Houston’s weekly press conference quotes ahead of Marshall game

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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 road game at Marshall. The following are selected comments:

Opening Statement

“Obviously the players and staff are disappointed in not being able to pull out a win on Saturday against South Carolina. But I’m very pleased with the effort our players played with. I’m pleased with the physicality we played with. I’m pleased with how hard we competed. I think we’ve continued to show improvement. Obviously, there’s some things we need to do better, but you’re playing an SEC team at home that has an SEC roster and they were very talented. I thought our kids played their dang tails off and gave us a chance to win and we just did not make the plays there in the fourth quarter to win the ballgame. We put ourselves in the position to win it but had our opportunities to put the game away. I thought there right before the half, obviously, the interception for a touchdown return was a big momentum swing in the ballgame. I thought we fought back and got back in control in the fourth quarter, but they had a good drive to end it with a pretty clutch kick.

“Disappointed in the loss, but our focus is completely on Marshall, a very good Marshall football team right now. Excited for the matchup this Saturday in Huntington, West Virginia. Expect it to be a pretty hostile environment. There’s a lot of history between the two programs and obviously, they’re off to a great start, averaging 46 points a game in their 2-0 start to the season. So, we have a great challenge going up there this Saturday.”

On Whether The Issues On Offense Are Caused By Playing Two Tough Defenses:

“I think some of the issues are the personnel we’ve faced. Some of the other issues, it’s a variety of things. You can look at Holton (Ahlers). I know a lot of people want to blame him for everything, but that’s not the case. Certainly, there’s some things he can do better. I think there’s a half a dozen decisions he can be more disciplined with that puts us in better situations. But I think we’ve also got to play better around him. He had some drops on Saturday on some big downs. You had a couple of times where they got some pressure on him when we had receivers open. So, I think we need to do a better job altogether in execution.

“Now I do think we did some better things. Our offensive line played much better on Saturday. I thought we did much better in the run game most of the day. Able to get Rahjai (Harris) and Keaton (Mitchell) open a little bit more than we did in the opener and running the football. I think it’s a combination of things. But I do know this, standing on that field, those corners that they had and their front seven, there were plays that we would have and just the speed of their defense would just erase them. What you would think was a 12-yard gain would be a three-yard gain. What you would think was going to be a first-down would be a fourth down. I thought (Tyler) Snead had the first down on the sideline in the third quarter and all of a sudden it gets erased. So, there’s a reason why those guys are playing in that conference. There’s a reason why those ends are going to be very high draft picks and why they’re so highly rated coming out of high school.”

On Elijah Morris’s Injury:

“It happened on the last snap of last Tuesday’s practice. I tell you what, that’s a tough kid. At first, the athletic staff said there’s no way. By the end of the week, we didn’t dress him. I was concerned going into that game of turning what was a minor injury into something significant because of the position he plays and the physicality of that position. So, the other guys played very well so that gave us the ability to give him some more time so he should be full go this week.”

On Gaining Confidence:

“I do think there’s some confidence gained from the way we competed and played, especially on the defensive side of the football. In a game like that, everything gets magnified. The kickoff return in the fourth quarter is obviously a huge play. It’s one play, but it’s a huge play because it set up a field goal for them that tied the ballgame. Not getting in the end zone in the fourth quarter when Snead’s knee touches down. That’s one play, but it’s a huge play that gets magnified. The screen pass right before the half, it’s one play but it’s a huge play.

“I think there’s a lot of positives coming out of that game. I think there’s a lot of individual plays that get magnified in a very close loss when one thing goes our way, you win the ballgame. There’s a big difference in 1-1 and 0-2 right now where our program is.”

On Looking At The Film From The SMU Game Last Year:

“I think we’re all trying to find that magic and we’re all trying to find that execution. There are some pieces that aren’t here that were here last year, but the bulk of them are here. The bulk of our roster that played in that ballgame is on the field right now for us. The challenge is for us to just play better. Like I said in the answer to the first question, we’ve played against two really good defenses. That was a challenge on Saturday. Obviously, we have to play much better, and we’ve got to score points if we want to do the things we want to do.”

On The Experience The Defensive Line Gained:

“I think they’re going to continue to grow, they’re going to continue to improve, they’re going to continue to gain confidence the more they play and the more they have success. I thought that Xavier McIver, that’s probably his most extensive playing time, I thought he played really well right there in the middle. He had 650 pounds or so leaning on you all day long, that’s not easy. I thought he held his own in there. I thought Suirad (Ware) really did some good things on Saturday. He’s a guy that probably needs to play a little bit more. I thought D’Angelo McKinnie did some really good things at times. All of those guys are going to continue to improve the more they get to play.”

On Holton Ahlers Being Timid In The Pocket:

“I’ve seen him make some really good throws. The frustrating thing is the throws he puts on the money, but we didn’t come up with a catch on Saturday. I think I’ve seen some situations where he needs to have a little bit more discipline with his decision-making. (Offensive Coordinator) Donnie (Kirkpatrick) points it out to him in film, but it’s not everything on him. The reality of the position is this, and I told him this when I got hired. When things are going well, he’s going to get a lot of the credit, even when he doesn’t deserve a lot of it. When things aren’t going well, he’s going to get a lot of the blame because he touches the ball every snap and that’s just part of being a quarterback. He’s motivated to play better. He’s motivated to lead us to victory. So, I know that he will get those things corrected.”

On The Offense And Defense Needing To Improve To Keep Up With Marshall’s Offense:

“I think we need to play a very complimentary game. It’s all hands-on deck going into a game like this. Certainly, they’re an extremely experienced and older team that’s won a lot. Doc Holliday did a really good job there for a decade and this is a team that won seven games last year and was ranked in the Top 20. A lot of explosive athletes that have a lot of experience. The quarterback (Grant Wells), he’s a third-year kid, he came mid-year right when I was hired here. He was the Newcomer-of-the-Year in the league last year and I’ve been really impressed by him. He’s a good athlete, runs well. Can really throw it, has great arm talent. He really rips it now. Same offensive coordinator that he’s had the whole time he’s been there. Coach (Charles) Huff retained the OC and I think they’re playing very, very well right now. We’ve got to play good defensively, we’ve got to play well offensively, we’ve got to play well on special teams. We’ve just got to play a very complementary game in order to get the win on Saturday.”

On The Mentality Of The Locker Room And How To Keep The Team Motivated:

“I think they’re very motivated and I think they’re very excited for this matchup this Saturday. We haven’t played chopped meat. You look at some of the teams some schools play early in the year. We haven’t played that. We’ve played two really good football teams. They know that. They know we have a good football team. That’s just the reality. You don’t go toe-to-toe with South Carolina like that in a game this early in the season if you’re not a pretty good football team. We’re facing another really good football team. I think that the guys are excited, the guys are motivated for Saturday. They know we have a tall task, but we also have a great opportunity.”

On The Importance Of Playing Three Regional Teams Early On:

“I think there’s a lot of importance to it. We go against all three schools in recruiting. After the game Saturday, I’ve got several kids that are coming up and talking to me that I recruited very hard, whether it’s here or at James Madison, that are playing at South Carolina right now. I think there’s a lot of history between us and Marshall. I think Appalachian State is probably going to become an institution that we’re going to have a pretty good rivalry with as well. Obviously, there’s a lot of history between us and South Carolina. They’re all regional schools and they’re all exciting matchups for our fanbase and they’re all games that our kids get excited about. It’s a challenging schedule, but it’s one that has a lot of familiarity with it.”

On Whether There Is A Thought To Put Mason Garcia In For A Series:

“Well, I think that you have an experienced quarterback in a challenging game against a very talented defense out there on the field. Obviously, we’re continuing to develop Mason and there will be a day when he is the starting quarterback here and there may be situations where he plays this year. But I think you’ve got to be careful with that because I think you want to take advantage of every possession. I think Holton right now gives us the best chance to win.”

On Seeing Opportunities To Have Been More Aggressive On Saturday:

“Well, I think that there’s lots of opportunities where things are called that for one reason, or another didn’t work out. I think that we were fairly aggressive there at the beginning of the ballgame. I thought we were very aggressive in the fourth quarter. We went for it on fourth-and-14, basically in the red zone. That’s pretty friggin’ aggressive. You play the game to win. I wish we had hit C.J. (Johnson) on the post route, but Holton’s getting hit in the face so he couldn’t get the throw-off. I know this, our kids want to win, our coaches want to win and so they’re out there trying to score every possession.”

On Playing The First True Road Game Of The Season:

“We’ve got to prepare for a loud, hostile environment. That’s the reputation that Marshall has. They’ve got a lot of history of winning there. They’ve got a rabid fanbase much like ours. It’s a 6 o’clock kickoff. I would expect me, and the kids will get called every name under the sun when we take the field and I think it’s going to be a loud, challenging environment. We’re doing everything we can to prepare for that this week at practice. I think that the coaching staff that has been there and has a good bit of history in that stadium, they understand what it’s going to be, so they’ll help us prepare the players for Saturday night.”

On How Marshall Was Able To Handle Navy With A First-Year Coach:

“I think that Charles Huff is an experienced guy. Keeping the OC keeps some continuity offensively. I think with the experience coming back and with the QB and the OC being on the same page, I think that allows for a lot of continuity. I think that Navy struggled. They helped them a good bit. A blocked field goal, a blocked punt and yeah, Marshall had something to do with it, but it was really breakdowns by Navy. So, I think there’s a lot of factors that go into it, but at the end of the day, they’re a good football team. They’re well coached and they’re really playing well right now. It’s been really impressive watching their tape.”

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