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ECU Football: SMU Game Week Coverage

Published: Nov. 24, 2020 at 8:41 PM EST
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - Get ready for ECU football’s ninth and final game of the season against SMU at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 28 (12 ET on ESPN+) with WITN Sports coverage throughout the week.

Who: ECU (2-6, 2-5 AAC) vs. Temple (7-2, 4-2 AAC)

Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, NC

TV: ESPN+

TUESDAY

ECU Head Coach Mike Houston and senior D’Ante Smith Zoom Press Conference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ELmrsnh4bs&list=PLrq4Z5fnt6x5rIo5TwhYRTMQaQ0vQ-d5j&index=1

Mike Houston Statements

Opening Statement

“A lot more enjoyable end to the weekend and a positive start to the game week for SMU. We’ll take a good look at the film from last Saturday and make some corrections. I saw some things we did very well. We went out and had a short practice Sunday afternoon before spending the remainder of the day and this morning breaking down SMU. Quality football team. They’ve had a little extra time to get ready for us and should be fresh. They come into the game 7-2 with one of the top offenses in the country. It will be a great challenge this weekend. Excited about the opportunity to match up and excited to be at home. The kids will be very motivated this week. They’re very excited for the challenge and the chance to finish the season strong. I expect us to give great effort throughout the week and a great performance Saturday.”

On Having A Senior Day Recognition

“There will. Much like the entire year 2020, things are just different. I think back to my last game as a college player, being able to walk out with my parents and have a photo with them on either side of me. Being recognized in a full home stadium. That is not our reality this year. I really feel for those student-athletes participating in our senior day this week from the standpoint of not having their parents down there with them. They’re not going to have the opportunity to be recognized in front of a packed Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. It is going to be significantly impacted. We have a small group we’ll be recognizing Saturday. It’s a group that has contributed greatly to our program during their time here and will leave as graduates of East Carolina University. They are prepared to make a positive impact on our society. I look forward to honoring them, but I feel for them in that it won’t be the traditional senior day recognition.”

On Remaining Competitive Saturday Against SMU

“SMU is a very solid program. Senior quarterback who is one of the best in our conference. Really talented at the skill positions. Defensively, they are improved from last year and are a complete group on special teams. I think they are playing very well together. They are exactly what their record says. They are a 7-2 team that is one of the better teams in our league. It’s going to be a great challenge this weekend. Just like every other game we’ve had; our kids are excited for the opportunity and excited for the matchup. We look forward to kicking off at noon Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.”

On Having A Non-Traditional Thanksgiving Week

“We’ve talked about it. We will have practice Thursday morning then have a COVID appropriate Thanksgiving lunch together as a team. It’s the way we have had to eat the last couple of months with spacing and masks. We are going to give them a to-go dinner to take with them. What I’ve asked of them is to protect each other for one more week and staying conscientious of keeping within our bubble. If they do anything with a family in the local area, they need to be conscious of protecting themselves and their teammates. We will have testing next week to make sure we come out of the weekend clean before releasing the student-athletes to go home back to their homes for Christmas break. We still have to finish strong with everything on and off the field.”

On Finishing The Season Earlier Than The Rest Of The Conference

“It’s something we have looked at for a while. It got really tricky the last month. You saw close to two dozen games get cancelled or postponed the last weekend and I think you will see them same this weekend. I was really shaky with these next two games a couple weeks back. Were we going to be able to play the Temple and SMU games? It looked like we would get both of them in, but it was touch and go. There are financial implications of scheduling another game as well. Dorms and dining halls close on Sunday. You talk about housing and feeding a team of over 200 people for another week. That’s another significant financial piece. There are other factors in place that we’re aware of internally that I’ll be glad to discuss postseason. All things considered, we just had to make sure we could finish the schedule on paper as planned. There are plusses to playing an additional game, but we’ve been fortunate to play the schedule we had. If you had told me in August that we would play nine games this fall, I would have told you there was no way. I thought we were going to play four or five at best.”

On How The 2020 Season Will Be Remembered

“None of us have been through anything like this. I do think the one wise thing the NCAA did was giving everyone an extra year of eligibility. None of the players were prepared for this season. You look at why certain things are happening, and I think it’s certainly something to discuss after the season. You can’t really grasp not having spring practice or summer training and the negative impact it had on our players. They were not prepared for a college football season the way they should have been – especially a 12-game schedule. On the other hand, I am grateful we were able to play the games we did. C.J. Johnson has never had a spring practice. You guys would say he’s a pretty veteran player. The vast majority of our team has never had an offseason. That is something that is so critical to the development of this program as we build it. We’ve been able to be more productive by playing games that we would have just having a spring season. You’ve been able to see what guys can and can’t do. You saw some position changes and you will see some more because of things that happened on the season this fall.

“The great thing is that you’ve been able to bring the group together culturally and cohesively. You see that from the videos inside our locker room or if you would have been able to be at practice every day. This team does practice full speed and with physicality. They don’t loaf around the practice field and are developing positive habits. There is so much positive coming out of playing this fall. We’ve shown that we are closing the gap competitively with teams in our conference and have won multiple conference games. Are you going to look back and say you should have gotten Navy or Tulsa? You can say all that stuff, but we got to play those games. There’s been so much good and bad. It is a special season that’s been so unlike any other I’ve had. I hope I never have one like this again. We are going to take a team photo on Sunday because there is something to be said about the perseverance it took to make it through 2020 in a pandemic. How is it going to be remembered? It will be remembered for a number of different things.”

On Dealing With SMU’s Offense

“We have our hands full. You have one of the top rushers in the conference in the tailback. (Shane) Buechele has had a great career at SMU. I don’t know if he will be back next year, but he will probably turn pro. He’s obviously one of the top quarterbacks in our league and has had an outstanding year. Coach Dykes and his staff do a great job offensively. They do a lot of things similar scheme-wise to last year, but they’ve also evolved.”

On Taking Momentum Into The Offseason With A Solid Performance Against SMU

“That was my message to the team Sunday. There’s no doubt they feel the exact same way. You want to finish the season strong and put together a complete ball game. We did that a little bit against South Florida and Tulsa. There were some strong phases against Navy and Temple. As far as everything clicking in all three phases, we haven’t done that this year. That was a big thing I talked to them about Sunday. I promise you that they want to. My message here in a few minutes when we talk to them is to have those types of practices. Everyone trying to sync on the same page. It’s going to take focus and a lot of effort. I do think we have momentum from being able to pull one off in Philadelphia. Whether we were going to play or not was in question. Hopefully we will see that type of performance Saturday.”

On Awarding Elijah Morris A Scholarship After A Win

“I’ve been waiting on the right moment. I spoke to his father a month ago because he has earned the right to be on scholarship at East Carolina. He bet on himself. He had multiple scholarship opportunities at lower divisions. He came to our camp twice before coming here and walking on. He was given nothing and earned everything. He had the turnover early in the ballgame at Temple. Another example of him being in the right place at the right time. He had a very solid performance on Saturday. It turned out exactly how I wanted because he has the traits and the things about him as a person that you enjoy coaching. He is going to maximize his God-given ability. He’s going a great teammate and leader. He’s got that toughness and plays hard. All those traits on which you are building a program. To be able to celebrate that after a win with his teammates was special because they watch him every day. They see what he puts into his preparation each day. They see that he’s earned it. To have them be able to celebrate there with him Saturday, it’s a special moment that he’ll never forget. It’s a special moment I’ll never forget and I’m sure his family will never forget.”

On Tyler Snead’s Impact On The Program

“I do think he’s a significantly improved player. He’s bigger, faster and stronger. He has that competitive nature. He’s had a great year on offense. I look forward to him having another great game Saturday. He’s played really well in the return game. He’s just a guy that you always know what you are going to get. Very similar to Elijah Morris in the character traits. He’s always going to maximize his ability. He’s going to play with toughness and edge. He’s going to compete every day. He’s going to do things right off the field. He’s going to be a great leader. The more guys you can get playing like that, the better your program is going to be. Are you surprised? Yes. Are you not surprised? Yes. He’s a guy you can never count out.”

On The Progression Of Young Players Walt Stribling And D’Anta Johnson

“I was really proud of Walt. He hasn’t played much this year, but he’s improved drastically since he got here back in January. He’s going to be a really good player for us. I thought he held his own well Saturday. I was a little concerned about the matchups with the defensive ends for Temple. For a young tackle, that was going to be tough. He didn’t get beat on many plays. Maybe one or two. To play against that caliber of players in this league at that level, it was impressive for his first time out. We talked about it Friday night. I remember my first college start as will he. He was prepared for the moment and played well.

“D’Anta is another young guy that has come on throughout the fall. You earn those reps. It started about a month ago with his performance on scout team defense. We started getting him reps with the first and second groups. It was exciting to see him get into the ballgame and have a couple of tackles and a tackle for loss. They are part of what will be a really foundational group for this program for years to come because of the ability and number of the group.”

On What Playing Well This Week Will Do For The Program

“I think we want positive momentum going into the offseason. It would be the perfect way to end it. It’s not going to be easy. People need to understand that we are facing an extremely challenging opponent. We will have to play our best game of the year to have a shot to win it. We’re capable of it. It’s something we all want, but no one will give us anything. We’ve talked about it a lot this season. Sometimes you have to beat them three or four times to get the win. It’s going to be challenging, but we will work very hard to earn it.

On D’Ante Smith

I did want to announce that D’Ante Smith has accepted an invitational to the Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. Just like everything else, it’s going to be a different year for it. It’s going to be played on Jan. 30. D’Ante has had a great career here at East Carolina. I hate that he was robbed of his senior year. It certainly hurt us not having a player of his ability on the field every week. He’s made the decision to move on to what’s next in his career. Accepting an invitation to the Senior Bowl will give him a great opportunity to be able to perform one last time for the pro scouts ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft.”

D’Ante Smith Statements

On What East Carolina Means To Him Personally

“Coming here taught me a lot about growing up. It taught me that I could do things I had in mind for myself. When things got hard, I had people around me pushing me and keeping me on track. I really appreciate this opportunity I’ve had at East Carolina to get my degree and grow as a man.”

On The Senior Bowl Opportunity

“I’m extremely thankful. This is a big opportunity for me. I’ve been watching the Senior Bowl ever since I was in high school.”

On His Physical Progress

“I’m progressing physically. I’m going to be way bigger than I’ve been the last couple years here at East Carolina. I’ll be ready to show my best.”

On The Training Process

“I’m currently still working with our strength and conditioning coaches and figuring out what I need to do.”

On When He Found Out About The Invitation

“I talked to my coaches and they told me about it.”

On Missing The Majority Of His Senior Season

“It was definitely frustrating for me. I had personal and team goals I wanted to accomplish this season. It didn’t happen the way I wanted. This year has been different for everyone, but I just have to roll with it and keep going. I thank God for everything he has put me through, and I’ll continue to grow.”

On Staying Involved On The Sidelines Supporting His Teammates

“The people on this team and the ECU family I’ve been around the past five years have helped me grow. It’s me showing love to the people that have shown me love at all time. I’m just happy to see them work hard and do the things we always talk about.”

WEDNESDAY

Post-Wednesday practice Zoom, featuring Coach Houston and the coordinators: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eT9J2MeYxXk&list=PLrq4Z5fnt6x5rIo5TwhYRTMQaQ0vQ-d5j&index=1

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