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ECU Football: Navy Game Week Coverage

Published: Oct. 13, 2020 at 3:56 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 16, 2020 at 8:39 PM EDT
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - Get ready for ECU football’s fourth game of the season against Navy on Saturday, Oct 17 with WITN Sports coverage throughout the week.

Kickoff: 12 p.m. inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium

TV: ESPN+

ECU Depth Chart (Released Tuesday):

ECU Football Depth Chart vs. Navy 10-17-20
ECU Football Depth Chart vs. Navy 10-17-20(WITN Sports)

MONDAY

Navy Head Football Coach Ken Niumatalolo Zoom Press Conference Video Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9aW7nP5Ncx0

TUESDAY

Mike Houston Zoom Press Conference Video Link: https://youtu.be/MGN82oKpGtQ

Opening Statement

“Obviously excited to get a big win on the road this past weekend at South Florida. Very pleased with our preparations last week. Very pleased with the preparation going into the weekend. Pleased with the way the kids handled everything last week and obviously that was reflected in the way we played on Saturday evening. Liked a lot of things we did. Certainly, we had a lot of things to correct coming out of that game. But, at the end of the day, really excited to get a win on the road.”

On How The Improved Running Game Can Pay Dividends Against Navy

“With our offense, we want to be able to do both (run and pass). We want to be balanced. Certainly, the ability to run the football enabled us to throw well on Saturday. Our offensive line is the biggest reason for the improvement in both our passing game and our running game. I thought they played very, very well. The second week for that group together, which I think that was a big factor. They really cut down on the missed assignments. Played much more cohesive and grouped together. That resulted in being able to run the football effectively. Obviously, being able to be productive offensively is going to be an important factor in this week’s game. We struggled last year up there in Annapolis. Hopefully we can get off to a much better start and be much more effective this year.”

On The Importance Of The First Few Drives

“Much like UCF, especially on the road last year up in Annapolis, they’re a team that really comes out and goes right at their opponent. They were up 14-3 on Temple to start the game. The team that I saw in the Temple game is not the team we all saw against BYU. It’s no surprise to any of us. The staff up there, Coach (Ken) Niumatalolo, they’ve been there for a long time. They’ve got a lot of pride in the way their team plays. They’ve got a lot of pride in their program. Obviously, their culture is something that has been intact for a long time. So, we knew that they would get things going and be more like the Navy that we’re used to seeing. They started off very, very hot against Temple, very similar to the way they did against us last year. I think the big key for us is trying to get them off rhythm early in the ballgame and try to get some stops. Try to get them out of that whole second-and-six, second-and-five, third-and-two, first-and-ten, get them off schedule. If you can do that, then you’ve got a shot at getting a stop, getting a punt and getting the ball back for your offense.”

On The Difference Between Navy’s Offense This Year And Last Year

“Malcolm Perry is certainly a special player, probably the best player we faced all of last year, individually. He really made their offense go last year. They’re a little different this year. Still, they’re what you expect when you lineup against Navy. Dalen Morris, he’s a senior and has a tremendous amount of experience in that offense. They have three seniors and two juniors on the offensive line. They have a senior and a junior fullback. So, they have a very old, experienced offense. So, you’re going to see a lot of the same stuff. The inside-outside veer. You’re going to see the zone option. You’re going to see the belly. You’re going to see the toss play, you’re going to see the double-option, you’re going to see the play-action passes. You’re going to see the base dives. You’re going to see all of the things that you encounter anytime you line up against this offense.”

On Whether This Is An Important Game For The Program

“I think the key for us is the next game. I know some people will say that’s very cliché for me to say as a coach, but it is. It’s the only one we can control. Do we want to get a win this weekend? Absolutely. Do we want to get to 2-1 in the league standings? Absolutely. But you can’t do anything about last week’s game, that’s over and done with. You can’t do anything about any other game, except for this game this week. This is a huge game for us. It’s the one we can control this week and it’s the one we’ve got to prepare for. As we build this program, we’ve got to keep that mindset week-to-week and then we’ll reflect, postseason, on where these wins and losses fall.”

On The Status Of Ja’Quan McMillian, Bruce Bivens And Jsi Hatfield

“Ja’Quan, we’re being a little cautious with him. He probably could have played more in the first half. Really at halftime we got him running around before the second half started and he really felt good so we let him go there in the second half. We were probably being more cautious than anything in the first half with him. He’s recovered from his bumps and bruises well and we have him back. Jsi Hatfield continues to progress. We’ll see how he does this week. Bruce, very similar to Jsi, he continues to progress. We’ll see how he does with practice this week. We’re anticipating possibly having both of them on Saturday.”

On When The Team Saw That USF Was Not Respecting Holton Ahlers' Ability To Throw Outside The Pocket

“I think it developed more during the game than what we saw going into the game. Certainly, we plan each week for Holton’s mobility. It’s a big part of our offense. Whether it’s designed RPO, quarterback read kind of stuff or if it is the scramble type of stuff where we really work a lot with our receivers on how to operate in the scramble drill. We had a big mistake in the scramble drill against Georgia State that resulted in a turnover so we spent a good bit of time last week making sure everyone was on the same page. We protected Holton much better so when we did have those situations where he was scrambling, it was not early in the play. It was later in the play usually and it wasn’t a deal where he was under so much pressure that he couldn’t keep his eyes downfield to make a couple of throws, and we got a couple of throws off that. The quarterback run game, most of that stuff came off of them overplaying the dive portion of a zone read deal.”

On What They’ve Learned Since The First Home Game

“I don’t know. 2020 is different than anything I’ve ever experienced. I don’t know that you can say what have you learned. I’ve learned to expect anything. Absolutely nothing surprises you. Anything on any given day can pop up and you’ve got to be able to handle it and continue to move forward. That’s really what I’ve learned. You can’t control the vast majority of the things that you’re dealing with.”

On Will The Fans Make A Difference

“I think it’s just going to be good to have more of the Pirate faithful in the stands. The last couple of games in Georgia and in Florida, those are two pretty hotbed states right now with the pandemic, we were able to experience though, in those states, crowds at the games. It’s good that we’re going to be able to experience that here at home in Greenville. It’s still only going to be 3,500 fans or so, but at least it’s going to be 3,500 fans. It’s going to be people that are passionate about the Pirates. I look forward to having them in the stands on Saturday.”

On The Victory Dinner

“Fantastic. The steak was perfect. The shrimp was solid. And the peanut butter pie was on point. The kids really enjoyed it.”

On The Keys To Victory

"Offensively, we’ve got to maximize possessions. You’re going to have limited possessions playing a triple option football team. We’ve got to make the most of each one. Does that mean we have to score on each possession? No, not necessarily. But we’ve got to limit the number of three-and-outs. We’ve got to try to take advantage of any positive field position when we get it. We do that by continuing to build on what we did last week. Last week, we had no turnovers, very few penalties. Much improved execution. Strong running game. Did a good job with protection in the passing game. And as a result, we were very productive offensively. So, I think continuing to build on last week offensively is going to be important this week.

“Defensively, you hear coaches say stop the run, that’s not realistic with a triple option football team. You’re not going to stop it because of what they do. You need to limit the big plays. You need to play assignment sound. I think we have to be extremely aggressive in how we attack their offense because they’re going to be extremely aggressive. We’ve got to match their physicality and try to win that battle. Then I do think special teams is going to be important in this game, because just like last week, our average starting field position was at the 40-yard line. Obviously, (offensive coordinator) Donnie (Kirkpatrick) is a heck of a lot better play caller starting around the 40 or midfield than he is starting inside the 20. So, the more positive field position we can give our offense and the longer fields we can give their offense, that’s going to be important during the game.”

On How Important The Early Momentum Was To The Offensive Line

“I think it was. I felt good about everything coming into the game. We practiced well upfront all week. Like I’ve said many times in multiples interviews since Saturday night, I felt good about our team the last 48 hours of our preparations. So, I felt like we were going to come out and do that. But still, coming out and doing it is really key because our preparations have not been bad this year, but we’ve really struggled to show consistency on game day. And I think that success early in the ballgame gave a lot of guys that are very young in their playing career some confidence. That confidence allows them to continue have confidence in their play moving forward in the ballgame. So, I do think those first couple of drives getting scores, each of the first two drives was important. Getting the fourth-and-two from the two to score on the second drive was important. Those things just build the confidence of the players on the field.”

On Whether The Team Has Been Able To Spend Enough Time Preparing For The Triple Option

“Not the amount of work we wanted to, but we were still able to get some work in. We’ve been preparing for this game, staff-wise, since Coach (Blake) Harrell was hired. Certainly, a background and philosophy against the triple-option was a big part of the hiring process of our new defensive coordinator. So, we spent a good bit of time, staff-wise. We have spent time with our players during preseason camp and also throughout the season thus far. A big part of it has been after practice on Sundays, we’ve kept the offensive scout team out there on the field and ran Navy’s plays after practice to make sure they were prepared for this week. I thought we looked pretty good on Sunday night as far as you can never replicate what they do, but at least we had a decent look for our defense. At least we resembled Navy formationally and some of the motions.”

On Using Ryan (Stubblefield) And (Taji) Hudson On The Scout Team

“We’re using Ryan primarily. I kind of joked when I was talking to Coach Harrell and some of those guys and said he would be a great triple option quarterback. Because he runs very well. He’s got great feet. He just has that savviness to him. He’s not going to want to hear that because I think he’s a good RPO quarterback too. But he’ll give us a great look this week.”

On How Much Defending The Triple Option Factored Into Hiring Coach Harrell

“Like I said, it was a big part of the hiring process. Obviously, I’ve known Blake for a very long time and respect very much his knowledge as it relates to defending the triple. He has experience beyond his time with me, with his time at Kennesaw State. But I think the other things too are Roy Tesh, who was primarily with special teams last year, now he’s coaching our defensive line, has extensive experience coaching the defensive front against the triple option. Tripp Weaver who was with me at The Citadel, has significant experience defending the triple option. Now all of a sudden, you have more people in the room that have experience against this style of offense. That’s proven to be valuable already.”

On How Important Is Has Been To Help The Players Both Physically And Mentally

“Well I think it’s something that has been magnified more this year than maybe ever before. It’s been something that you deal with every year as a head coach. But I think this year, with quarantine, which was a big concern of mine as we were all away from each other. Now, dealing with things daily and weekly, it’s just very challenging. You worry about the kids, what’s going on in their minds, what they’re dealing with. Because we as a adults, we’re challenged to deal with some of the stuff we’re dealing with. In 18, 19, 20-year old’s, it’s more than what they should be exposed to, but they’re still exposed to it. I think we’re trying to do the best we can. It’s something we’re very much a focal point for our athletic department. We had a workshop with the Helsinki family last Thursday night that was the entire athletic department. Certainly, that’s a story that’s very tragic and also very eye-opening. I think a guy like Marcus Anderson, who’s our character coach and spends countless hours counseling, one-on-one with so many of our student-athletes, has been very valuable and very important to our players this year. Then just the relationships our coaches have with their position players. I think those are just things that we try to spend time talking about things other than football as we try to help them along their daily lives.”

On How Much Better Do You Feel About Matching Up With Navy With The New Defense

“I don’t know if I’ll ever feel good about matching up with Navy. They’re so good at what they do. They’re so difficult to defend. I said this last year, when we were running the triple at Lenoir-Rhyne and The Citadel, we did a lot of stuff, clinic-wise, with their staff because we respect their staff as kind of the innovators, the cutting edge guys. You saw that a lot with their game plan last year. What little I know about how they prepared for us last year, how they went back and studied film from when I was at Lenoir-Rhyne on what we might do, they’re really good at what they do. Do I feel like we’re going to be more prepared this year? Yes. Do I feel like you’re ever going to be completely prepared or have mastered defending them? No one is going to ever master defending them. I think they’ve shown that in just how they’ve responded to some of the adversity they had early in the season and how they played against Temple this past Saturday.”

On What He Has Seen From Navy

“I think you can toss out the BYU game completely and I think that anyone who has any common sense understood what the coaching staff had to go through. Certainly, I do as a head coach. They just were not prepared for that ballgame. After watching that game, I said to myself, I wish that was the Navy team we’re going to see, but it’s not. That’s not who we’re going to see when we line up against them. When I flip on the Temple game, I see about what I expect from Navy. I see a team that’s very, very good up front on the offensive line. They have that experience. Boy they really come off the football just like a Navy team usually does. I think their fullbacks are fantastic, both of them. I think they have great feet, they hit hard. They have great vision, good balance. I think the quarterback play is improved drastically since that game way back in early September. Just overall, special teams wise, they’re as solid as anyone we’ve seen. I think their defense is improved drastically. I know they had a couple of guys out last week that I would expect back this week. So, I think you’ve seen a veteran coaching staff take a veteran team and overcome adversity and put a team on the field this last Saturday that’s what you expect.”

WEDNESDAY

Mike Houston address some COVID-19 concerns after practice Wednesday.

Full story: https://www.witn.com/2020/10/15/ecu-head-football-coach-mike-houston-says-pirates-are-dealing-with-some-issues-regarding-covid-19-testing/

THURSDAY

Mike Houston provides a COVID-19 update after practice Thursday.

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