GREENVILLE, N.C. (ECU) – First-year East Carolina head football coach Mike Houston addressed members of the media Tuesday prior to Saturday's home game against No. 17 Cincinnati. The following are selected comments:
"Obviously a disappointing loss this past weekend on homecoming versus South Florida. Just in general, certainly we had a lot of high expectations going into the ballgame. I know a lot of our fans did too. We encountered an extremely talented group from South Florida that played very well on Saturday. I thought that they did an outstanding job on both sides of the football with their scheme. Their players played at a high level and we really struggled against their speed and some of the things they were doing. We had plenty of missed opportunities. Certainly, the game could not have started off better. What an incredible moment there on the opening kickoff, 100-yard touchdown return by Tyler Snead and the kickoff return unit. We're really excited about that group and their continued improvement. We've been working very, very hard on that all throughout the year. Another big play by our special teams, which we've had several of those throughout the season. But what a great way to start the day.
"From there, one of the many big turning points in the game was at 7-7. We had driven the ball down to the 8-yard line, hoping to get ready to get seven (points). I felt confident we were going to get at least three and then turning the ball over right there was really tough. Our defense did not respond the way I expected them to, the way we wanted them to, because right there is where you've got to bow your back and try to get the ball back for the offense. We allowed a scoring drive there at what I thought was a critical point in the ballgame. There were some bright spots on the day, but obviously we are all disappointed in the loss.
"I thought the kids came in Sunday and in the team meeting, you could sense all of their disappointment. I simply asked them some questions. Why were they disappointed? Because they expected to win. Why didn't we win? Because of unforced errors that we created. Because of some errors that we made because of what South Florida was doing. A lot of things that we control could have made a difference in that ballgame. What do we do about that now? We go back to work. I thought they had a great attitude at practice Sunday night. I thought that we had really good effort. I will be disappointed if we don't have the same today. The thing I'll go in and tell them today is we have a very good Cincinnati football team coming in here. One of the top teams in the country. A complete program from top to bottom. One that wins by doing things right, by being sound fundamentally in all three phases, by taking advantage of mistakes that opponents make and by not making critical mistakes that beat themselves. So, we have a great challenge this weekend, but what a great opportunity. A great opportunity to go out and compete. The process is not going to change. We're going to have a great practice today. I can promise you that the coaches have been hard at work since Sunday morning with preparing a game plan for Cincinnati. We will have good effort and enthusiasm at practice today and I expect us to be prepared to play at a high level on Saturday."
On How Many Of The Errors Are Mental
"Well, I think there is definitely some mental. I think some are experience. Certainly, Demetrius (Mauney) is continuing to improve each week, but you've got to do a good job there, deep in the red zone. If you're going to spin on the defender, you've got to tuck the ball tight to your chest and get it high. That's a fundamental that you've got to rep and you've got to learn. He's continuing to get better and I think that was a painful moment for him, but he will be motivated to be better the next time in that situation. I think you can just go, and you can check the box for any of those situations you're talking about and that's the way you can surmise it."
On Aaron Ramseur's Status
"Unfortunately, Aaron tore his ACL and he will have surgery late this week. He's done for the year. He and I had a talk Sunday night. His family was here this weekend. They've been very supportive with him. We'll help him through that rehab and be excited to have him back next year. But that was a tough blow. He had played very well against Central Florida and was really starting to come around so it's disappointing for all of us to see his season come to an end."
On Jeremy Lewis' Confidence Boost Following His First Touchdown
"There's no doubt. I was talking to someone this morning; I still remember my first college touchdown. It's just that moment that you'll never forget. Jeremy will never forget that catch. Bryan (Gagg) will never forget that throw. It's got to give you confidence. It's certainly something that we see in practice. There's a reason why when we got here, he had been recruited as a defensive player. But you watch his senior year in high school film, and you watch him play basketball his senior year and he's obviously a guy with a lot of athleticism. Very good ball skills. We've certainly got to develop him. But I think he can develop into a guy that is very multi-dimensional. A guy that you can split out. A guy that you can play in the backfield. A guy that you can play in a wing position, on the line because he can do so many things. He's a good athlete that can block in space, he's going to be big and study enough to be an in-line blocker. Just on that play right there, that was a contested catch that he made. The defender was right on him and had his hand between Jeremy's arms, but Jeremy was able to go up at the high-point and come down with a tough catch in the end zone for his first college touchdown. So, it has to give him confidence. It shows a flash of what he can be. A true freshman in his first semester in college. So, I'm excited that he's part of our program."
On Getting Bryan Gagg More Reps
"We're trying to redshirt him. I think any time that we can get him some experience, it's what we want to do. I thought he handled it pretty well for his first college experience. He had two drives. Obviously, we were able to get a scoring drive on the second one. But when we evaluate it, we evaluate what was the play call. Certainly, the quarterback has some responsibility for some pre-snap decisions as well as some decisions with the play. I thought for the most part, he did a really good job with his decision making and his distribution of the football with where it was supposed to go during his time in the game on Saturday night. We'll try to continue to get him some experience over the span of the rest of the regular season."
On How The Tackling Looked On Film
"I think number one, I saw some really good athletes on the other side that are difficult to tackle in the open field. We've got to continue to work on that and continue to improve on that. The thing is, you can't hesitate when you're trying to make an open field tackle. If you hesitate and get on your heels any, you're done. Our thing has always been to attack with proper leverage and take your shot. It's something that's difficult to a degree to simulate in practice because you can't go out and live tackle every day in practice or you won't have any running backs or receivers left. So, you've got to be able to use our thud tackling techniques. It's got to be a very aggressive thud tackling technique, which is what we try to teach. But we've got to be committed to it every day. We've got to work on it all throughout the week and season and it's a cumulative thing. You don't turn from a poor tackler to a great tackler overnight. It's something you've got to commit to habitually and develop. Some of it is ability, a lot of it probably is ability, but some of it is habits and we just cannot be hesitant on our habits. We've got to be extremely aggressive on our tackling. Head up, attack the proper leverage and do not hesitate. Take your shot."
On Whether He Would Like The AAC To Stay In Divisions
"I'm worried about East Carolina football. That's it. Whatever the rest of it, whatever. I hope that we're in a position to be in that championship game in a few years."
On Whether He Can Compare ECU's Program To Cincinnati's
"There's no doubt. I think (Coach) Luke (Fickell) has done a great job with the program. You can see a definitive plan and a certain style of play. I think he's done a great job developing the team. Obviously, they're going to run a different defensive scheme than we run right now. They run a different offensive scheme than we're running right now. Still, the style of play is how you want to play. I don't care if you're in the spread, the Pro I or the wishbone, the style of play of good hard-nosed football is one that can rush the football, that can stop the run, they're great on special teams. They're very effective throwing the football. They're sound fundamentally and all of their players are very aggressive. He's created that culture there. It is very much a look at how we want to play here. It didn't happen there overnight. He's had to work very hard at it since he got the job. It is something that we're very dedicated to and are working towards right now."
On Something That Stands Out About Cincinnati
"I think you could take it by each side of the ball. They don't make a lot of mistakes. You're going to have to be very disciplined in what you do. You're going to have to be very sound. We're going to have to play together. We're going to have to play very hard and be very physical. We're going to have to be the things that we talk about almost every week because if we don't, they're not going to give you the ballgame. I think the quarterback is highly underrated. I think (Desmond) Ridder is one of the better quarterbacks we face this year. He does a good job of ball distribution, accurate throws, has good arm strength. Has good height in the pocket so he can see. He's a much better runner than he probably gets credit for. I think he's a legitimate threat in the run game as well as on the quarterback scrambles. He is the unquestioned leader of that offense. He does a great job directing it. That's one thing that we're going to have do a good job of accounting for him both in the passing game and in the running game as well."
On What Alex Turner Means To The Program
"I just think Alex Turner in general, he is an example of what we want in our program. He is a solid character off the field, he's solid academically in the classroom. Then on the field, I never have to question his effort. He has minimal missed assignments. He is going to know what to do with every call. He's going to be locked into every snap. He plays with toughness at pad level. Really, he makes himself as a good a player as he can be given his god given potential. He is one of those guys that you look at that has maximized his god given potential, which is what you want to do as a player. I think that steadiness on the defensive line is important not only for that position and our defensive line group, but also for our entire defensive unit."
On Who Will Need To Step Up At Linebacker
"I think they're all going to get their shot. We need that group to play well. It's a group that I think has some potential, but they've got to play well. I did not think that group played particularly well on Saturday, but they weren't the only ones. But they've got to perform at a high level. They've all got an equal shot. It's kind of that way across the board right now and it has been for the past couple of weeks. You've seen our depth chart change a little bit each week. Although the depth chart comes out like that today, it's probably going to be a little different on Saturday because who starts the game Saturday and who gets the most reps on Saturday is going to be dictated by their performance this week in practice."
On How Holton Ahlers Has Progressed
"I think it's been up and down a little bit. I don't say that negatively. Certainly, he's had some games where he's played at a higher level. He's had some games where he's made a few mistakes. I think he's still a young quarterback that's developing in a new offense. I think that he did some really good things on Saturday and I think he made some mistakes Saturday that were critical. That's part of that position. I said it to him, I've said it publicly, that position gets criticized and critiqued more than any on the field because every snap starts with the ball in his hands. A lot of the success of our offense is predicated on the decision-making there. When he does things well, it's going to be really highlighted and when he makes a mistake, it's going to be criticized. I think it's one of those things where he continues to push himself each week to improve. He continues to push himself each week to correct his mistakes. The one thing I never have to doubt about him is his drive to be great or his competitive spirit. He's going to push himself to be the very best each day he goes out on the field and each gameday he is going to have the same high expectations for himself that I have for his performance. So that's how I'd evaluate him right now at this point in the season."