ECU football excited for homecoming game against South Florida

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GREENVILLE, N.C. (ECU) - First-year East Carolina head football coach Mike Houston addressed members of the media Tuesday prior to Saturday's homecoming game against South Florida.

Opening Statement
"Thanks for everybody being here today. Obviously, it was a tough loss down in Orlando this weekend, 41-28. Kind of the tale of two halves as we all know. We certainly didn't start the game off very well. A lot of that's due to UCF. They've got it going right now in our league and have for the past couple of years. Very talented roster, very good coaching staff and they came out and hit us right between the eyes. We staggered around a bit there at the beginning, but I'm pleased with how we responded after halftime. We got back into it in the third quarter. Thought we had a chance there at the end of the third quarter to get it to a single-score game, just could never quite get it beyond the 13-point mark.

"As we come out of the game, disappointed by the loss, but encouraged by maybe taking another step forward with our young program and the culture we're trying to continue to develop. I thought the players came back after whatever time we landed, I think I laid down at 4:30 a.m., Sunday morning, I thought the players came back in on Sunday afternoon and had a short, but very spirited practice. You could tell there was determination already back on their minds to continue to take the program forward. So, I'm excited about that and their attitudes. Looking forward to getting back on the practice field this afternoon after doing all of our prep work for South Florida. We are excited to be back in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium for this coming Saturday for what will be a highly competitive game. It should be a great atmosphere with homecoming here at East Carolina. Excited to get back out there with our team."

On Whether Changes In Offensive Line Depth Chart Are Injury-Related
"It's not injury-related. You look at the "OR's" across the board on our depth chart, it's something we're seeing more and more is that how you practice throughout the week determines who starts on gameday. We've got that going on both sides of the football. I think it's something that has been healthy for our roster. I think it's been healthy for the work on the field and I think we're seeing positive results on gameday because of the continued positive practices we're putting together."

On What Adjustments Were Made At Halftime Of The UCF Game
"I think there were adjustments from simplifying some things, especially defensively at halftime, but the biggest adjustment was between the ears with the players and regrouping them. We've put together two pretty solid weeks of practice going into that game. I was pretty disappointed in the first quarter. I don't think it's from lack of effort. I do think it's from lack of execution. Again, Central Florida is extremely explosive on offense, very talented and I think that when they were able to put up a score pretty quick and hit a big play on us, I do think that we didn't respond real well and I think that comes from a lot of scars from the last several years. Coming out in the third quarter, getting the three-and-out and the blocked punt then following that up with another three-and-out, all of a sudden, the confidence level was there. That's the biggest thing we needed to adjust at halftime was getting confidence back into the level that we play. They're doing positive things on the practice field. It's not perfect, but the effort is there, the physicality is there and when you look at the second half, you're continuing to see us take steps forward. With the physicality and the way, we play, we did more things correctly in the second half. We didn't make some of the big mistakes that we made in the first half. Against a talented team, if you make critical errors, especially in coverage, those two receivers we played are pretty talented and they're going to expose you. Hopefully we have a better, fast start this Saturday, but it's continuing to have confidence in ourselves and faith in each other is the real key to success."

On How To Keep That Confidence Into Saturday's Game
"The second half should give our guys confidence that they can compete. Some of our seniors pointed that out to me on Sunday night during our leadership council meeting, that the second half helped them because they have had limited success against some of the better teams in this league over the last three years. The thing is, we should feel that we can go toe-to-toe with anyone given the way we have played against Temple and in the second half against UCF. But the thing is, we've got to go out and play with confidence. We've got to play aggressive. If we play passive, if we play on our heels, we're going to struggle against anybody. We've got to go out and we've got to play together and do the things we do on the practice field. That's going to be the real key to the stretch run we're getting ready to get into."

On Playing With A Counter-Puncher's Mentality
"I just think we can't back down. I think we've got to be the aggressor. That's the style of play we want in all three phases. We want to be a very aggressive football team. We coach them that way, we practice that way and I do think you're seeing our style of play change. If anybody watches us against NC State and then watches us the past couple of games, you've seen our style of play change. That's got to continue. I think you'll look up in a couple of years and a lot of us will remember this year and watching a little bit of the evolution. This league is a bear now and we all know that. Central Florida is good, South Florida is good, Cincinnati is good, Temple, SMU, they're all good. It's every single week you're going to get a quality opponent. They get scholarships too, they've got good coaches on their side as well. They're going to come at us, we're going to come at them and that's what makes college football exciting and fun. But we cannot take a passive approach ever. Apathy is something we want to completely eradicate from our program. Those days need to be long gone. Nobody is feeling sorry for us and we're not feeling sorry for anybody else. You've got to give your best shot to us, we're going to give you our best shot, that's kind of the deal we want on gameday."

On The Aggressive Approach Showing Up On Special Teams
"Well I think it's aggressiveness, I think it's continued development. We talked during preseason camp about special teams and the way we work it. If you came and watched a Sunday practice, we spend an entire segment of practice with guys going through drills taking a ball off a punter's foot. We rep blocking punts every Sunday night and then we work the scheme during the week. Those fundamentals on Sunday night, you're seeing those show up. Whether it's on the punt return team or whether it's on the field goal execution there at the end of the first half, you should see us continue to improve on special teams because of all the work that Coach (Roy) Tesh and all the players are putting in throughout the week with those units. We want to be aggressive in all phases."

On If This Is The Biggest Game Of The Season So Far
"It's the biggest game of the year. It's the only one we've got this week. That's the case every week. They all count the same. Is it a big game? Yeah, it's a big game! It's at home, it's homecoming, it's a conference opponent. There's a lot at stake for both teams. Biggest game of the year."

On His Thoughts On The Paint It Purple Game
"It's my favorite color. I've got a lot of it in my wardrobe. We're excited about being back at home. I would expect a lot of purple here on Saturday. I expect a sea of purple when we get off the busses down here for the Pirate walk. It should be a real exciting week around the game. We talked on Sunday about homecoming where it's one of those things for the players where they can't get caught up in everything with homecoming. All the festivities and things like that, that's for the fans and the alumni. But it all centers around the game. I talk to the players each year because every university is the same and every homecoming is the same. Our job is to win the game. Because if we win, everybody has a great homecoming. If we don't, then it kind of screws the weekend up so we've got to keep our focus on our job."

On What Stands Out About USF
"They're a big, good-looking bunch. They're going to look good getting off the bus. They've got a talented roster. Defensively, I think that they're very sound with a big, physical, athletic front. The mike linebacker, (Patrick) Macon is having a great year there. The defensive end, (Greg) Reaves is having a fantastic year. In the secondary, they're very aggressive. The transfer (KJ) Sails, he's having an outstanding year. They're a sound, defensive football team and you expect that from Coach (Charlie) Strong with his background.

"Offensively, big athletic front. Their skill guys run really well. (Jordan) Cronkrite, I think everybody knows him. I think he had a pretty solid game against us last year and had a pretty solid start this year. He's coming off a streak of a couple of 100-yard games before last week where I think he had 90-yards. They've had a little bit of unrest at quarterback there with (Blake) Barnett being out, but (Jordan) McCloud is a really impressive athlete. A dual-threat guy that runs really well and throws the ball with good accuracy and good arm strength. I know he's had some bumps and bruises, but I would expect him to start. He ran around really well against Navy last week. I know that they brought the backup (Kirk Rygol) in late in the game, but I think that had more to do with what the score was than anything to do with McCloud's health, so I would expect him to start Saturday."

On Changes To Prevent USF From Pressuring The Quarterback
"Well, I mean, you make changes every week depending on the quarterback. Obviously, that's been a big point of emphasis here the last several weeks and I thought we did a better job last week, which resulted in more effective offensive output. They've done a great job of pressuring the quarterback. They've done a great job of forcing turnovers this year. We're going to be challenged on offense this week."

On The Growth Of Aaron Ramseur
"Well, he didn't play much early in the year because he wasn't real good at playing in the scheme. It finally registered to him that if he doesn't focus more up on being disciplined, he wasn't going to play. He had a really good open week of practice, had a really solid week of practice last week and it resulted him in getting the starting nod and he backed it up with his play. Certainly, he's a talented player. As we looked at the film from a year ago, he was one that stood out both positively and negatively. He was a big play for somebody just about every play, it was either us or them. He's just got to continue to become more consistent playing within the scheme. But when he can, he's certainly an impactful player. That gives us more competition there. Now all of a sudden, Bruce (Bivens) has competition and that's going to make Bruce better. Hopefully he responds accordingly. Hopefully that will translate to Xavier (Smith) having more competition, which will make him better. But I think any time you can generate competition, we've seen that pretty drastically throughout the season, it helps both players as long as they handle it appropriately. The guys that don't want competition, they want to pout and sulk, they're probably going to get buried when things work out during the season."

On What A Win Can Do For Confidence Moving Forward
"I think any time you can win a league game; it's going to be a boost. Both teams are looking for that. It's tough to get them. A win on Saturday would certainly do a lot for the confidence and the program taking that next step. At the same time, South Florida is sitting there saying the same thing. One of us is going to leave here with a loss, that's just the facts and the reality. Hopefully we can work hard and find a way to get a win by one. Should be a great game."