GREENVILLE, N.C. – Fourth-year East Carolina head football coach Mike Houston addressed members of the media Tuesday prior to Saturday’s American Athletic Conference contest versus South Florida in Boca Raton, Fla. The following are selected comments:

Opening Statements
“I just want to start out with this, because I know that it will be a topic throughout the day and throughout the week. Obviously, a very serious hurricane is making its way towards the state of Florida and will hit the west coast at some point later this week. It’s going to probably impact the south and the entire southeast at some point over the next week. Our thoughts and prayers with those that are going to be impacted from the storm. You pray for safety for everyone and that the damage will be minimal. You never know with these storms how that’s going to be. Just understanding that there’s a pretty serious issue going on in the southeast over the next week.

ECU-South Florida game moved due to Hurricane Ian

Florida, USF, South Carolina move home games ahead of Ian

“Obviously, tough home loss the other night. Very good college football game between two good teams. Pleased with the way the kids played from an effort standpoint, and just the way they competed. The game was what I expected, and what you’ve come to expect in a lot of these matchups and in this conference – just a great balance back and forth. We certainly had our opportunities at certain times late in the ballgame to win the game, and we were not able to make those plays. It came down to double overtime and a great play by the kicker from Navy. Congratulations to them. Hard-fought win. Our guys were obviously disappointed Saturday night, but not a whole lot of time to worry about that. They’ve moved on in preparation for South Florida. Looking at South Florida, extremely talented roster. All three phases. A lot of experienced guys. On the offensive side of the football, Gerry Bohanon, was honorable mention All-Big 12 last year at Baylor, led them to Big 12 Championship last year and to the Sugar Bowl. A very high-end playmaker at quarterback, dual threat guy. You take him and drop him into the talent that South Florida has on offense and that they had on offense from last year’s team and obviously it’s going to be a tremendous challenge for us on Saturday. We do expect the players that missed the Louisville game to be back this week. I do expect them to be at full steam on offense. Defensively you look at them, very talented and big up front. You’ve got the two transfers there from Minnesota and Missouri on the defensive line. I think their linebacking core is really good. The secondary is long, and they run well. A lot of older guys. On special teams, the kick returner was First Team All-AAC last year, their kicker is having a great year. Just a very solid football team on paper. Obviously, they’ve had a challenging schedule and a couple of tough losses. You watch that Florida game and that’s a game I know that they’re kicking themselves because they should have won it at Florida, and they had the lead late in the game. I think you can see just what they’re capable of right there. Obviously, the game is going to be played at an alternate location. We’ve already begun preparations for making those adjustments. Practice here this week. I expect our guys to practice well, and I would expect us to have a great practice today. We’ll be ready to play the game on Saturday.”

On traveling to Florida with the incoming hurricane
“Everything that we’re looking at right now, we do plan to go on Friday. Obviously, with everything that we’re doing, the thing that’s front and foremost is the health and safety of our student-athletes and our staff, just making sure that we have safe travel. I do think the route that we will be taking should be free of any weather. I don’t think there’ll be an issue getting in there on Friday. It’s supposed to be pretty weather Saturday afternoon.”

On the running game struggling against Navy
“The checks throughout the year and throughout the other night, those come at the line of scrimmage and those come from preparation. Any issues in the run game, you look at it and it’s not just necessarily one thing. I think it’s the fact that you’re playing against a very good defensive team that had a good plan. I think that we had some execution situations there with our offensive front. I think we had some execution situations there with our backs. I think just the combination of the two caused us to not be as successful running the football as we should have been.”

On previous experiences with football games being altered due to hurricanes
“We had it at the Citadel. We had it at James Madison. I know that East Carolina has had some significant ones over the years. It’s something that we’ve had to deal with before. Thankfully, I’ve got really good people working for us in operations, and they are very experienced. They’ve been planning for this since it first popped up. I think in 2020, that experience there probably prepared all of us to be able to handle things kind of on the run sometimes. You adjust and things might not be ideal, but you find a way to make it work.”

On expecting similar defensive game plans from future opponents
“I think you always learn from the past game. I think that each team is different. Each team has their own wrinkles and things like that. You’re playing a very good defensive team that had a couple of weeks to prepare and played very well. I expected it to be a low scoring game like that, if we’d played well defensively, which we did. I also expected to win the ballgame. I think you take what mistakes you made, and you try to grow from those. We’ve seen from game one different ways of trying to attack us or take certain things away from us and we’ve got to be able to execute in all areas. That way you’re never one dimensional.”

On Keaton Mitchell’s status
“I expect him to practice this afternoon.”

On the targeting call on Elijah Morris
“To me, if that call is not flagged on the field, it would not be initiated from the booth. I do think when you slow it down and you start looking at it, there are elements there that are part of the targeting rule. There was no way it was going to be overturned. We teach our kids to tackle in the strike zone. With quarterbacks, it’s a smaller strike zone because you can’t go low or high. It really created a tough situation there for Elijah. He was trying to hit the quarterback in the chest and the quarterback kind of ducked at the last second and it created the contact that caused the flag, so I think he was trying to do the best that he could. We’ve got to try to continue to coach it better. He’s got to try to continue to execute it better. I hate it for that situation.”

On offensive issues in the red zone
“We’ve improved greatly in that area this year, and have had a lot of success there. We got the one touchdown to Ryan (Jones). We had several field goals down there. The red zone is always challenging because it’s condensed space. With condensed space, it makes it a little more stressful. I hate we couldn’t get the last kick. I think that was the only red zone opportunity where we didn’t score so is what it is.”

On the frustration from the targeting call resulting in an ejection
“I think when you look back historically to when the rules were first put into place, I think the intent of the rule was very good. If you look at the 2008 through 2010 seasons, when you have people just flying in, leaving their feet, and hitting someone square on the side of the head, that’s kind of a reckless play. I think that’s what they want to take away from the game. So, I think the rule has done that, but I don’t think that rule fits the spirit of the rule so it’s frustrating.”

On the success the defense had in stopping Navy’s run attack
“It’s just a completely different animal. We obviously worked on it this summer. In 2020, we defended them well. They made adjustments in last year’s game that became a little bit of a shootout. We gave them a different look this year with all things we were doing. I think our kids executed really well. I wish it would have been good enough. It wasn’t quite good enough. I hate we gave up the plays that we did, and it didn’t allow us to win the ballgame. Every year it’s going to be like that and back to the old days with Lenoir-Rhyne and Carson-Newman, it’s a chess match each year with offenses like that. They’re a very good offensive coaching staff. I’ve got a lot of confidence in our guys defensively. It’s going to continue as long as these two staffs are here and you’re trying to figure out the other team. I told Ken (Niumatalolo), ‘I’ll be glad when this game’s over, I don’t want to see you for another year.’ I don’t know if he feels the same way or not, but I just think they do a great job.”

On the state of the team after a second close loss
“They’re sitting here two plays from being 4-0. I mean it’s tough. You have a good football team against a challenging schedule, and we’re going to have chances every week to win ballgames. It’s going to continue throughout the year. I’m proud of our kids and proud of our leadership because they’ve been the ones that have brought us here and given us these opportunities. They continue to lead with a lot of maturity and determination. I expect us to have a great practice today and that’s mainly based on them and the way they reacted on Sunday – just the kids that I know that we have. The biggest thing standing up here today is that I am very fortunate. I’ve got a great bunch of kids. They’re not perfect, but they want to do the right thing. They want to compete. They want to win. I promise you, there’s nobody that wants to win worse than they do. There’s no bunch that wants to win worse than our coaching staff does. They’re all very motivated. They’ll go out and have a great week of practice and we’ll look forward to playing at a high level on Saturday.”

On the team’s first road game of the season
“Well, I think that this group has a lot of experience in road games. I think especially, like I said, the experience of 2020 and what road games were like will help us this weekend. I wish we played every game at home. I’m partial to our stadium and our fans but if you want to do special things and have special seasons, you’ve got to be a good road team. We played well on the road last year, had some big road wins and had some very close road losses. I do think those experiences help prepare you for what is going to happen and what this is going to be this weekend with our first road game.”

On what to expect from South Florida compared to last year
“The thing that stands out to me from last year was how improved they were up front on the offensive line. I think they’ve continued that development. I think they’re very solid up front. The playmakers like Jimmy Horn Jr., Brian Battie and Xavier Weaver – those guys have continued to grow and develop, and they’ve added some more pieces to that. The quarterback is the difference in that. Gerry Bohanon is special. You look on the defensive side of the ball and you have a few guys who were there last year. You also have a lot of new guys. I think this is an improved team from a talent standpoint over what we faced last year, and I think they’re trying to get everybody on the same page.”