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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 UCF. The following are selected comments:

Opening Statement:
“Good to be back up here with you. What a great weekend in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and what a great Homecoming weekend for Pirate Nation and the Greenville community. Just everything about it. It started Friday, we had so many letterwinners around campus and got to see so many former Pirates that stopped by the football offices. Had several of them stop by walkthrough on Friday afternoon. In the hotels, around the hotels on Friday evening and Saturday morning and then the Pirate Walk was fantastic last Saturday. We had a huge crowd for that. Just the perfect weather for the afternoon gameday atmosphere inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and our team played very well.

“It was great to get a huge conference opening win this past Saturday over a very good Tulane team. Excited about the way the team played. Excited about the way the kids responded to everything last week. So thankful for the fans that were in the stands, the student body, the Boneyard was very loud. It was just a really great day. We were able to have Parmalee here with us. I know everybody enjoyed the concert. They were in the locker room celebrating with the team post-game so that was pretty neat to see. Just a great weekend. Enjoyed that and have fully transitioned onto a very good UCF team and our trip to Orlando, Fla. this Saturday. It’s a big challenge for our program. Next conference game. Very, very talented team. Coach (Gus) Malzahn has made the transition very seamlessly. They have a very talented group, and we will be challenged greatly, so got to be ready to go. Looking forward to a great practice this afternoon.”

On The Difference In The Performance Against Tulane And Against Charleston Southern:
“Practice, preparation and probably mental mindset going into the ballgame – all of those. We had a great week of practice last week, very physical practices on Tuesday and Wednesday. But the players, mentally going into the game, I really liked where they were. Saturday morning, I had no doubt once we finished our team meeting on Saturday morning, that we were going to play well. Didn’t know if you were going to win or not, but I knew we’d play well. Certainly, they went out and did that.”

On Seeing The Similarities Between ECU Last Week And UCF This Week:
“Well, I think that Navy, the Navy team I saw on film this week and the Navy team I saw against Marshall were two different teams. You knew that (Navy Head Coach) Ken (Niumatalolo) would get everything fixed up there. You knew he would. That triple option offense when it’s humming, it’s a challenge. That was a tough loss. UCF had a two-touchdown lead late and made some mistakes and Navy took advantage of them. I don’t think so because that’s a tough conference game. You’re playing at Navy, that’s a tough place to play. Certainly, they expected to win, but this league’s tough. I’m sure they’ll be motivated this week. I’m sure they’re excited to be back at home. Like I said, they’ve got a lot of experienced guys, a lot of talent. They’ll be ready to go, so we’ve got a huge challenge on Sunday.”

On How To Keep The Team In Line After Winning Three-Straight Games:
“Well, we’ve got to prepare to go play a good ballgame. None of the other stuff matters. We’re excited we got the win on Saturday. We’re excited we’re 1-0. That’s done. We’ve got a huge game this Saturday, we’ve got to have a great practice this afternoon. That’s really the only focus I have right now, is having a great Tuesday practice with full pads. We’ve got to get our work done, our heavy contact stuff done today and tomorrow and just mentally preparing our guys for how we have to play on Saturday.”

On The Feelings On Saturday’s Performance After Watching The Tape:
“That game Saturday is the first game since I’ve been here that we looked like the team that I want to be. The film confirmed it. We were extremely physical upfront on both sides of the football. Loved the way our defensive backs and linebackers ran and hit. Just loved the play of the offensive line. I thought Holton (Ahlers) was very composed in the pocket, I thought we protected him in the pocket. I thought we had guys that made plays around him. Special teams, I thought our kickoff team really set the tone for a lot of things on Saturday. The way we covered the kicks, the way we were hitting on special teams and forced a turnover on the punt team. Just very pleased with the way our team played.

“Now, we want to build on that. Consistency, can we do it again? Can we play that way again, correct somethings that we did wrong and play just a little bit better this week? I think that’s the challenge because if you play the way we did in all three phases last week, if you play that week-in and week-out, you’re going to have a shot every weekend. That’s the whole deal. Go in and be ready to play each week. It’s a tough conference so you can’t look past anybody, you can’t look behind you, it’s just 1-0 each week. That’s got to be the focus. Trying to go 1-0 each week.”

On How To Balance The Physicality At Practice And Keeping The Team Healthy:
“It’s a fine line, but I think you have to do it in segments. You have got to have some good-on-good because you get the speed from that. You have to have the physicality and competition with the O-line and D-line because that’s how you’re going to be sharp on Saturday. But again, it is a long season. Each program kind of looks at what they hang their hat on. What’s their strengths, what gives you the best chance to win on gameday. Ours has to be playing our frickin’ tails off. Playing with physicality. Playing with great effort. Playing together. High execution – it has to be. That’s the way we’re going to win. If you want to play like that on Saturday, you’ve got to prepare like that.”

On Ja’Quan McMillian’s Season:
“Well, you just look at him period. If you start asking him about any of that stuff, he’s going to focus on one thing – the team and winning. How can I help my teammates play well? Doing my part. That’s how he sees all of that. He’s not all about Ja’Quan McMillian, he’s about the ECU Pirates. I watch him in the leadership council. We have a large group in the leadership council this year. Anything that comes up that is not team-centered, he, Keaton (Mitchell), Rahjai (Harris), all of those guys, they just chop it down. They are focused on our team. That’s refreshing to have guys like that, especially one that is playing so well and is doing so many things. He has worked very, very hard. I thought he had a good year last year, but I think he’s worked very, very hard. I think he’s playing really well right now. I don’t know what all of his stats are, but he’s putting together a really, really solid year with just the way he competes and plays. Some of the hits he put on screens and short passes on Saturday and then the play he made on the interception. He kind of baited the quarterback a little bit where it looked like it was there and all of a sudden, he’s waiting on you to make that throw and makes the play. He’s just a savvy, tough, hard-nosed kid that I’m glad he plays for us.”

On Stopping Brandon Johnson:
“Well, they’ve got a bunch of them. They’ve got several guys that stand out in the passing game. I know Brandon well. We recruited him when he left Tennessee. I think it kind of came down to us and UCF. He’s a good player for them. (Ryan) O’Keefe, I think he’s a great playmaker. (Jaylon) Robinson, I know he didn’t play last week but they’ve got him listed on the depth chart this week. He’s a great player. Kaedin Robinson, I know him very well. They just have a lot of guys that are very skilled on the offensive side of the ball. We’ve got to do a great job of defending them in the run game. We’ve got to do a great job of defending them in the passing game. I don’t know who we’re going to see at some spots on Saturday, but I would say we’ll probably see two quarterbacks on Saturday. Wouldn’t shock me to see (Joey) Gatewood in there. They’re a very talented, very explosive offense. We’re going to have to play very, very well on Saturday.”

On The Play Of Xavier Smith:
“It’s been challenging for him because it’s so much different on the edge than it is inside. It’s been a learning curve for him and it’s been a lot to adapt to. I thought he played well Saturday. I thought his play Saturday was improved over what it had been the last couple of weeks. I thought Jeremy (Lewis) playing at the level he is allows us to play Xavier inside more. Now all of a sudden with Aaron Ramseur coming along, you feel really good about those four guys inside playing at a high level. You’ve got Teylor (Jackson) and Jacoby (Simpson) that are certainly going to be really good guys for us in the future and guys that can play some right now, but you have a good core at inside linebacker. I think he feels a lot more comfortable in there. At the same time, I do think he’s far enough along at the edge where you can really package him. We had a couple of different packages on Saturday where we lined him up out wide, we lined him up inside in certain situations. The whole thing is trying to get our best guys on the field in the right situation.”

On The Importance Of The Interior Offensive Linemen (Fernando Frye And Avery Jones):
“No doubt. I thought that was the best they’ve played this year. Really and Nishad Strother, you’ve got to talk about him in there too because I thought that was probably Nishad’s best game of the year, one of the better games he’s had in his career here. But I thought they all played much improved on Saturday. In particular, I thought that Avery (Jones), Fernando (Frye), Nishad and Trent (Holler) got in there, Sean Bailey was in there. They did a really good job handling those two defensive tackles. No. 77 from Tulane, he ate our lunch last year and I thought we did a really good job of neutralizing him on Saturday. Really you talk about the huge days that Rahjai and Keaton had on Saturday, you look at the film and we’re displacing the defensive line and now all of a sudden you have that room to make those cuts. That’s the thing. Those running backs are talented players, if we give them the room, they’re going to make some plays. Just really pleased with the way our offensive front played.”

On How Physical Gerard Stringer Played:
“It was good to see him back. He was playing like that during preseason camp and then had an injury, missed some time, came back and struggled a little bit to get back going. Again, he’s another guy. We talked about it at the press conference the other night. Aaron Ramseur, Gerard Stringer, Ryan Jones, I can keep on naming them. Guys that played really, really well the other night had really good weeks of practice last week. So, you saw Gerard playing like that all week. He got more playing time on Saturday, and he lived up to it. He played in the game the way he practiced. I think that’s got to give the kids confidence in the way they practice. Because they’re seeing the tangible results of you practice well, you go play well. Certainly, it’s creating a lot of competition now because there’s a lot of guys that play the same position right there, so they know they’ve got to practice well. I think that’s making everybody better.”

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