Houston’s weekly press conference quotes heading into South Carolina game, OL Malovic out for season

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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 home opener against South Carolina. The following are selected comments:

Opening Statement
“Obviously, the first press conference since our game last Thursday night. Our players are disappointed in the outcome. What a great setting to kick off the season. Being able to play in Bank of America Stadium and in front of a crowd like that. There were a lot of enthusiastic Pirates down there along with the Appalachian State faithful and it was just a great stage and it’s great to have fans back in the stands. Just very electric environment to start the season off in.

“Our kids went into the game expecting to win and anytime go in and you put that much into it, you’re disappointed if the outcome doesn’t go your way. But so much for us to build on from that game and lots of positives and lots of things we need to do better. Hats off like I said last Thursday night, I just thought Appalachian State is a very good football team. They looked like the experienced, veteran crew they are, and I would expect them to go on and have a great year.

“We’re excited on growing from that experience and excited about the matchup this weekend back in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium with the South Carolina Gamecocks. It’s going to be great to be back at home. It’s going to be great to have our fans back in the stands. You think back to my first year, two years ago, we got to experience game day here and I just completely missed it last year. Just such a weird kind of deal just playing in empty stadiums. So, it’s going to be so exciting to have the Pirate Walk back. The Pirate Walk will be at 9:30 a.m. Saturday morning. Excited to see our fans out for that and tailgating, doing what is the norm around here and really looking forward to a very loud and boisterous Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday.”

On What Is The One Thing That Stands Out About South Carolina:
“Well, I think size and athleticism. Their fronts are big and athletic upfront on both sides of the football. They have very good athletes at all the stand-up skill positions on both offense and defense. They did not have (Kevin) Harris last Saturday night, he will play against us this Saturday and he was, I think, the leading rusher in the Southeastern Conference last year, so obviously a great offensive player there. Their personnel is very good and I think that it was as good of a showing by them last Saturday night. They had a game where they were able to work out some kinks and have successful start and I know they’ll be excited for this game this Saturday.”

On Bailey Malovic’s Status And How It Affects The Offensive Line:
“Unfortunately, Bailey is going to miss the rest of the year and I hate it. It was a freak deal too. It was one of those where it wasn’t a contact play and he got just twisted a little bit, but he will have surgery here in the coming weeks. The good thing with Bailey, he has worked so hard to develop his body. He’ll make a good recovery and we want to support him through that, but he’s still got some time left in his career, so I just have to get him back healthy for next year. But the fortunate thing is Noah Henderson, who worked very hard to come back from injury after missing all last year. I thought he stepped in and played very well in Bailey’s absence and with Noah, he’s going to continue to improve just because the only issue with him is just rust after not playing for a year and a half, two years. He played very well for us in 2019, so I think he can return to that form. You’ve got some other guys that will have to step up. But those guys have experience whether it’s Walt Stribling or Rob Van Der Laan, those guys will be in the rotation now.”

On Expecting Blitzes Against South Carolina:
“I would expect to see that pretty regularly. I thought App did a great job of mixing up pressure and playing coverage. South Carolina, Clayton White, the defensive coordinator at South Carolina did a great job at Western Kentucky and he’s got a great scheme, so I do expect to see a good bit of pressure this week.”

On The Issues In The Kicking Game:
“Well, I think we only had one issue. It was on the first one and it was a mix up between the snapper and holder. Just one of those things that can happen there in a first game and then we got that corrected immediately, so I thought we did a good job the rest of the night.”

On The Balance Between Schemes And Fixable Mistakes:
“I think it depends on where you are talking, whether it’s offense, defense or wherever. The thing defensively that is very fixable is I saw the speed of their offensive front and the way they executed created some situations where we had some guys miss some gaps. We’re moving, they’re moving. They move a heck of a lot faster than our scout team guys did during practice and we overshot a gap every once in a while. When that happens, you’re going to have a big play and so that’s where some of those you know 10, 15-yard runs squirted out on us. So, it’s something we’ve very conscientious of, we talked about it on Friday with game speed versus preseason speed and so I think it’s a great experience for our guys. Those d-linemen, they got some experience last year, but it’s just another reminder for them just how fast game speed is.

“I think when you look at offensively, it was just execution. You look at the frustrating thing, it wasn’t one guy. But it was maybe six or seven guys one time and you put all that together and you look up it looks like you had more issues than you had. I do feel like those issues are fixable and I think most teams have some mistakes there in game one and you see them fixed from week one week to week two, that’s where you see improvement. That was one of the things I thought was most impressive about App State’s performance, I didn’t think they have many mistakes. I thought they played like a veteran roster.”

On The Running Backs Making Plays When They Don’t Have The Ball:
“The old adage is to be a better player without the ball than you are with the ball. That’s really the key to becoming a top end player. Rahjai (Harris) and Keaton (Mitchell) both had one busted protection, but you know having one busted protection, that’s two pressures on our quarterback. Their number one thing is to take care of the football and take care of quarterback. That’s kind of their motto in that room. They take a lot of pride in that. They’re very motivated by that, so it’s something they have improved on since last year and so again, game speed versus practice speed. They will be more prepared this week for that, but certainly they did do some very good things with the ball in their hands though.”

On Rick D’Abreu’s Performance:
“I didn’t think he played at the level he’s capable of. I think he’s probably a little frustrated with that too. It’s a hard deal sitting the whole first half and then jumping into a game midstream because everybody else is in the flow of it. But the good thing is we have him from the beginning this week.”

On Jsi Hatfield Catching All Of His Catchable Targets:
“And he drew the pass interference on the other ball too, so it’s really good. He’s a guy that I’ve said a couple times, we were recruiting him very heavily at James Madison when I was there. Glad we were able to get him signed when I got here, but he has a lot of ability. Has worked very, very hard and I’m just excited to see he had a good solid game last week. You would like to see it followed up this week.”

On The Performances Of The Tight Ends:
“I think some good and some bad. Ryan (Jones) had the touchdown catch there late in the game. Shane (Calhoun) was battling a minor injury from the preseason camp so did not play as much as he will moving forward. Those two guys along with Zech Byrd and Aaron Jarman, they all played. I thought that we did some really good things in run game. I thought Zech Byrd did a good job at the point of attack. They’re all different and they’re going to be a big part of our offense. They were last week, and they will be moving forward.”

On What The Response Of The Team Has Been:
“Sunday is really the only time we’ve had with the guys. Our staff, most of our staff stayed in Charlotte and dispersed from there and were on the road recruiting Friday for the first time in two years. We were in the office on Saturday really spending a lot of time with the Appalachian State game and then you go over everything for South Carolina, so we’d prepared to use that game Saturday night. Sunday was our big workday as far as getting the App State game evaluated with our players and then getting out on the field. I thought they came back with good attitudes. Like I said they’re disappointed, but I think fully by yesterday, that was our day off for their normal day off and they were around the facility throughout the day checking in on the game plan and all that stuff and everything. So, I would expect to have a very energetic and enthusiastic practice today to get ready for Saturday.”

On What The Crowd Could Mean For The Team:
“I think it will mean a lot. I think it’s probably the biggest crowd since I’ve been here. The funny thing is we got into last week and started talking to our players, for most of them, that was the biggest crowd they ever played in front of last week because most of them last year was their first year of college football. So, I think they’re excited about it. It’ll obviously be electric. It’s one of the reasons so many of them came here to East Carolina is because of Pirate Nation, Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and the way it is on game day. I think it’s something that should be a great home field advantage and something for them to feed off of.”

On Needing To Face A Quality SEC Team To Get Things Going:
“Well, I don’t think it has anything to do with where they’re from. I mean we faced a quality team last Thursday night. I’m telling you; Appalachian State’s a Top 25 team nationally. So, we faced a quality opponent. We’re facing another quality opponent. So, I think it’s just they’re the next one. Everybody puts a lot of attention on them because of the conference they come from, but there’s good teams across this country everywhere.”

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