GREENVILLE, N.C. (ECU) – First-year ECU head football coach Mike Houston addressed members of the media Tuesday prior to Saturday's home game against William & Mary.
"Good afternoon, I want to thank everyone for being here again this week. Obviously disappointed with the outcome in Annapolis, Md. this past weekend. It is what it is. But our kids had a decent week of preparation. We went up there and were not able to come back with the outcome that we wanted. The first thing that I would say is that I was very impressed with the Navy football team and their development from last year. The quarterback play obviously is the largest improvement from a year ago, but also just the speed that both sides played with on Saturday was very impressive not only on gameday but going back and looking at it again. I think we faced a very quality American Athletic Conference team on Saturday and obviously did not get the things done that we needed to in order to win. We have used that film over the weekend. I've watched it numerous times now. We've watched it with the players, and we've taken the positives that we can from that game. We've taken the corrections that are needed for the immediate future from that game and spent time with the players. Then we've immediately gotten started on William & Mary. Obviously, a huge ballgame for our program on Saturday here at home in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Not where we want to be on Monday this week, but hopefully we can get it turned around this weekend."
On The Positives From The Navy Game
"I think there's some individual things in all three phases that you can look at and feel good about. I do think that we defended the fullback decently on Saturday within the triple option scheme that they were running and that means we played pretty well at times between the tackles. I liked the physicality of some of our players there in the box. I thought they showed a lot. I can promise you, the fullback from Navy, he probably woke up pretty sore on Sunday. A lot of our guys in the box did too. But it was a very physical game in there between the tackles. Offensively, I thought we did some good things at times. I thought that Holton (Ahlers) made some positive plays at times. I thought that we had some bright spots. We also did not establish the consistency needed to effectively move the ball throughout the ball game. Similarly, on special teams, we didn't start very well in that unit, but I thought later on in the day we did some good things, both in the punt unit and with the kickoff coverage unit."
On Whether The Offense Needs To Execute Better Or Open Up The Playbook
"Before you can do the latter, you need to do the former. If you don't execute better, nothing matters. You may be trying to open things up more, but you just have things that are setting yourself back. Whether it be the first play of the game and you have a positive run and are sitting there at second-and-six or second-and-seven, then we have a false start. Well you had the false start because pressure is coming, and players are trying to alert the quarterback that you have a corner blitz coming and he just jerks. But the reality is that it's now second-and-12 or second-and-13, whatever it was right there. That's a tough down and distance. Later on, in the ballgame, you're sitting there inside the 10 yard line. You score and you have a procedural penalty pre-snap. You can't do those things and execute at a high level. We've got to make sure we correct those mistakes and we can't continue to make those mistakes if we're going to be effective. You've got to be able to drive the football and move it consistently to be able to open your playbook up."
On What Worries Him About William & Mary's Offense
"Several things. They are a tempo offense so we're going to have to be prepared for that. They're going to move at a very fast pace at times, so we've really got to be on it defensively. We've got to be communicating. We've got to get lined up. We've got to make sure everyone is on the same page. We've got to be able to really focus on that side of the ball because you've got to be able to give them different looks even though they're going really fast. They're not always going fast. Sometimes they do change speeds there. The biggest difference between them this year and the past couple of years is the play of their freshman quarterback (Hollis Mathis). He's a dynamic playmaker. He's been very impressive in all three games so far this season. He's their leading rusher and their leading passer. He's got the ability to make the big play in the run game and he's got a big arm. He's been very, very impressive. They do a good job of two-back stuff, just different things formation-wise that you don't normally see. Trying to gain extra numbers at the point of attack when running the ball, then play-action and trying to really take your shots down the field off of that. We're going to have to do a great job of matching the tempo. We're going to have to do a great job of not giving up any big plays in the passing game. At the same time, we've got to do a great job against the run and doing a great job of controlling Mathis in the pocket."
On Injury Status
"With the injury stuff, I just want to say it really quick. I addressed all the injury stuff yesterday both in the teleconference and last night at the coach's show. There haven't been any big changes from that right now, so I'll just stand by it."
On Who Will Step Up At Running Back
"We have a lot of talented guys in that room. We've got to keep bringing Demetrius (Mauney) along. Hussein (Howe) is the oldest player in that room, so I expect some veteran leadership from him. Tay (Williams), we're trying to challenge him and continue to bring him along. That's a kid that I've got a little bit of hope for. He was buried under the doghouse back in the spring and he's grown up and matured. He's starting to work better and starting to develop some positive habits so I hope he can come along and give us some hope there as well."
On Colby Gore's Performance Against Navy
"I thought he was good and bad Saturday. Some good and some bad. Certainly, Colby is a talented player. He's started a lot of ballgames here. His ability stood out ever since I got here and took the job. It's certainly going to be a boost for us having him back in the lineup this weekend. He's a guy I do look to for some senior leadership. He's had a great attitude, works very, very hard, is a competitor and you can't substitute those things. He's a great example for the young corners, both at practice and in how he prepares."
On The Differences For William & Mary Under Mike London
"I was eight years old when Jimmye Laycock took the head coaching job there. For a guy to do what he did, for as long as he did, with the consistency that he did it at, is extremely impressive. I know Coach Laycock pretty well and have a lot of respect for him. The one thing he ensured was that when he retired, there was a solid foundation there. Obviously, Coach (Mike) London has had a tremendous amount of success. Winning a national championship at Richmond. Then at the University of Virginia, ACC Coach-of-the-Year. Very successful there. I think he's stepped in and taken a solid program and really had a fast start with it. They are really solid defensively with guys that we have played against at JMU the last three year. He's got guys that are multiple year starters on that side of the football. They play very hard, very physical and they will be sound. Offensively, the thing that they had been missing the last two years had been the quarterback. They've had inconsistent quarterback play the last two years after being a very solid team in 2016. Mathis brings that needed playmaker there at that position. So, what you look at is, we're playing a very solid CAA football team and one that will probably have a really good year."
On The Challenges Of ECU's Deep Threat Passing
"I think there's been a couple of things. One is having the right situations to take those shots. Two is making the play when you take the shot. Certainly, we had a couple there on Saturday. We had some that we maybe didn't take advantage of and we had one that maybe should have been caught. But certainly, that's something that we have to make those plays in our offensive scheme."
On Looking At Navy Film To Prepare For Dual-Threat Quarterback
"Well, it's a completely different scheme. It's a senior versus a freshman. Malcolm Perry is a difference-maker in that triple-option scheme, and I think Mathis is, in that same respect, a difference-maker in this scheme. But the schemes are so different. At the end of the day, we've got to do a great job of tackling when he gets loose. They do a lot of quarterback designed run stuff with him. Also, with the drop back game, if he gets pressured, he's shown the ability to escape and turn quarterback hurries into big plays in the run game. So, we've got to do a great job of containing him."
On How The Team Has Bounced Back From The Navy Loss
"Well I thought that they came in with a positive attitude on Sunday. In watching the film, we were very deliberate with how we wanted them to evaluate themselves. I've said it a couple of times in different interviews, I gave them a full criteria that I wanted them to watch themselves individually with. Because you take the triple-option scheme and you're not going to see it for a year or so, somethings may not be very relevant to what you're going to see next few weeks. But the things that you can evaluate were important in all three phases and that is, how is our alignment. Whether it's offensively, defensively, special teams, are we aligning correctly? Are we doing what we were coached to do? Are we doing what our assignment is? Based on the scheme and based on what the coaches instructed you throughout the week.
"Are we giving maximum effort? That's a minimum requirement in our program. Are we giving maximum effort, one play at a time, throughout the game? Then, are we competing? The difference in effort and competing is, if you have a defensive player, he can line up correctly, he can know what his assignment is and he can give great effort, but does he make the tackle? Does he make the pass breakup? Does he make the interception? As a wide receiver, he can lineup correctly, he can know what route to run, he can run it at the correct depth, but does he make the contested catch? That's competing. I asked the players to evaluate themselves on those four categories. I thought the older players did a good job with it just from their feedback because so many of them would catch me at various times throughout the day on Sunday and make the comment to me, I'm better than this. I can play better; I'm going to challenge myself this week. So, I think that shows positive attitudes on their part. I think those things show that they want to be good. I haven't seen them since Sunday, but I thought they worked really hard on Sunday night. I thought they practiced with good effort on Sunday night. I'll see them at 2:30 p.m., this afternoon. I expect them to be enthusiastic and ready to go."
On Whether This Week Is About Going Back To Establishing Themselves
"I think that the focus this week has to be on us. Certainly William & Mary does some things that are a little different offensively, so we have to be prepared for that. But the focus has to be on us and getting better every single day. That was the big challenge on Sunday and that's got to be the challenge every single day with our program. It's coming in and doing things right. We've tried to define that very clearly for our programs. Doing things right on the field, doing things right off the field. Getting a good night's sleep. As crazy as it sounds, making sure you eat breakfast and lunch and you hydrate before practice so you can go out and practice at a high level in the heat and be productive. If you don't do that, and we've struggled with that with some of the younger players, if we don't do that, you're not going to be able to go out and perform well on Tuesday. The only way to get better every day is to go out and have a solid day and coming back the next day and doing the same thing. We've got to stack positive practices and continuing to improve on top of each other. They want to be good. We've just got to continue to work very hard at it and be very diligent at doing things right, day in and day out."
On Why The Game Against William & Mary Is So Important
"The casual fan better wake up. I can promise you this is a good football team coming in here. Anybody that would think otherwise is obviously, very much, not a very knowledgeable fan. They're 2-1 on the year with two quality wins. Yeah, they didn't play very well at Virginia, but Virginia is a pretty good football team. If you really look at the film against Virginia, Mathis, Virginia still hasn't tackled him. He gave them fits. They had their opportunities right there. We need our fans here. We need Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium the way it was two weeks ago and more. Because that's a difference-maker for us. People that are passionate about this program, they need to show up and show it. Our kids are going to be ready to play on Saturday and they're going to play with a lot of effort and a lot of intensity. But it is going to be a very competitive football game and it is one we're going to have to fight our tails off in order to have a chance to win."