GREENVILLE, N.C. – Fifth-year East Carolina Head Football Coach Mike Houston addressed members of the media Tuesday morning prior to Saturday’s home opener against Marshall. The following are selected comments:

(Video from Pirate Radio TV)

Opening Statement
“Challenging weekend this past Saturday, playing at Michigan and a lot of that had to do with the opponent. There’s some positives and some things to improve upon from our perspective but just to start, what an incredible stage that our student-athletes had the opportunity to play on. It was certainly a tremendous opponent in front of us coming out of the game and I think Michigan feels this way also. I think they are significantly improved from what they were a year ago. I thought the two places that really stood out to me were number one, the quarterback play, and not that I didn’t think J.J (McCarthy) was an outstanding player, I thought he was one of the top quarterbacks in the country going into the game. He’s probably the best quarterback that I’ve faced as a head coach. We played Florida State when I was at The Citadel, and they were ranked number one in the country with Jameis Winston and had just won the national championship. I thought that was a very impressive performance Saturday and I think Michigan has improved over a year ago defensively. It’s an experienced, veteran ball club that looks like a legitimate contender for the national championship. I think that we could have made it a much more competitive game than it was, and it could have been a much closer game. We couldn’t make the mistakes that we made. I thought that our kids competed well, and I thought they played their tails off for most of the day. I think that there are some bright spots that we can take from that game and build on. The players and coaches all looked at the tape and found several areas that we can improve on quickly and that will make a drastic difference in our performance. I felt like we had a very motivated team Sunday, both in film and on the practice field, and the players had been around all day yesterday. They’re all in on getting ready for Marshall immediately. They’re really excited about this weekend and being back in Dowdy-Ficklen. They understand the quality of the opponent coming in here and they understand exactly who Marshall is. It’s going to be a great game and they’re excited to get out there. I expect us to have a great week of practice this week and really looking forward to Saturday afternoon.”
On finding balance at the quarterback position
 “I think that both Mason (Garcia) and Alex (Flinn) did some really good things on Saturday. I think both had stretches on Saturday where they played really well. They also had some stretches where they can play better, and they know they will play better. I think that was a pretty daunting stage for your first college start or I guess your second college start since the first one was during the pandemic in front of no fans. I thought that Mason responded really well in the second half. Alex did a great job coming in the second quarter and played really well off the bench. I think there’s things that both can take from that and there’s areas that they can improve on. That’s what we’ll focus on this week and just excited to get the opportunity to go back out on Saturday and play again. That’s the great thing about our sport. We get a chance this weekend to go back out and do it again.”
On how both quarterbacks handled getting plays in and running the offense
 “I would give you the exact same answer I just gave and that’s I think there are stretches where they did a really good job with it and there are stretches they can improve on it.”
On chemistry concerns with playing two quarterbacks
“I think the chemistry piece is with our entire offense for the most part. You have five guys on the offensive line that we’re playing together for the very first time on Saturday and they’re fairly young. You’ve got some guys at skill positions that are playing together for the very first time and it’s the same way with the secondary on defense. I think chemistry is something that comes about by doing it and there’s no way you can create it. You can try to create it in practice, but it’s truly created on game day. I think last Saturday is a great first step and this Saturday will be the next. Hopefully, we see some fruits of last Saturday’s performance and we see a much smoother execution this Saturday.”
On Marshall
 “They’re a really good club. They return the bulk of their production from last year. Their tailback, Rasheen (Ali), we know him very well. He was a pain in the rear end two years ago up there. The first play of the game Saturday, he takes his 70 yards untouched and that gets called back due to a holding penalty. He scored two other times during the game later. He was very productive Saturday, and they did not play a clean game much like us Saturday so I don’t think that he was as productive as he could have been. We’ve got our hands full with him. The quarterback, Cam (Fancher), came in maybe a third of the way through the year last season and played very well down the stretch.  I thought he was very solid on Saturday and was really impressed with him. He gets the ball out of his hands fast and is a great athlete and runner. You’re very accurate with the RPO game so he’s going to create some issues. The receiver, Chuck (Montgomery), is a dynamic playmaker and they’ve got a tight end, Cade (Conley), who transferred from Central Michigan and had a nice game Saturday. I think they’re very dangerous offensively. Defensively, they return a bunch of guys from a very good defensive unit last year and statistically, they were one of the better defensive units in the country last year. They’ve got a good defensive front, very active linebackers, athletic secondary and a very aggressive scheme. It’s a good football team coming in here that won nine games last season and they’re one of the better teams in the Sun Belt Conference this year. It’s going to be a great challenge. We had a dogfight up there two years ago, we were lucky to get away with a win there and it’s going to be a dogfight this Saturday.”
On comparing this year’s matchup with the one against Marshall two years ago
“It is a different roster. It’s the saying that ‘every year is a new year, and every team is a new team.’ Grant (Wells) was the quarterback up there two years ago, he’s at Virginia Tech now. It’s a new quarterback and there’s some new skill guys for them. The thing I take away from it is these two programs and these two universities are linked by the tragedy of the plane crash back in 1971. I think that the rivalry between the two schools is always going to be linked closely. I think that adds a lot of emotion to everything. I think this game is always going to be one that’s just highly competitive and just has a lot of things around it that add to it. I think this is one of those games that you hope the two universities find a way to continue playing moving forward. I think it’s a good regional matchup for both teams.”
On Jack Powers’ targeting call being appealed
 “We’re fortunate that there’s an appeals process for targeting and it was deemed that there was no targeting on the play and so I’m thankful for that. Jack is now available for us for the entire game this Saturday. I’m not quite sure how many plays we sent in, I don’t know that it’s quite 12 but you get frustrated sometimes. Your frustrations are justified, sometimes they’re not, but there’s absolutely nothing you could do about it after the game. I think everybody’s human and there’s going to be human error anytime humans are involved. It’s also the first game of the year so just like myself and the players, I’m sure that everybody is trying to work the kinks out and do a better job this weekend.”
On evaluating the running back position and snap count from last Saturday
 “I think we have a lot of competition at some spots in the running back room. It’s like a lot of positions where you’re trying to make sure that you get the guys playing time that have shown they’re ready. You’re also figuring out some guys that are maybe new to the program, where do they fit and how do they work together? I thought Saturday was great because it’s a game and it’s not practice. Hopefully, we get more snaps because that game was pretty short as far as number of snaps for both teams and it’s just the way the game played out.”
On the offensive line not allowing any sacks
 “No sacks for either team. When was the last time you saw a college football game with that? I think for the first time together, the opponent that we faced, and just the talent and experience on the other side of the ball, I would say you’re not disappointed in the offensive line and their performance on Saturday. I thought we had some bright spots. We’ve got some areas that we can improve on. The key is going to be how do we take that and how do we play this week? I thought Dustyn (Hall) showed great leadership in his first game as a Pirate. That was a big bright spot for me. I thought Richard (Pearce) handled himself well in his first college start. I thought the tackles had a tough task against what they were facing, and they had some good stuff and some stuff that they can improve on. Jacob (Sacra) and Isaiah (Foote) both did some positive things and there’s some things that they can improve on. I’d say you’re not disappointed. It was our first time out and I expect them to play better this week. If they can do that and continue to trend that direction, then we’ll be very happy with them this year.”
On the excitement from last weekend and for the home opener Saturday
 “There’s nothing like Dowdy-Ficklen stadium. I expect the stadium to be full Saturday. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be. It’s going to be a mid-afternoon kickoff, so fans have plenty of time to tailgate and I think that’s important too. It’s going to be a great matchup. The kids are looking forward to The Pirate Walk at 1:30 and seeing the fans. They’re looking forward to coming out of the tunnel to Purple Haze and the game day entrance and are looking forward to kickoff. When Dowdy-Ficklen is rocking, it is the best experience that there is, and our players are excited about it. We have a ton of recruits coming in this weekend. They’re excited about it. We have a lot of guys that are committed to us that are coming to see exactly what it Dowdy-Ficklen is. Some of them haven’t been here yet so there’s a lot of people excited about the home opener.”
On Kerry King’s injury
 “Unfortunately, Kerry is out for the season. I’ll tell you that one breaks my heart now. He has worked his tail off, had put himself in a position to start. He was set to start Saturday for us against Michigan and had a great preseason. It was just a freak injury but right now, the biggest thing with him is just trying to make sure he stays in a positive place mentally. He’ll be back but not this season and we’ll miss his production on the field and his leadership in the locker room. He’s got to get through some things right now personally, but he’ll be back as a part of our team from a support standpoint. It’s just one of those things that happens in athletics unfortunately.”
On preparing players for life beyond football
 “I think that is the ultimate responsibility of a coach. I think that sometimes you can get too caught up in winning. It is important and I understand that. I’ve got to win to keep my job, but our job is to make sure that we’re growing up young men that will be productive citizens. Our job is to make sure that they leave East Carolina with a degree. I’m proud of the young men that we have in our locker room. I think we have outstanding young men that have strong character. I think it’s our job to develop that and make sure that’s a priority.”
On his favorite things about home games
 “I don’t sing ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ but that’s one of the highlights. There’s nothing like that when the Pirates are playing well, and the stadiums energized. The fans are into it and there’s a lot of things about game day that I dream about in the offseason. I really enjoy The Pirate Walk because it gives you a chance to really engage the fans. I love that feeling in the stadium before kickoff. I love postgame when we win, celebrating with the students and the band in The Boneyard. There’s just a lot I’m looking forward to Saturday and if we can find a way to get a win, it’s going to be a really special day.”
On handling a quick turnaround
“The staff was able to spend some time on Marshall this summer and I believe Marshall was not showing us everything in in the game against Albany. We’ve looked at a lot of stuff in their season last year. We’re using a lot of that in our breakdowns, so we already had kind of a preliminary game plan prepared for them. It’s only a rush because you only practice for them for one week but for the staff, it’s not as big of a change as it is for the players. The players understood that and that’s why they’re diving in fast this week because every week it becomes a race to get to today because you’ve got to have game plans installed and get the kids to understand everything before we go on the field today. It becomes the race for game day then in terms of getting everything ironed out and everybody on the same page and the balance between practicing but staying fresh. I did think we were fresh Saturday against Michigan. The goal is to be fresh this Saturday, so it’s a balancing act, but it’s also a race against time but that’s the challenge now that everybody in the country has.”