good to understand what they are because that way you can anticipate what kind of look you’re going to get.”

On how an extra week of preparation helps in winning the turnover battle
“I think it comes down to a lot of fundamentals and decision-making
. We spent some time last week and really focused on it defensively, trying to get the ball out and made that an emphasis last week. Offensively, we really focused on great fundamentals. That’s the big thing that I really had our coaches on Tuesday and Wednesday is just really being big on the small things throughout practice. I think that’s where you can let yourself get a little sloppy at times if you’re not really on top of it. I really had them hone back in on the way we finished the way we got the ball tucked post catch or post mesh, and just trying to do a good job of staying on top of that stuff without having a game last week.”

On the impact of the transfers this season and how they have fit into the team’s culture
“I think the big thing is just trying to do your research and to really get to know them to make sure they fit your culture and fit your locker room. I think all our guys have done a good job with that. It just goes into talking to a lot of people that we trust; the coaching profession is such a network that you know so many people and we try to talk to someone that we feel like is going to give us an honest evaluation. I’m still a big gut-feeling guy so I meet somebody in person, and I try to spend a good bit of time with them before we decide one way or the other. If I feel comfortable with them, then they’re probably going to fit in pretty well in our locker room. It’s really a credit to both our players that we have currently on our roster that we’ve grown up and their ability to accept people and bring them into our locker room and to the new players that we have added this year. The way they’ve come in and just tried to be a part of the team and a part of the locker room, not coming in trying to be something else. We try to be very transparent with expectations in the way we operate. I think that’s the big thing. You want to make sure that everybody understands what the deal is before they get here.”

On any standouts in the scrimmage on Thursday
“I thought that was really good. It’s spirited as always. We do have some young guys that are playing a little bit for special teams. You’re really kind of tentative in terms how much how much work they got but there’s something that I can say about a lot of different guys. I do think that Sam (Dankah) continues to develop. The biggest thing I’ve told him is that ‘anytime you’re anywhere around the fueling station or the training table, I said you don’t need one serving you need three.’ He’s continued to put on weight, but he’s got such a long frame, but he just needs to work at developing that, but I think he’s coming along nicely. I think you saw some of the young offensive kids and I was pleased with some of them but it’s just always good to get those guys some reps there and let them go out there and have some fun. The travel team guys they get to be the cheerleaders, so it was a good way to end the week.”