GREENVILLE, N.C. (ECU) – First-year ECU head football coach Mike Houston addressed members of the media Monday prior to Thursday's home game against Temple.
"Thanks for being here today. Obviously, it was a great weekend for our program. We were really excited to be able to go on the road to Norfolk, Va., on the campus of Old Dominion and come back home with a big win. We're really excited about the way our team competed. We were talking as a staff during the day on Saturday about how sharp our guys were on Friday, it felt like the walk-throughs on Saturday morning, on both sides of the ball, were as crisp as they had been all year. I just had a good feeling about our team and where they were mentally going into the game. It certainly showed by the way they came out and competed.
"We made it interesting there on the opening kickoff, but able to come back quickly and recover from that and get points on the first drive, which I thought was important to get off to a fast start. But really excited that we got solid contributions from all three phases on Saturday. Goodness knows that there were plenty of things to correct on Sunday, but the one thing we're correcting less and less as the season wears on is effort, playing with some passion and doing a much better job of playing together. I thought those factors, it's hard to quantify those things, those factors were really critical in surviving that third quarter.
"We came out of the locker room and we were jacked to start the third quarter. Certainly, we had a couple of things not bounce our way and that adversity, at times in the past, might have been crippling to this group. But I think that's something we've worked really, really hard on throughout this year. I think something that was very evident on Saturday was that you didn't see any hanging heads on the sideline, you didn't see any doubt. They kept fighting. They stayed together and they were able to get the momentum swung back in our direction and then played a very solid fourth quarter. Great road win and gets us to 3-2 on the season. The players were telling me all the stuff in the locker room after the game as we were celebrating about the road win, back-to-back win, 3-2 on the season. They were giving me all the history stuff of when the last time this or that was. I really just felt like just excited for them, excited about how we played. We're improving each week. We're not where we want to be. We're not even close to where we want to be. We're not close to where we're going to be, but we're continuing to see progress. That's a positive."
"Excited for this Thursday night. It's a tough matchup against a really good Temple football team. I think Temple got everyone's attention earlier in the season when they took on a Maryland team averaging over 50 points a game and beat them 20-17. Very impressive showing there. Another big win this past weekend at home against Georgia Tech 24-2. A solid football team. When you look at their roster, they're older. They're a big, very experienced football team. A lot of skill and athleticism at the standup positions. It's a program that's consistently won at the highest level of anyone in our league over the history of the American Athletic Conference and one that's been very good the past several years.
"A big challenge we've got this Thursday night, but we're excited about it. It's good to be home in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. National TV, so the spotlight is on our institution and our program. Our kids will be excited for that. It's a black out, so I came dressed appropriately. I feel a little bit like Jerry Glanville sitting up here so there might be a couple of tickets for Elvis at the will call on Thursday. But it's exciting. I think you will see our student body rally around this. We need them. We want the Boneyard packed on Thursday night. It's time for all of us to come together and support our football program. Can't wait to kick it off. It's a short week so we've got a lot to do. So, do they."
On Whether He And The Players Get Excited For Black Out Games
"They probably do. I told marketing about a month ago, I don't care what color we wear. I don't care what logo we wear, just tell me what we're wearing, and we'll wear whatever. Our big concern is the play on the field with the X's and O's and getting our guys ready to play. Do I think that stuff has an impact on recruiting? Do I think it has a little bit of an impact on the players? Certainly. I think all of them enjoy some of those things. I think our fans enjoy that stuff to. We've done different theme games at all of the different institutions I've been at in the past, so I do think it's something that kind of gets everybody going."
On The Performance Of Kendall Futrell And Chance Purvis
"I thought both of them played very well on Saturday. I think they're continuing to improve. I thought Kendall in particular, stats wise, put some pretty impressive numbers, but both of them played really hard. Kendall, they had a real hard time with him in the pass rush. That was a factor in the ball game because we were able to do a pretty good job of shutting down the run game on Saturday night, which forced them into a little bit more of a passing attack that we were facing. That's where Kendall really came in and impacted the game in the second half."
On Whether Temple's Physicality Makes This A Measuring Stick Game
"I would say so. When you think of Temple football, and this is my first time facing them, when you think of them traditionally that's what you think of. They're very much a blue collar team. That's very much what we want to be. So that'll be a great matchup there."
On How Two-Game Win Streak Affects The Team's Mentality Heading Into A Conference Game
"A couple of things on that. I think having won a couple of games in a row gets the confidence level up for the players, there's no doubt about that. When it comes to any of the other stuff you mentioned, it's no different than last week when we were talking about winning on the road. It really doesn't matter where we play, it really doesn't matter who we play. Each week, we've got to compartmentalize everything. This is the biggest game of the year. It's the only game we play this week. It's a great opportunity for our players to go out there and compete and it's a great opportunity for us to have a chance to do something pretty special. So those are the things you have to focus on. I respect our conference and so does most everybody else for what they've done nationally over the past couple of years. So, I don't think you can ignore that, but at the same time Temple is the next opponent. End of discussion, that's really it."
On Is There an Emotional Difference Between Being 3-2 And 2-3
"There's no doubt. I think that, and I even sensed that last week in practice. The kids know, the older ones have been here. They knew going into the game, being 2-2, to go into this game 3-2 was something significant to them. It's a next step. It may not be a huge achievement to someone outside of our locker room, but to these kids, having that success is important. Number one, I think that was a motivating factor last week and it's something giving them confidence this week."
On Where The Rebuilding Effort Is Currently
"It's getting there. It's started. I think you're still working on the foundation. I mean we've not even been here a calendar year. I think that there's been a lot in that last eight, nine months that we've had to work on and address. There's a lot of work to be done. We're not where we were, but we're not where we want to be. I think we're well into trying to get the foundation built."
On How The Team Is As A Whole, Injury-Wise
"We played a very physical football game on Saturday night. We've got some bumps and bruises. It is what it is. Everybody in the country has got that. I think you've got to do a good job of managing that along with preparing your team. We had worked on and prepared for this week back during the summer as far as what kind of schedule you're looking at. Certainly, during a compressed week, you've got to be smart with how you go out and prepare, so this week's practice schedule will be a little bit different than it has been on a normal game week. I think we'll have a group that takes the field on Thursday night that will be excited to play, and they'll be excited about the opportunity."
On If This Is His First "Short" Week
"No, we had one last year at James Madison and then a couple of times in the playoffs, we had the Saturday to Friday, so we've had a few short weeks during the years."
On How The Open Week After The Temple Game Helps
"Well ideally you'd want your open week this week and to play next Thursday night so you wouldn't have a compressed week. But outside of that, I do think it's probably a pretty good time because when you get six games in and then you get to the open date, you have a little bit of time before your next game so that does allow you to do a lot of things. It should allow you to heal up any bumps and bruises you have and get healthy. It should allow you to take a little bit more of a closer look at the younger players and where they are right now. How you can incorporate them in as you head down the home stretch. It allows you to catch your breath a little bit in recruiting. I do think the open date is at a pretty good spot here after game six. At the end of the day though, we're going to play six games in a month, so that's tough too."
On What Impresses Him The Most About Temple
"Overall, they're a very solid football team. I think that's the most impressive thing. There's not a weakness there. You look at offensively, defensively and special teams-wise, they fit together. Big physical defense that's very sturdy against the run. Big, physical offense that can run the ball very well. Certainly, they can throw the ball and defend the pass well also. Maybe the most dynamic return man in the league with (Isaiah) Wright. He was special teams player-of-the-year last year in the AAC I think. They're just a complete football team that looks like a veteran, older group. It's what you want to look like."
On How The Team Has Progressed Physically
"I think anyone that's watched us week-in and week-out, if you step back and looked at us against NC State and then looked at us the other night, we have some mistakes we need to get cleaned up. But I think as far as playing together within the scheme, we're doing that at a much higher level, especially on the defensive side of the football. I think we've made tremendous progress there. Offensively we're still coming along. I thought we made some great strides the other night also, but I didn't think we played great against NC State. We also did some great things against NC State is what I'm trying to say there. The progress has been significant from week one to where we are right now."
On How Confident He Was In Bryan Gagg If He Needed To Play
"Bryan's greatest attributes are that he is a very intelligent football player. So, I think he could have went in there and performed and ran our offense and operated it well. Is he going to be more prepared this week? Yeah. Every week that we go along, he is going to be more prepared because now he's getting the reps that he wasn't getting before last week. He's a guy that does have confidence. He's an excited guy. When you see him out there on the practice field, the thing I like most about him is he has those leadership characteristics that you want in the quarterback position. He's excited to be out there and excited to go out and compete each day. I think you're going to see him be more and more prepared as we go throughout the year."
On The Practice Schedule During The Short Week
"We had a little bit of a shorter practice yesterday, ironically, but we did not spend as much time on our special teams fundamental stuff as we traditionally do on Sunday. Yesterday was all Temple. Today we will practice this afternoon and we will have a shortened version of a Tuesday/Wednesday practice. We'll do the same thing tomorrow. Wednesday will be a touch more than a walkthrough. We'll call it a jog-through or a run-through. We will have scout teams on Wednesday, which we usually don't have on Friday, but we're still going to be out there for an extended period of time. I think you've got the compressed week, which I've mentioned we've been in those situations before, you have a couple of things going on. You've got to make sure you're the freshest team on Thursday night. That and being prepared are the two most important things. So, it's something you've got to be very cautious with, in how much you do, but what you do has to be high quality and that's what we've talked to the players about. This week is about quality over quantity as far as getting our reps together. But Temple's facing the same thing. Both of us are dealing with a shortened week."
On Whether Jonn Young Will Play … Should There Have Been A Roughing The Punter Call Against Old Dominion
"It's still early in the week so we'll see how things progress with him. There is no doubt it was roughing the punter. There is no question. Really disappointed that wasn't called right there."
On If He's Worried About Jake Verity Needing To Punt
"For one game? No. Because he's been preparing for it all year. It's one of those things that he can do all three. He can kickoff, he can punt, he can handle placekicking duties. We also have Patrick Nations who can do all three as well. He's been taking reps all season, so he's prepared to do that. We feel like we'll be ok in that situation right there."
On Whether Bryan Gagg Has Been On The Scout Team
"Bryan has been with the travel team the whole season. But as the No. 3 (quarterback) he hasn't gotten a ton of reps. Last week as the No. 2, he was getting a lot of reps during the team portions of practice."