ECU football prepares for AAC opener at Navy this Saturday
First-year East Carolina head football coach Mike Houston addressed members of the media Tuesday prior to Saturday's American Athletic Conference road opener at Navy. The following are selected comments:
"Obviously a great weekend this past weekend here in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. A big weekend for our program as we got our first win of the year. Also winning the home opener is significant. The grand opening of Towne Bank Tower and the first time that everyone got to use that very impressive facility along with the first time in front of the fans this year. The home crowd, it was just a perfect evening. We're very pleased with the way our team came out and competed. I thought that they played with a lot of energy. I thought we played really, really hard. I thought we did a lot of good things and we built on week one and improved, which we needed to. No matter the opponent, we had to execute better. We had to play with more physicality, we had to play more of the style of ball that we want to play, and I thought we did that. We are 1-1 after the Gardner-Webb. There is no doubt we will see a pretty drastic increase in competition this week, going to Navy."
"Navy had last week off after the opening week win over Holy Cross. We have a one-game sampling of them right now. Looking at last year, they made some staff changes after the season and they were not pleased with how things went. So, I'm sure they have rededicated a lot of things this offseason to get things going. What I saw in the Holy Cross game was what we all have, for years, traditionally viewed as Navy football. I mean it looked like Navy has always looked to me. Coach (Ken) Niumatalolo has always done an incredible job up there. He is first-class in every manner. What he has done there is so impressive. When I watched the Holy Cross game over this weekend, it looked like his teams have always looked. Very, very physical and playing very fast. A very in-your-face type of attitude. Extremely disciplined. They do a great job in all three phases. We have just a tremendous task in front of us this weekend. No doubt he'll have them ready to play at an extremely high level and we'll have a great challenge, but I also see that as a tremendous opportunity. It will be a great matchup and we're really looking forward to it."
On How Important Increased Discipline Is Against Navy:
"I think this week, we'll find out how far we've come. It's going to take an extreme amount of discipline. It's going to take execution at a very high level. It's going to take physicality; it's going to take mental and physical toughness. It's going to take playing together. Do your job is kind of our slogan around the facility, it's going to take that to an extreme. This is a situation where we've got to go in there, I told our staff this morning, we've got to play the consummate team game on Saturday. All three phases have got to play together and work off of one another in order to win this ballgame. Because I know that's exactly how they're going to play it. When you're playing a team like this, you know you're going to have limited possessions. You know they're going to do a great job driving the football. You know they're going to force you to be very assignment oriented on defense. The thing is, they're going to put pressure on you in all three phases. It's going to be, like I said, a great challenge for our program, but also one that will be a great measuring stick for us too."
On Preparing For Navy Using Multiple Ballcarriers:
"At one point in the fourth quarter, they were running plays for their quarterbacks, because it was a different quarterback every snap. That's the nature of that offense. The names and faces may change throughout the game, but the offense and the way it executes does not. I can just think back to when we ran this offense at The Citadel. A lot of the parts were interchangeable. They have certain guys that may be a little more dynamic players than others, but it's the system. The system is the reason that Navy has been so successful for so many years. They've done a great job of developing young men that fit their system. They have the ability to have interchangeable parts, so we've got to do a great job defending what they do."
On How His Familiarity With The Offense Helps:
"Coach (Bob) Trott and I, neither one of us is going to play a snap on Saturday. It doesn't matter what we know, it matters what we can educate the players and what they can learn this week. I do think it helps, you kind of know how they're going to attack us. They're going to have wrinkles; they've had a long time to prepare for this ballgame and I'm sure they didn't wait for the last two weeks either. The first couple of games of the season, you're preparing for that in the summer so they're going to have wrinkles. But you at least know kind of how they're going to attack. You know how the offense works; you know more of the nuances having coached it. But at the end of the day, still the difficult thing is, which is why we spent so much of preseason camp working on this, you have a hard time simulating what you do. We went out and practiced on Sunday and said it's not bad. Our guys were seeing the scheme again after seeing it during preseason camp. So alright, they understand the basics of how we want to play this. Then you go on and flip on the tape of them (Navy) against Holy Cross and you see the speed and the way they come at you and just the precise execution that they played with in that ballgame. You're like, this is a completely different animal. That's the challenge. Hopefully we can do a great job of having our players prepared for what they're going to face up there. But obviously, we're going to have to play at a very high level."
On How To Attack The Navy Offense:
"The thing I think, you've got to be able to match their physicality. You've got to be able to do a great job of tackling. You've got to be opportunistic in that sometimes you can see them make a mistake with the ballhandling because there is a lot of meshing and pitching, the ball is loose at times. You've got to be opportunistic and take advantage of the balls on the ground. We've got to get it. If you can ever get them behind the chains and get them off schedule. When we used to run it, if we were second-and-six or second-and-four, you were in trouble. Because then we can get to third-and-two and then it's first down. As long as you can stay on schedule, it's almost unstoppable. But if you can ever get them to second-and-10, third-and-nine, those situations they're not quite as effective. So being successful on those early downs and getting them behind the chains, if you can ever do that, you can give them some problems."
On Who Is Playing As Malcolm Perry On The Scout Team:
"We're having tryouts, has anyone every run the wishbone offense in high school? That's one of those things that if Navy is going to be on our schedule every year, I need to start recruiting a wishbone quarterback just for this week. We have a couple of quarterbacks that have a little bit of athleticism, the hard thing is they're the ones playing. We're using some different guys and we've been doing that through preseason camp to simulate them, but they're not Malcolm (Perry). He did a great job on Saturday and you look at their film last year, and he played a little bit all over the place last year, and then you look at them against Holy Cross and I think that's the biggest improvement in the offense. He played for three quarters against Holy Cross and played very, very well. He made great decisions in the run game. He threw the ball very well, which if you can throw the ball in that offense it's a great weapon. We have some guys that have played the wishbone at other positions in the past so we're using those guys this week. Practice is going to be structured a little bit different than it has since early preseason. We're kind of having all hands on deck this week to help prepare."
On If He's Surprised More Teams Don't Use An Offense Like Navy's:
"No, because the fan bases don't love it. That's it. They almost didn't hire me at James Madison because they were afraid I was going to run the wishbone there. You look at Georgia Tech. Paul Johnson had arguably as much success at Georgia Tech has had in the last 50 years and the fan base got tired of the triple option. Yes, it is a very effective offense, but the fans just don't love it at most places. Now, you go to The Citadel, you go to Navy, you go to Army, they love it. The offense I do think fits those institutions and their fan bases embrace it. I think it's a great offense. Bear Bryant thought it was a great offense. It's been effective many, many years."
On The Navy Defense:
"They had some struggles last year defensively and they have a new defensive coordinator, Brian Newberry who was at Kennesaw State last year. He had a tremendous amount of success there. It is a new scheme. It's a lot of the same players. They have a lot of players coming back on that side of the ball but they're running a different scheme. Against Holy Cross, what I saw was a very aggressive group. They're not going to give you anything down the field in the passing game, but they're going to really be aggressive at the line of scrimmage. You're going to see a lot of pressures. You'll see them blitz on first down; you'll see them blitz on third down. They're going to make it pretty challenging to operate, whether you're running or throwing the ball.
"We have a limited sample though with only one game against Holy Cross and then we have film from Kennesaw State against the Big South Conference, which Kennesaw State dominated that conference last year. It's hard to say exactly what we're going to see. We know the basics, but until we see it ready, it's going to be a deal where we have to gauge what we see in the first quarter and make adjustments and go from there. I think we do have to maximize our possessions. The thing you can't do is you can't turn it over. You can't get into a bunch of three-and-outs. If you allow them to have that 12 play, 75-yard drive and then you go three-and-out and they get right back and go 10 plays, that's where you get in trouble. Because it just wears you down. Like I said, for years that was the way we won. Defenses wore out the second half because they're on the field all day. We've got to do a good job offensively of staying on the field, extending drives and putting the ball in the end zone."
On How Much His Team Improved From Week One To Week Two:
"I say a lot. Of course, the competition was different from week one to week two. But you've got to control what you can control. We did last Saturday night what we should do. I thought we tackled very well on defense. I thought we fit the run much better. You had the first run of the game where a guy missed fitting a gap. Other than that, for most of the night, there were very few mistakes made in the run game. So that was pleasing to see. I thought offensively you saw our running backs get a lot of yards after contact. Whether it was at the quarterback position, the running back position, even some of the receivers, I thought we did a good job of yards after contact.
"I thought we did a really good job of ball security. We had the one turnover, which Holton (Ahlers) wishes he had back. But we didn't have fumbles, balls on the ground and things like that which we had against NC State. So, I think you saw some steady improvement right there. Maybe a little disappointed in some of the decisions in the return game on special teams. I think some of that comes a little bit from youth. I think that our guys were really trying to be aggressive. I've preached so much to our fan base and to you guys about how unaggressive we have been in the past on special teams. We've tried to be very aggressive on special teams here early in the season and part of it is learning when to be aggressive and when not to be. I think that was a little bit of a learning experience last week for some of our returners. I thought our coverage units were better. Punt and kickoff were both better from week one to week two."
On The Expanding Role Of Demetrius Mauney:
"You've always got to be careful with freshmen because they are freshmen. Certainly, we were high on him during early preseason camp and then he hit a bit of a wall. Then against NC State, he had very limited action. But he gets in there the other night and you see the same guy you saw during preseason camp. You see the same guy that we recruited. He has great feet, vision, hips. He has really great speed. He can run with some power and isn't a guy that goes down with the first hit. How much he's going to play throughout the rest of the year is going to depend on how much he continues to progress. With freshmen, you just never know. Some of them hit that midseason wall where it's just like what in the world happened to him. Academics, everything happening around campus catches up and it just overwhelms them at some point. He is a pretty mature kid, strong character, so maybe he'll handle it better than some. Obviously, we're very pleased with where he is at right now."
On Rotations At Center And Right Guard:
"I think right now at center, as long as they're both playing at a solid level, I see us continue to rotate those guys, keeping a fresh guy in there throughout the game. I thought Brendan (Pena) and John (Spellacy) are continuing to compete. Both of them have had their bright spots, both have had their things that they need to continue to improve on. The other positions, I know Coach (Steve) Shankweiler wants to rotate guys in and out because you want to develop depth guys and you want to keep fresh guys in there. I thought fatigue got a couple of the guys that didn't sub out in the first half, it got to them a little bit in the second half. At the same time, you want your best lineup on the field at all times. It's something we're going to continue to try to do and really it depends on how those second-teamers perform when they get in there. Our saying is if you prepare like a backup, you will always be a backup and if you prepare like a starter, you will one day be a starter. Right now, we need all of those guys to prepare like a starter because you never know when you're going to be."
On The Importance Of The Run Game:
"It will be very important. We know that and they know that. They're going to try to take it away much like we're going to try to do with them. We've got to be able to run the ball effectively and we've got to be able to throw the ball effectively. But it's going to take both on Saturday."
On The Advantages ECU Has In Athleticism:
"It is the thing, when you look at them, they are more athletic than he (Coach Niumatalolo) will ever let on. Every service academy, military coach I've ever seen, they talk about how much more athletic the opponents are than them. He has a good football team. Yes, I think we have some good players, some talented guys. But he has a bunch of them too."